How To Be… A Brand Strategist: Toni Dawkins

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There are several parts to marketing and advertising that many people aren’t aware of. As a brand strategist Toni Dawkins, sits in between the consumer and a company’s business goals. She shares how she got her foot in the door of the ad world and her hope to get more involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives in the industry.


Name: Toni Dawkins

Age: 25

Location: New York City

Profession: Brand Strategist


For those who might not know, what is a strategist?

Strategists, also known as planners, exist to ensure that there are effective, creative solutions for a brand’s business problems. Within advertising agencies, these are the people who distill tons of research into a clear and hopefully, inspiring, brief for creative teams to in turn create the content and experiences that brands put out into the world.

What kind of a background do strategists typically have?

Strategists tend to come from a wide range of backgrounds because it’s not so much about what you studied, but rather how your brain is wired. Strategic thinkers can come from any background, but brand planning programs or internships (like the one I had with the 4A’s MAIP) help you get in the door at ad agencies.

How did you get started? What were three of the key steps you took?

The first key step I took was doing a ton or research on the advertising industry while I was still in school earning my degree in an Advertising and New Media program. This led me to discover the 4A’s MAIP, which offers their fellows an opportunity to get hands-on experience in some of the top agencies all over the country. My second summer doing this program brought me to New York right after graduation and I made it my mission to land a job and not take the return flight back to Georgia. I was offered a freelance Associate Strategist role at an agency called MRY and used that as an opportunity to prove my value and make it a full-time deal shortly after.

What’s an average day like?

An average day for me consists of a lot of reading and talking to people. I’m constantly on the hunt for information that can unlock interesting ideas or insights for the brands I’m tasked with building, which can take the form of reading through syndicated reports, doing some quick and dirty social listening, or even talking to people on the street for different perspectives. Then, I put the story together in the form of presentations for clients or creative briefs for our creative teams. That’s my favorite part.

Why do you do what you do?

Like many strategists, I was a curious child and was never been satisfied with surface level answers or conversations. Strategy allows me to find the deeper answers that I’m looking for and put it through a lens of creativity. I was always very artistic and interested in ideas, so this field aligns closely with my passions.

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of disparate pieces of information and opinions that come with trying to learn everything about a brand or category, but I’ve learned that crafting a clear, simple story is the key to effectiveness.

Biggest challenge so far?

Finding my voice was a major challenge when I first started my career. I tried to blend into the room instead of actively standing out. Now, I know that I have valuable ideas to bring to the table and that my Jamaican background, southern upbringing, black skin and big fro are all assets that I shouldn’t shy away from.

My Jamaican background, southern upbringing, black skin and big fro are all assets that I shouldn’t shy away from.

Your greatest achievement so far?


I’m very much a behind-the-scenes type of person, but I was able to channel my newfound voice into “Tuesdays with Toni,” a podcast I hosted at MRY that broke down the latest digital and social trends in a way that’s digestible for other marketers. This really helped me break out of my comfort zone and learn how to create content myself, which gave me a major boost in confidence. #feelinmyself

What is one thing an aspiring strategist can do today to get started?

Fake it until you make it. Literally tell yourself you’re a strategist and think through problems in that way. Prove that you’re in tune with culture, that you understand real underlying business problems, and that you can synthesize information and hopefully the people you work with will take notice.

What might be next for you?

I recently started a strategy role at Grey in NYC. I’m excited to gain more integrated brand planning experience and do “famously effective” work here! I’m also planning to get further involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives and serve as a mentor for young people of color interested in the ad industry where we’re grossly underrepresented.


What are your go-to hair tips?

  • Learn your hair porosity and use the methods and products that work best (I have low-porosity hair, personally)
  • Use the “LCO” (Liquid, Cream, Oil) method for dry hair. Spray with diluted leave-in conditioner, detangle, add a styling cream (my favorite is Cantu), add a small amount of light oil before twisting your hair
  • Lazy twist-outs (5-6 twists total) are just fine, and can give you big, beautiful, fluffy hair
  • Make small snips to your ends for a more polished twist out
  • Big buns are not only a protective style, it’s a life-saver when your twist out is struggling

Fun Fact: You can follow my work, art, and travels at !

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