Jasmine Dadlani’s Strategy Diet 

McKinney's CSO shares her tips and techniques for better strategy, including why you should pay attention to what teenage girls are into and never skip jury duty

Image Source: 12 Angry Men (1957)

Have you ever wanted to know what the ad industry’s sharpest strategists like to feed their brains or what resources they swear by when tackling a brief?

We have. So we’re asking.

Jasmine Dadlani is the chief strategy officer at McKinney. She has worked in the advertising industry for two decades, at agencies including Arnold Worldwide, Deutsch and Cramer-Krasselt, and in that time she has developed strategies for Ikea, Kraft and Little Caesars, and many others. Dadlani is an expert on food trends and has given guest lectures at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

What media do you consume that makes you better at your job or helps you think about strategy generally?

What I love about strategy is that any media you consume makes you better at the job.  You never know whether it’s the ‘Snack Fact of the Day’ in a Robinhood email, a trending op-ed in the New York Times, or Three Perfect Days in the Azores in an in-flight magazine that will come back to you in a kismet lateral connection moment. I recently had a client jokingly question ‘you mean our entire insight is based on Joey from Friends? and yes, it was and it was spot on!  I’ve tried lots of newsletters over the years  among others, three that have stuck are Dinner Party, Garbage Day, and Why Is This Interesting? I frequently re-read articles that remind me to push my thinking, especially when it comes to framing problems - one of my faves in this regard is from the Harvard Business Review on the slow elevator problem.

That said, the two sources that really up my strategy game are my teenage daughters and our social media/influencer team.  Both keep me tapped in to what’s happening, from platform news to the latest memes and trending TikToks. One of our community managers writes a weekly email for clients that doubles as the most clever summary of pop culture that week  it’s one of my favorite reads every Friday.

Are there any resources that you typically turn to first when working on a brief?

I always make sure to experience the product or service (if possible) before I ever start ideating strategy. After that, I cover off the fundamentals through Mintel, MRI, NetBase, etc. Then I’ll move to trend newsletters like Cassandra, Trend Watching and Trendera or industry publications for a client’s specific business vertical (e.g, QSR Magazine, Grocery Dive, etc.).  Reddit is also a great place for all kinds of rabbit holes, and if I really get stuck, I’ll look at my college psych textbooks.

Who is someone that you follow/read/watch for their opinions and ideas?

Oh, I can’t just name one!  Here’s a few for different reasons:

  • Anne Helen Petersen for reflection
  • Luvvie Ajayi Jones for powerful emotion
  • My dear friend Jenny Nicholson for inspiration
  • Noah Brier for AI x marketing intersections
  • Mrs. Dow Jones for practical finance education
  • Mita Mallick for inclusion
  • Toure for humorous provocation

Is there anyone or any resource that you think strategists rely on too much that is counterproductive or unhelpful?

Anything that is overly academic or rigid in theory – our goal is to simplify, not write college-level essays, and there’s lots of different ways brands can be successful.

What do you think is the most underused resource for better strategy?

Food publications. We’ve developed a food and beverage trends report for over a decade on the principle that what’s on our plate is a reflection of our attitudes, values, moods, etc. So if you study food trends, you have a window into what those will be in the future, regardless of what brand you are working on. I read everything from The Spoon to Restaurant Business to Eater to keep up with the food world.

Is there anywhere you go when you’re struggling with a brief or a place that seems to help you work or think?

I’ve always said if I ever start my own agency, I’m calling it Shower. That is my 100% go-to for solving problems and doing the kind of mind-wandering and daydreaming that leads to unexpected connections. I recently read that 72% of people generate new ideas in the shower!

Office etiquette: music or no music?

Definitely music.  We have a group client director who always ends up on aux even though she encourages everyone else to take a turn – she has the best taste in music, especially when it comes to old school hip hop.

What’s the best free resource for a strategist?

Walking around malls, grocery stores, parks, and anywhere else that people are just living life. And a bonus is jury duty – never try to get out of jury duty as a strategist. It’s a crash course in all kinds of human idiosyncrasies.

What sort of media/resources would you recommend to someone just starting their career as a strategist?

First and foremost, lean into marketing in all its forms.  Follow brands on all the socials, watch TV, check out in-store displays, listen to ads on Spotify, etc. It drives me crazy when people who work in advertising brag about avoiding ads. But don’t analyze them like an ad person; clock your reaction as a human. Also study the most compelling and successful marketing efforts – platforms like Contagious are perfect for understanding the whys behind those [Editor’s note: We did not ask Jasmine to write this. We do, however, endorse the sentiment.].  And of course read the trades – AdAge, Adweek, The Drum, Campaign, etc.

Sign up to take marketing surveys. You learn a lot about being a better researcher, which is a fundamental strategy skill.

Read the news from different sources, including your local newspaper if possible.

Closer to strategy, I appreciate how many strategic tips, tricks and reminders strategists like Julian Cole and Marc Pollard promote in their content.

There’s a ton of classic books, too, but the one that most intrigued me as a junior planner was Where the Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg. New business is one of the most fascinating aspects of our business – it’s the highest highs and the lowest lows. It teaches you that there’s a strategy to the ad business beyond the strategy we develop for brands. 

What’s something that happened in pop culture that showed a better understanding of people than advertising?

Anything teen girls are into! From Bama Rush to the Taylor Swift juggernaut, these cultural forces revealed more about building community, driving ongoing engagement, creating surprise and delight moments within rituals, and so much more than most advertisers today are successful at engendering. 

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