Brooke Strozdas is a young lady making big waves across the pond at Grey, one of the world’s biggest and best agencies. Read on to find out what it’s like to write a Superbowl ad at just 23.
I learned about advertising as a career in college, after having a background in writing and literature, and I quickly became fascinated with how one entity can communicate effectively across so many touchpoints organically and consistently.
As we all know, that doesn’t always happen, but I do believe it’s the essence of what we are doing (or trying to do).
I then spent a great deal of time in social media for various non-profits, my university, and family friends – anything I could do to jumpstart a career in the business.
Eventually, I went on to seek out mentors in the industry to help me fine-tune my portfolio and started applying to jobs (major props to everyone who sat with me and critiqued what has to be my most embarrassing work and made me better).
You majored in advertising at uni. Did it help?
Short answer: yes and no. Long answer: I think some universities are equipped specifically to teach students how to get a creative job in this industry, and some are not so lucky. Mine was one of the latter, but has since made great strides to remedy that.
Whereas many universities in America have pseudo-portfolio workshops and require a level of craft to be learned by graduation, my education was much more freeform.
Thus, if you did most of the legwork yourself like finding mentors in the industry, creating often on your own, honing your craft and taking it to be critiqued regularly, etc. etc., you could manage getting a job right out of school.
I’m not one to sit idling very often, so that’s what I did. And what I believe helped me land my job at Grey. So, while my education laid some minimal groundwork for my career, my experience reaching out to others and actively seeking critique and growth outside of it gave me much more of a leg-up.
And you spent time in Spain as part of that. Did you enjoy Europe?
I did! I’ve since spent time in Switzerland, Amsterdam, and a great deal of Belgium. All phenomenal. When the world (read: the USA) gets its head screwed back on correctly, I hope to visit again soon. And I’m open to any suggestions on where to head next.
You had some early copywriting success at Bandy Carroll Hellige, but I’m guessing things really took off when you joined Grey. How did that come about?
There’s a lot in my brief career that can be attributed to my own hard work. But some, as is the case with most people, is just damn luck. And truly my experience at Bandy Carroll Hellige was luck.
I knew very little about the business going in, and landed amongst kind and brilliant leaders in a smaller shop that gave me a chance to grow quickly and shine by giving me opportunities some might not get until much further along in their career.
For example, the summer I worked at BCH, I was tasked with writing a radio ad for McDonald’s and their partnership with the NFL. Outside of my now Super Bowl experience, I can’t say that I have a bigger brand name in my book, and that’s thanks to early mentors.
My time at BCH definitely set me up to land at Grey. A common misconception is that I work in the New York office, which, spoiler: I don’t. I’m actually at Grey Midwest, which is the mainly digital arm of Grey and was originally a Possible office, until the great merging of 2018 begun (VMLY&R, Wunderman Thompson, etc.).
So, yet again, I lucked out: landing in a smaller agency with a big name straight out of school. A place that’s not only given me so much love and mentorship, but that provided me with work in my first two years that I still can’t believe I get to claim as my own.
And you’ve only gone and written a Super Bowl ad! Watched by a mere 100 million people. Tell us more about that.
Super Bowl is such a remarkable beast, especially when you’re working on a spot for a brand behemoth like P&G. And as someone who had a total of two film shoots under her belt at 23, it was not something I had expected (or dreamed) to touch for many years.
Luckily, as I’ve said, I’ve surrounded myself with incredible mentors – including my ECD, Adam Kahn, who spent much of his career in NYC.
He brought me onto the project because he believes in my talent and what young people can bring to the table, and around June of 2019 we kicked off our brainstorming for ‘the first interactive Super Bowl ad’.
We kept our team small and nimble, because we knew we’d have to make quick changes and learn an entirely new way of writing fast.
This was an interactive commercial, so we worked with the people who know it best: Eko, the creators of brilliant work like Bandersnatch, who taught us everything we need to know about how to create interactive-compatible scripts and video.
In 2020, brands were also given the OK to create multi-brand commercials for the first time and, because P&G brands are household names, we wanted to take full advantage of that.
Thus, not only were we writing an interactive commercial, it was a multi-brand, multi-celeb, interactive commercial.
Which would mean, when we were mapping out the interactive tree of story possibilities, and we ended up with, let’s say eight endings, that meant we needed eight full story scripts that included every brand, every celeb, and still was enjoyable to watch.
So yes, while the world saw one spot on Super Bowl Sunday, I will proudly say that this team actually ended up writing eight Super Bowl commercials that I would have gladly put on air. But what would be the fun in that if we didn’t let America choose?
Which is what we did. Up until 15 minutes before air-time, we let America play the interactive spot online (that included 64 unique possible touchpoints and routes to go down) and choose which route they liked the most.
So, just like the rest of the world, we hardly knew what was going to show up on our screens that Sunday. Quite honestly, I can’t imagine another writing or creative experience like it. But I’m always going to be out to top it.
How do you work at Grey? Do you have a fixed art-director partner?
Much of our work at Grey is in teams with multiple copywriters and art directors. So whereas I don’t have one fixed partner, I often have two per brand I work on.
I spend much of my time writing for our P&G clients and thus much of my time working with the same six-eight people on those clients. They’re all brilliant and have definitely become family in the past few years.
