What does a Director of Strategy and Accounts do?

Y+L Projects
7 min readApr 15, 2024

An exploration of the design agency world

We at Y+L are a team built around the ideology of external collaboration, meaning on any project we embark on, we’re given the opportunity to work with a diverse range of creatives. It’s a structure firstly built out of necessity — as a small independent agency with no external financial backers, it would have been near impossible to hire a full-time team — however, while we’ve grown in-house, we still rely on this model to take on projects, because it offers us an opportunity learn and grow from the creatives we pair up with. It’s a lucky position to be in and a structure that works for us.

That said, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in “our way” of doing things, sticking to a formula for obtaining clients, planning projects, and executing. One way to shake us out of our rhythm and inspire us to explore new ways of doing things is to work, befriend, and chat with other agencies all over the globe. It’s an informal education on the business and one we’re so grateful for.

Outside Studio Brave’s office in Melbourne’s CBD

We recently spoke to Jemma Thomas, the Director of Strategy and Accounts at Studio Brave, a Melbourne-based design studio that stands as a beacon of strategic brilliance and design ingenuity and an agency whose work we’ve admired from afar for a while.

We had a lot to learn from Jemma, whose unconventional journey from performance studies to branding leadership offered a unique perspective on the fusion of creativity and strategy; below is our chat with her; we hope you, too, can gather a little insight into design agency world and the world of agencies in general.

For more information on the studio visit studiobrave.com.au

Studio Brave offices, Melbourne

Hey there, to start can you give us a brief intro to Studio Brave?

Studio Brave is a strategic branding and design studio based in Melbourne, Australia. We’re currently in our 22nd year, which is something we’re all very proud of.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you ended up working at Studio Brave?

My name is Jemma, and I am the Director of Strategy and Accounts at Studio Brave. For the past six years, I have been working in tandem with Tim, Studio Brave’s Founder and Creative Director, who leads the studio.

Interestingly, I never saw myself on the brand-oriented career path I find myself on today. In 2005, I completed a BA in Performance Studies. This course aimed to produce autonomous thinkers, makers, and performers through cross-disciplinary performance. We developed skills in composition and making new work through studio-based practice, focusing on writing, improvisation, voice, and movement. Looking back, I deeply value my time studying. Although I don’t directly work in the arts, more arts adjacent, it’s undeniable that my coursework equipped me with the skills to think laterally and offer insightful and constructive analysis of creative work.

Jemma Thomas

I started working in advertising, working across fashion publications at the then-media company ACP Magazines. I was a coordinator in an ad sales capacity, enabling me to amass skills in client engagement and pitch presentations and to understand the intricate workings of agency collaboration. However, I often found myself loitering around the graphic design end of the office, taking more of an interest in creative executions and how our client’s brands told stories through advertising and campaigns.

My trajectory shifted again in 2013 when I returned to Melbourne after spending time overseas. Unsure of my next steps, I knew I wanted to work in the creative industry. I was quite good at planning and client services, so I needed to work out how I could merge the two. I saw a job advertised for an Account Manager at a boutique branding agency in Collingwood — I applied, and the rest is history.

What types of clients do you typically like to take on/ work with?

Before initiating a new client relationship, we establish if our values align with theirs.

We want to be motivated and inspired by the work our clients do, and equally, we want them to feel comfortable, knowing we share in their vision for the future. This alignment is important for fostering an enjoyable, collaborative partnership.

I believe the longevity of Studio Brave is a testament to this aspect of our process — something important not only in terms of client relationships but also our team culture.

My personal client experience spans engagements with government, non-profit organisations, arts and culture, retail establishments, hotels and hospitality ventures, as well as the fashion and beauty industries. However, my genuine passion for the arts fuels my excitement whenever we undertake projects within the creative and cultural sectors.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with prestigious entities such as VicScreen (formerly known as Film Victoria) as well as contributing to the endeavors of the esteemed Victorian Opera.

Studio Brave’s work for the Vicscreen
Studio Brave’s work for the Victorian Opera

Your official title is ‘Director, Strategy & Accounts’. Can you explain for the layperson, what that is and what you do?

My role is to plan, develop, and lead the brand strategy process. I also oversee our Account Management team.

Brand Strategy is about problem-solving. It involves deeply understanding the human challenges that brands and businesses encounter and finding solutions to overcome them. I research consumer behaviors, analyze competitive forces and industry trends, and uncover valuable insights and opportunities that will assist our clients in achieving success in the world.

At Studio Brave, we spend significant time conversing with people, asking questions, and attentively understanding their unique life experiences. Human beings are on the receiving end of every brand interaction, and these human beings will tell you how your brand will be perceived. As a result, every decision a brand makes must stem from genuine empathy and understanding of the consumer.

Studio Brave’s work for Nightingale Studios

What type of qualities do you need to be a happy and successful Strategist in your opinion?

By consistently prioritizing these four essential qualities daily, I believe I can maintain a good level of achievement: Be a good listener (actively listen, not just hear), show empathy, be decisive, and always read more.

When it comes to happiness, it really depends on what happiness and success in a work environment look like to the individual. [At the time of writing] I’m working remotely from a co-working space in Indonesia, shaking up my work environment. It feels necessary for me right now to step outside of what is comfortable, feel challenged, learn something new about myself, collaborate with different people, and be open to what new experiences can bring.

Jemma in the Studio Brave office

When I’m open to — and stimulated by — new experiences and generally present in this life, it will positively affect every aspect of my work. I don’t believe in work and life as separate ways of being. It’s all life.

There’s no special ingredient for success when it comes to being a strategist other than staying attuned to the world around you.

How much of the branding process do you think is ‘strategy’ and how much is ‘creative?’

Being strategic is being creative; the two are not mutually exclusive. Developing strategy demands lateral thinking, viewing problems from unique perspectives, gathering insights, challenging the status quo, creating stories, and building worlds. Visualizing a brand or campaign relies on a strategic framework to make an impact. There’s no point in having a beautiful design with no clear plan for its existence.

Beautiful design with a clear plan, Studio Brave’s work for Parabolica

How does Studio Brave differentiate itself in the world of design studios?

There’s a lot of overlap in service, offer, and promise in our industry, and the agencies that do well are not necessarily doing something that no one has seen before. They’re operating from a unique place that their contemporaries can’t replicate. We believe in what we create, and we push ourselves — and our clients — to think differently.

We challenge each other and don’t take on jobs that don’t align with our values. We would share a similar message with our clients: Whether you have a strong value set, a unique belief system, or see the world through a different lens, know what it is that you truly care about.

To learn more about Studio Brave
Website: studiobrave.com.au
Instagram: @studiobrave

In a world where creativity and strategy intertwine, Studio Brave showcases the immense value of external collaboration and diverse partnerships in design and branding.

Their commitment to strategic creativity, client alignment, and a value-driven approach not only sets them apart and places them in a position where agencies like ours feel like we can learn so much. One of the highlights of working in this world is chatting with and learning from people and businesses we admire so much.

It’s also a priviledged position for us to be in, being able to shed a little light on an industry that seems in so many ways so exciting and inspiring but also at times a little opaque. We hope this was an illuminating exploration of the evolution in the ever-evolving world of branding and design, and if there’s ever any questions about the agency world you might want to know more about feel free to get in touch.