Going to UTS gave me the foundation of knowing that I can focus and deliver under pressure.
Why did you choose to study Public Communication (within the Advertising Stream) at UTS?
Simply because there was no other degree like it. It had a high UAI entry score (Now known as ATAR), which for me meant it was going to be a premium course full of creative people. I was school captain and all I knew at the time was that I was a good communicator and wanted to explore what that meant. Ultimately it was the absolute perfect degree for me.
What did you enjoy most about your degree?
Learning things I never thought would be relevant! Uni is great like that — where you learn such a breadth of information that you would never have considered unless being put in an academic environment.
I also loved the simulated real-life advertising situations. You have a team and a real client and a brief and you have to deliver by this date. Loved it. One of the most impactful presentations of my entire life was at UTS in front of Pacific Magazines. In my final year, our team won the “pitch comp” and it honestly gave me the absolute knowing and belief that I could walk into the real world and be a creative rockstar.
What exactly IS a brand strategist?
Great question! I get asked all the time. To me, a brand strategist is a story-maker. I create the story of origin for a brand. Where it came from, how it grew up, what it’s influenced by and where it’s going. Branding is a platform for human connection. I help a “thing” become a “brand” so people know how to relate to it.
Where’s your career path taken you since graduating? Is it what you had expected to be doing?
I remember very clearly the lecture that changed my entire world. A creative brand strategist was brought in to do a guest lecture and I was CAPTIVATED by what he was saying he did.
Up until that moment I thought I was going to be an Advertising creative or a PR exec — I didn’t even know that Brand Strategists EXISTED.
This guy came in, completely impressed me with every ounce of what he was talking about, and from there I decided I would be a brand strategist.
I looked out for creative opportunities and came across a company called FUTUREBRAND who had a competition called the FUTURE TALENT AWARDS to find the next brand strategist. The prize was an internship in Melbourne.
I decided I would win it (which I promptly did … I showed up as the creative rockstar that UTS had allowed me to be) and moved to Melbourne to become the next Brand Strategist of Futurebrand.
I branded international companies, a university, a whole shopping centre, a secret room at Crown Casino, got to name a restaurant and a whole host of other creative projects.
I did a lot of creative group work as well as presentations at UTS — and that was invaluable in my new career. You only learn how to be a great team player with practice — and UTS gave me years of training in that.
It also taught me how to think — and the most valuable thing of all — the knowing that under a deadline, I can deliver. Going to UTS gave me the foundation of knowing that I can focus and deliver under pressure.
After Futurebrand, I went on to work for another international branding agency — INTERBRAND, before branching out on my own and consulting to many different clients from all kinds of backgrounds.
I travelled for about two years and one of my proudest feats is that I managed to barter my skills as a brand strategist for permanent accomodation in San Francisco. Literally Brand Strategy for a bunk bed. I had no idea it was a barter-able skill!
What’s a typical day in the life of a Brand Strategist look like?
I’m a total sponge for anything shiny and creative.
A new font? A new music film clip that’s rocking the world?
A beautiful brand that’s bringing people together?
I’m constantly scouring the internet to build up my creative bank.
For the actual “work” — I love being locked away in a “bunker room” with a client and just letting loose creatively. I feel a lot better when there are whiteboards to be written on and post-it notes to be moved around!
My method involves me doing what I’d like to call “Brand Therapy”. I see my role as literally pulling out every single piece of information and story that a client has (the EXTRACTION) and then putting it all back together in a beautiful neat creative one-pager.
Imagine your whole life and purpose and vision on one page — for your brand or business. That’s what I help people do.
Advice to UTS students currently studying Public Communication, looking to enter the golden industry of advertising
Tell people who you are before they tell you.
It’s the golden rule of branding. You tell people what they should be thinking about you. Don’t wait for other people to tell you what you’re good at, or who you should work for — you tell them.
Create a fierce identity for yourself while you’re still learning. Test it out. Learn how to “advertise yourself”.
Expand your creative reference bank. Constantly.
This degree can give you all the incredible foundation and strength and processes to succeed in the advertising industry — as well as the credibility that employers will know you’ve come from a degree of prestige — but in order to truly succeed as a creative — you need to open your eyes and absorb every bit of creativity in the world — as much as you can, always.
The best piece of advice anyone ever gave me was “Dara, you need to go and see the colour of the tiles in Alexanderplatz station in Berlin, and maybe then I’ll give you a job”.
Random, I know — but I did exactly that. I went half way across the world, marched into that station and revelled in the incredible hue of green that those iconic tiles are — and that colour would never have been seen in a book — it had to be experienced.
I consequently came back from that trip so incredibly full of creative ideas and worldly reference — that it made me a very solid, experienced creative.
Allow your brain to constantly be excited by new creative ideas — in whatever shape they take, and constantly be seeking them out.
And also — as much as possible, be clear. The most incredible work opportunities have come rushing towards me, simply because I clearly decided I would get them. I didn’t wait for opportunity — I created it and acted as if there was no such thing as a plan B.