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Q&A with HLK's New Planning Directors

February 22, 2018

Planning is a new discipline at HLK, focused on expertly understanding audiences and extracting insights that lead to more impactful work. New areas of focus include brand positioning and architecture, narrative, naming, research, experience mapping, persona development, competitive and industry audits, root cause analysis, and insight development.

Joining Erin Knitter, formerly HLK’s director of strategy, we welcome two new planning directors: Guy Fish and Emily Kircher. See below for an introduction to these new team members.

Guy Fish Emily Kircher

HLK: Tell us about yourself.

  • Guy Fish: I'm a married father of four. Before coming to HLK, I worked at agencies such as VML and also dabbled on the client side, with stints at companies such as Purina and H&R Block. I prefer agency life because of the exciting nature of our work, helping organizations figure out who and what they want to be.
  • Emily Kircher: I'm married with a daughter who will be two in a few weeks — not sure how that happened! I've worked in planning in both Dallas and Chicago at places such as Leo Burnett where I focused on Kraft brands, and FCB Chicago where I worked on a variety of health care and pharma brands.

HLK: How do you know a planner when you see one?

  • GF: What sets us apart? We tend to think differently and play by different rules. We can see the hidden image in the 3-D picture that may not be visible to everyone else. If the wrong question was asked, it won't help if we answer it. We need to find the right question. Every rule is meant to be broken, while still grounded in efficacy.
  • EK: A planner sees chaos, wades through it and strategically finds a solution. Planners are not reactionary; instead, they examine the situation from a new lens and determine the best path forward.

HLK: What is your approach to planning?

  • GF: To a client, a planner is the voice of the consumer, offering insights on what they want and need. We compile this information, along with trend data, and communicate this to the client. To HLK, I'm the voice of the CMO, understanding and sharing their business goals and needs. At the simplest level, I'm working to understand the various problems people are trying to solve and a client's ability to solve them. I match up problems and solutions.
  • EK: While some planners are more research-driven, I take more of a cultural approach. I analyze culture first to determine why something is happening. I often go wide and then deep. I brainstorm all of the ways to approach a problem and strategically bring in colleagues to pressure test solutions to determine what has traction. I think planning and creative will have an important partnership and I'll do everything I can to set them up for success.

HLK: What do you see as the future of this new department?

  • GF: When a planner is working well, it allows other teams to do their job better. That in turn allows for deeper relationships with clients.
  • EK: Planning brings HLK a new opportunity to bring clients in earlier than we maybe would have in the past. We can be much more proactive and forward thinking with solutions, building both the agency and our clients' futures together.

HLK: What inspires you?

  • GF: It is a big, crazy world. Humanity is creating more problems than ever before, but we have the ability to solve problems in ways that never occurred to us before. Today, people have just enough ego to think, "maybe I can solve this." That inspires me.
  • EK: Mostly interesting people. I am an introvert at heart, but I find people fascinating. Why do they make the choices they make? Right now, moving to a new city with new people and new energy inspires me.

HLK: What is the best advice — career or otherwise — you have received?

  • GF: To feel empathy for other people and see the world from the point of view of others.
  • EK: Don't answer the ask, solve the need. This was groundbreaking for me and plays into everything I do as a planner.

HLK: How do you connect with one of our core values and why? (Be Curious, Be Thoughtful and Be Brave)

  • GF: Planning and being thoughtful are acts of curiosity. And, as an agency, we are paid to be brave on behalf of a client. An agency exists to push its clients.
  • EK: While I am curious and thoughtful in my job, the act of being brave excites me the most. As an agency, we have to be the brave one in the room. The braver we are, the more we can help our clients be brave. That is the hardest thing an agency can do and I love that this is at our core.

HLK: What is your advice for someone who may be just getting into the industry?

  • GF: Find projects that interest you and dive in. The rest works itself out.
  • EK: Don’t try to be the person who comes in and ta-da's. That doesn't work. Don't try to do it by yourself. Create an environment that fosters collaboration and that will set you up for success — and work will be more fun.

HLK: And finally, the lightning round.

  • Cats or dogs?
    • GF: Dogs
    • EK: Dogs
  • City or county?
    • GF: City, even though I've never lived there before. Definitely city.
    • EK: Oh, that is a tough one. I was in the city for the last seven years so right now I'm favoring county. I'm looking for a yard.
  • Favorite movie?
    • GF: Edge of Tomorrow
    • EK: Pretty Woman
  • First job?
    • GF: At a grocery store bagging groceries
    • EK: Linens 'n Things
  • Coffee or tea?
    • GF: Neither, I'm caffeine-free.
    • EK: Coffee. Definitely coffee.