The latest interview for the Impact Series features Sage Stargrove, Social Strategist with 360i. Prior to her role with 360i, Sage has spent the majority of her career in both Social Media and Strategy roles working alongside brands such as Gap, Maserati, Verizon and Nike. Her stints in Influencer Marketing, Production, Content Strategy and Creation have solidified her place in an exciting, unique embedded role between 360i and OREO.
We had an opportunity to catch up with Sage to learn about her career journey, what inspires her and how she approached working with a major brand like Oreo.
1. Sage, talk to us about your journey and the path leading up to your current role with 360i, leading the OREO account.
It’s been an interesting journey, I will say! I went to Gonzaga University for my undergrad, where I focused on English and Journalism. Writing and communications were my passion, but I was pretty realistic about Journalism not being the path for me. I wanted to focus on the future of communications and saw social media as that. I dove into the world of social and found internship opportunities that allowed me to be immersed in it. After graduation, I started looking in graduate programs that focused on a balance of arts and science, specifically learning how analytics and communications could come together in the digital world and reinforce each other. After finding a top-ranked program at the University of Amsterdam, I uprooted my life and headed to Holland!
One of the largest TEDx organizations in the world was based in Amsterdam and I started working with them and leading their social media. I loved that I could use social to directly connect with and educate TEDXAmsterdam followers. Sharing information and watching users, say “Wow, this is amazing!” helped bring to life my love of using social to inspire others.
I was fortunate enough to work with TEDxAmsterdam all throughout my graduate program and even after I moved back to the states to live in New York City. But I realized very quickly that working remotely (and across the world) wasn’t a long-term option, so I began pursuing opportunities in New York. I kicked off my NYC career with a role as a Social Media Manager at AKQA (for brand such as Gap and Maserati) and then moved into a Brand Strategy role. As a strategist, I predominantly worked on Verizon where I helped to redesign to their .com experience, but was also fortunate to do strategic work for Gap, Nike and Volvo!
AKQA changed my fundamental understanding of advertising and taught me so much about the digital world, but I also missed working solely in social media. I took on a new challenge at LaForce and took a position as a Digital Strategist, predominantly focusing on influencer marketing and content strategy. In addition, I flexed into a bit of a producer role and got to lead content creation!
This was an amazing experience and I loved being able to work as a swiss army knife and not only develop the strategy for brands, but also how it came to life. I was essentially a team of one though and I missed collaborating and learning from others, which led me to 360i. I took a role that was new to the agency and became an embedded Social Strategist - I was part of the agency but embedded in the OREO brand team at their headquarters (pre-pandemic, of course!). This opportunity offered me the best of both worlds!
2. Do you believe it was important for your career to do some Pro bono work (ie. Your work with TEDx) to get into a digital marketing career and being exposed to what potentially would draw your interest?
Pro bono work is not necessary to kick off a career, but I do think it’s a great way to expose yourself to disciplines that your own work may not allow and to make contacts with others in the industry. After moving to New York, I missed working at TEDxAmsterdam and began to volunteer with TEDxNewYork; it was a great way to connect with other marketing professionals who volunteered with the organization and also try a role (such as partnerships) that I may not normally be able to take on without official experience.
3. Take us through a typical week in your role working alongside OREO.
Communication is a huge part of the team dynamic, so along with daily internal team statuses, I also have weekly meetings with our full IAT (to stay updated on projects that may span outside of organic social), the OREO brand team to review recommended plans or content and the creative team to either brief the team or be approving content in real-time during photo shoots. When I’m not in meetings, I spend time immersing myself in current events and cultural conversations, so I can find the intersection where OREO and cultural moments connect. Anything can be used as inspiration if you’re taking it in from the perspective of, "what can I learn?”
Cultural relevancy is a large part of our strategy, so staying up to date is essential. Our goal is not just for OREO to participate in cultural conversations, but to be directly leading them. This means we need to see a topic, quickly digest it, understand where the brand fits in (if it does) and then ideate on how content can come to life - all within minutes.
4. Take us through the strategy of OREO’s social. How do you bring a brand like that to life?
OREO’s social is all about bringing playfulness to life! Playfulness has always been part of OREO’s brand’s DNA, we want to help keep the playful spirit alive for others on social. You’ll see that playfulness is at the core of all communications, whether it’s social, digital, TV or partnerships. While it seems straightforward, that’s always the lens we use when developing work.
5. The Lady Gaga and OREO partnership took the industry by storm. Take us through what the creative ideation process there looked like.
