Sarah Larcker, VP, Brand Strategy & Planning, sits down with us to answer a few questions.
What is a typical day like for you?
This is the story of my ideal workday, which happens more often than not, actually: Get up early, talk to the East Coast before the day starts in earnest on the West Coast (gotta love those time zones!). Bike or scooter to the ferry from my house, and glide across the Bay toward San Francisco. I saw dolphins the other day – it’s a pretty sweet commute. Pick up a Blue Bottle coffee (New Orleans style!) from the Ferry Building (while on my 4th call of the morning) and salute the sunshine (or fog, depending on the day) on my walk to the DHSF office. Spend the bulk of the day on client calls/Join.Me’s/WebEx’s/video-chats, and on lucky days, have lunch with my lovely fellow team members in SF. There’s always someone in town from our other offices, so I can often be found ending the day with a cocktail or dinner with those folks. Ride the ferry home into the twilight, ride my bike back to my little California bungalow that I share with my hubs and my nutty Shepherd-Pitbull mix. Yeah, it’s all pretty magical.
How did you first start in account planning?
I joined what is now Digitas Health nearly 9 years ago, as part of a tiny group called Research. There were 3 of us, and our job was to answer queries – from straightforward to “not sure how to even phrase this question” – when called upon by anyone in the agency. We built stories to help answer these questions using data from all different kinds of places. We used to sit downstairs (in what is now Parc, on Rittenhouse — I can tell you lots of stories about this work space at another time…) with Media (then, about 6 people) and S&A (then, about 3 people).
When Account Planning was started in earnest with Sue Manber’s arrival, she hunted me down and said “OMG, you’re an Account Planner!” I had no idea what that was at the time – it took me years to figure it out (I’m still figuring it out… let’s be real). I was a neurobiology major, so this was pretty foreign to me. But she told me the biggest parts of the job are to “ask smart questions” and “know how to tell a story with data.” And what do you know, that’s what I had been doing all along in Research. So I spent lots of time learning from other Planners, creatives, and everyone else on accounts ranging from Epilepsy to ADHD to Oncology to HIV. So here I am today, still learning and trying to ask smart questions and tell meaningful stories.
What’s the best/favorite account that you’ve worked on past or present? Why?
Shoutout to Gilead HIV – that account is the craziest yet most amazing one to date. To work in an area with so much unmet need, and clients who really want to do the right thing, and a wicked smart team that cares so much about the work is pretty awesome.
PSA alert: Did you know that 50,000 people still get HIV every year in the US? Yep – it’s true. Did you also know there’s a pill you can take every day (“along with safer sex practices”) to prevent getting HIV? Yep – it’s called Truvada for PrEP. Check out HelpStopTheVirus.com and HIVAnswers.com for a taste of the great work happening on this account. If you can’t find anybody on this account around in the office, it’s because we’re world-traveling for research to bring you the next phase of awesomeness.
What are you reading these days?
For intellectual growth (aka, work): “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. Also noteworthy: “Grow” by Jim Stengel, and anything by Marty Neumeier (“Zag” and “The Brand Gap” are must reads for anyone in our business, or really any business).
For funsies (aka, the beach & falling asleep at night to avoid watching TV): “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel Brown – it’s awesome, even if you don’t like crew. Also loved “Bossypants” because who doesn’t adore Tina Fey? And anything by Liane Moriarty (great beach reading, typical Aussie humor).
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“Done is better than perfect.” This is written at the top of my whiteboard. As a lifelong Type A, you want to devote yourself to making everything as amazing and perfect as possible. But sometimes, especially in our fast-moving industry, being first (#first!) is more important than being best. You can make great small things that build into great big things, but don’t get so bogged down by the vision of the perfect “big thing” that you sacrifice getting started. Sometimes starting small + awesome + fast is what really matters. That, and “Hire smart. You can teach the rest.”
Favorite place to hang out?
At the top of a heart-pounding hike into the hills above the Bay Area. You can often see for miles and miles, and the weather is fantastic year-round. I often do my best thinking on these long walks, when I get outside my own brain a little bit and force my body to work hard as hard as my mind usually does. Somehow, magically, that lump of neurons (fine…and myelin and other good stuff) comes up with answers and clarity on its own when I focus my attention on something less cerebral and get moving out in the world. That, and wineries on the Central Coast of California (I mean, obviously).
SF or Philly?
SF wins for the weather – it’s always Fall (aka perfect!). And everyone is soooooo nice (to the point of creepiness to a lifelong East Coaster – my neighbors offered to pick up groceries just because they’re genuinely nice people). Philly wins for heart & dedication – so what that we haven’t won a championship since the Phillies in 2008? We’re not fair-weather fans – we’re devoted to our Phils/Birds/Flyers/Union (does anyone love the Sixers anymore? They might be beyond saving…). But both have my heart.