Can you tell us about Camp ADventure? How does it work? Is Indoor Recess a similar thing?
Camp ADventure is a remarkable virtual summer internship and ‘camp’ that threw together upcoming advertising talent, current industry professionals as mentors, and top advertisers and creatives as speakers.
It was started by some recent graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University, which is known for its advertising graduate program that creates top talent just out of undergraduate school.
It took the place of numerous internships for young talent that had been cancelled due to COVID-19, and created a space for them to learn about and work for a non-profit client: the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The program lasted, I believe, eight weeks and each ‘bunk’ answered one of three RFPs given to them by the brand. In between working sessions on the task, the creators of the program curated weekly speakers with top tips and Q&A sessions for those looking to enter the business.
My role was as one of the four bunk mentors assigned to a team of students. So those mentors and I had weekly meetings with our mentees to keep them on task and lead them through the process of getting from brief to creative to launch. And let me tell you, these young talents are coming for our jobs fast, which is amazing.
Indoor Recess was a similar, though shorter, program than Camp ADventure and it also took place in three separate sessions. Their task was quick: to answer the brief from a (pretty freaking cool) client like Color of Change, Twitch, and Disney Music Group within two weeks.
Again, the teams were meeting regularly and needed to create something out of nothing but, in this program, the time crunch is real. For Indoor Recess, I participated as a mentor for Sessions 1 and 3, and as a judge for Session 2.
What do you enjoy about mentoring?
Mentoring for me has been a reflection of everything I hoped for as a mentee. I try to give every mentee I have an excess of my time.
They ask for 30 minutes; I schedule an hour. They want to meet once; I open up my inbox and cellphone for whenever they need me.
This industry is a difficult one to enter, and a harder one to understand the nuances of. Many of my mentees have asked simple questions like ‘If I curse on social media will it affect me poorly?’ and to be honest, I don’t think it will, but I understand the concern you have before you enter this business.
What are the rules? Can I really wear a sweatshirt to work? These are the simple things that I enjoy chatting with them about, because I had the same questions… but to be honest I’m not sure I asked them.
It’s a ton of fun to see myself a few years ago in those that I mentor: we talk easy mistakes on resumes and in portfolios, and I always tell them about my own screwups. And it’s been exciting to have them mentor me in how to be a better leader. Mentoring has never been a thankless job for me.
What’s your favourite type of work?
My favourite type of work is with a brand that’s ready to push into a new space, and takes the time to try to do it well. I’m working with a client right now that’s behind a new Gen-Z brand of feminine care, and the amount of time we’ve taken to make sure we are giving this the right voice and the voice it deserves is at the core of why I’m in this business. To communicate with a larger audience, but to do it correctly.
What’s been your finest hour as a copywriter?
My finest hour was definitely when we had a finalised script for Super Bowl. That thing was my baby from start to finish. I remember sitting in the Chicago O’Hare airport on my way out of the country for a vacation and my boss telling me I had to learn how to write an interactive script.
I spent a six-hour layover reading, writing, and learning something completely new… for something that has already been career-defining before I turned 24. There’s something so satisfying about hard work coming to fruition, and putting something into this world that you can share with family and friends and, often, strangers.
Who’s been your greatest teacher?
Apologies for being potentially eye-roll-inducing poetic, but time. Time has been my greatest teacher. I am someone who wants to succeed, and keep learning at all costs, but sometimes one must slow down and look around them and find inspiration there.
I thought, honestly, when I didn’t land a job in a massive city like NYC or LA, that my career was doomed. But my mentors in Louisville at BCH, and in Cincinnati at Grey Midwest have given me so much in such a small amount of time.
And time itself, whether seemingly endless or crunched into what feels like seconds, has taught me both patience and the importance of giving yourself to where you are, and who you can become in that moment.
Any books you can recommend?
FICTION: Circe by Madeline Miller, Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum.
NON-FICTION: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
POETRY: Good Bones by Maggie Smith.
How do you beat writer’s block?
I’m lucky enough to work on multiple clients and switching between voices almost always helps me find something I was missing in a separate piece of work. That, or going on a long walk and reading a book for a bit. Switch gears! Change your scenery!
How do you see copywriting/advertising changing in future?
Advertising has a few pervasive issues that need addressing immediately: diversity and equity. I hope that the way the world is currently spinning, we are getting closer to an equitable industry for all races and genders, as well as ages.
Through my short time in this business, I’ve seen the value of listening to the younger talent while respecting the more mature way of doing things. The agencies that are doing well are the ones that are striking this balance of old and new correctly. Hopefully, we can all continue to do that justice.
Additionally, I see copywriting playing a much greater role than given credit. We’ve all heard the ‘no one reads copy’ comment, but I don’t believe that’s true if done well.
Sure, it’s on us to be sneakier, smarter, and wittier in quicker blurbs. But there’s nothing stopping us from striking the right chord with the right person at the right time, thus engaging them with a brand.
I think the power of language has become vastly undervalued and will only continue to be more pertinent as a generation comes of age that demands transparency and truth.
And what role will you play?
I’m more than happy to be the voice of truth and to push back when something just doesn’t sit right. I’m sure my co-workers and bosses would tell you the same. 🙂