Music is a key element of OREO’s purpose to spread joy and playfulness into the world, so the brand is always finding innovative, but authentic ways to partner with artists. The collaboration with Lady Gaga, makes so much sense to me: OREO stands for playfulness and Gaga pushes the importance of kindness, together the two unite to encourage consumers to playfully uplift the world!
From a social perspective, our goal with the partnership is to create a culturally iconic but playful experience for fans. We announced the collaboration in December with the hope of launching viral chatter across the internet and we intentionally kept product details limited so fans had to use the OREO accounts as their source of information. We then planned to ignite further fandom in January + February by working with Lady Gaga to build up conversation and excitement around the product launch, including the creation of a digital scavenger hunt!
6. For people who aspire to be in your seat (ie. Fresh grad), what can they do to replicate and get themselves in this creative mindset as they prep for interviews and the application process?
I made the mistake early on in my career to always learn every granular detail about the brand I was interviewing for and not focus enough on what inspires and drives me. While it’s great to admire and know the brand you want to work for, it’s important to remember that the people who are interviewing you already know about their own brand. They want to learn about what you know, and what you can bring to the table.
Be prepared to talk about what inspires you, what drives you and what brands you think are changing the future of marketing (and why!). I’m always impressed by interviewees who come in with a strong POV on what they think the future of social is and what brands are leading that. We’re not hiring someone to tell us what we did, we’re hiring people who will guide us on what we should do.
7. Any adaptations you made in your career that helped elevate what you could bring to the table as a digital marketer? Any further changes or add-ons to your toolkit this past year?
Being familiar with interdisciplinary teams and how different roles connect has helped me a lot. I work heavily with the analytics and insights team, along with the creative team and it has evolved me as an employee. I am a better partner for taking the time to ask questions, understand their roles and work with them as partner, instead of a barrier. When it comes down to it, we all have the brand as our interest, so learning to work harmoniously with other teams helps create the best possible outcome.
8. Do you have any favourites sources of inspiration or a resource – could be a book, maybe someone on Twitter – that you lean on if you hit a creative block?
When I hit a roadblock, I look to fans for insight. There’s no one better than our fans that know and love the brand, so I dive deep into our comments and mentions to understand what people are saying. It’s super granular, but some of the best insights, inspirations or nuggets of gold have come from this – include product and activation inspiration.
I’m also a very collaborative person, so when I’m feeling stuck, I’ll toss time on the calendar with people from the full agency social team and just talk. I will explain what I’m working on, where I’m stuck and the solution I’m working towards. It’s a great way to get different views and find inspiration in unexpected places.
9. Looking back at your career with TEDx Amsterdam, you accomplished a lot. You essentially helped create and foster the spirit of what TEDx’s story is. An increase in Twitter followers and most of all, grew and boosted engagement. What was the ideation and thinking behind the strategy? Are there any strategies that you used back then or takeaways that you continue to implement now in your career?
We wanted to use our social channels to bring to life TED Talk’s mission of researching and discovering ideas worth sharing. What’s beautiful about “ideas worth sharing” is that it’s somewhat innate to social. When a user finds value in content and it intrinsically resonates with them, that’s when they want to share it with their community. “Ideas worth sharing” is essentially rooted in the core purpose of social media – to share! Sometimes we forget that’s why we call it “social” media.
One learning that was passed on to me from TEDxAmsterdam team and has been an important reminder while working across different markets is that “I am not the audience I market to.” Sometimes, we may be that demo, but more times than not, as marketers we get attached to our personal preferences and forget that our own likes don’t always align with the demand space. Being able to ground myself in that knowledge and separate my personal preferences from the audience’s is something I’m grateful for learning early on.
10. 2020’s been a year of experimentation. Are you and the agency team testing anything that you would like to give us a preview on?
2020 was a huge year of experimentation for everyone in social! How we work was turned upside down in a matter of days. My team already had an agile model where we were creating content in real time, so while many brands were struggling to shoot less-produced content or work from home, we were ready to go!
We’re always evolving and optimizing both our team structure and process, along with our content! We’re all about learning!
11. Any advice to the next generation of Sage Stargroves out there looking to get into a creative agency?
Don’t try to fit a mold that you think companies are looking for – a lot of the times, we’re looking for someone who can bring a different perspective. If everyone thinks the same way, then marketing will forever remain the same. So, feel comfortable having your own views and opinion on problems and bringing that to life in your solutions. Also, try to surround yourself with people who empower you. When working at AKQA, my director, always told me to speak up and offer my opinion because I might be seeing a problem in a way that other people aren’t. We need different paradigms to push against our own to challenge ourselves, but also evolve our views and understandings. It’s always better to break the mold to fit you, than break you to fit the mold.