Kari Gussis

 Kari Gussis

Kari Gussis

Texas Showcase

AdGrad alum Kari Gussis had a background in psychology and knew she wanted to apply it to the field of advertising. She landed a strategic planning internship at local agency McGarrah Jessee (McJ) a little over a year ago while earning her Masters Degree in advertising. Since graduating last May, she was hired on as Jr. Planner and works with such clients as Whataburger and Shiner Beer. In this Q&A, Kari tells us about her passion for planning, why she loves working at McJ, and gives some great advice about how to turn an internship into a career. 

How did the Advertising Graduate Program at UT help get you to where you are today?

Considering my background – I was in need of an Advertising 101.  I got my Bachelor’s in Psychology, and knew it fit with Advertising, but wasn’t sure how…the program provided that link between my undergraduate knowledge and planning and helped me develop a passion for what is now my career.  Mike Mackert and Neal Burns did an amazing job at giving us an opportunity for ‘real world’ experience, by collaborating with actual clients and agencies.  In Mike’s Graduate Campaigns class, I actually presented to McGarrah Jessee – and eh hem, we won the pitch ;).  Neal took our Advanced Account Planning class to NYC, and that experience was unbelievable.  Our class presented to agencies such as BBH, DDB New York, IDEO and Ogilvy.  One of the most important things about being a planner is to be able to inspire your audience and captivate them with your story (whether it be a positioning presentation, research findings or a brief).  Having to throw your nerves out the window and gain that experience prepared me for today and tomorrow.

You were an Intern at McGarrah Jessee before being hired as a Planner. What’s the secret to turning an internship into a job?

That’s a good question.  Honestly making yourself an asset to the team: Prove that they cannot be without you. Make them question how in the world they got work done before you were there ;)  Just being completely open to those ‘non-glamorous’ tasks that ‘someone has to do’ while showing that you can do more.  It is all about making the most of your time in the agency – learn as much as you can while contributing as much as you can.  Questions are never a bad thing.  If you want to know why something is going down a certain way, ask!  The more you ask, the more you learn and the more likely you are to feel comfortable taking on new projects or tasks.

What’s your typical day like as a Jr. Planner at McJ?

Hmm – that is like asking what the typical day is like in the ER.  It is rather unpredictable most days and changes every day! Depending on the hot project at the time, from developing a quantitative methodology for, conducting or analyzing a recent research initiative to putting together a larger presentation involving deep dives into industry, competitive and developed personas.

Either way, work loads waver between peaks and plateaus.  One week you may be working 12+ hour days, and the next week you feel like you are coasting through less time sensitive projects. 

I love that things get thrown on my plate without warning and keep me on my toes! I love that this job is always something different – even something that would seem routine, such as online survey programming is always changing because each time you send a survey out, there is a different problem you are trying to ask the respondent to help you solve. There are so many facets to a planner’s job and I love the fact that I am constantly tapping into left and right brain ways of thinking to develop my work. 

What makes McJ different from other agencies? What makes it a great place to work? We’ve heard a rumor that there’s Shiner at the office.

That’s an easy one.  The culture.  It is absolutely the best environment I could imagine myself working in.  It is extremely collaborative and integrated very well.  Also, working with brilliant people is pretty nice J  Everyone in the agency is extremely bright and takes their work seriously – enough.  We work hard, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.  Work needs to be a place you look forward to coming to everyday and McJ absolutely fulfills that for me – it is a family atmosphere.  Also, the team I work with is so great!  Coming in as an intern, I learned so much from the Sr. Planners and Strategic Director.  It really was a great learning and growing environment.

Ah – you have heard we have a beer cooler?  That is correct.  While it is nice to pop open a cold Shiner after a long day of jamming away, we definitely wait until days end or an occasional beer:30 to crack those open!

Who’s your favorite client to work with? Why?

I would have to say Whataburger.  I have worked the most on projects for them, and it is a loveable brand with a TON of loyalty.  There is heritage, genuine character and authenticity in the brand – not to mention the people at Whataburger are great to work with!  

There’s been a lot of debate about the value of the creative brief. Do you think it’s still an essential part of the planning process?

The conversation around the value of the creative brief is so interesting to me.  I think there have been too many ‘bad’ briefs that might not have enough direction or have enough insight to truly be useful to a creative.  Yes, briefs are still essential and always will be.  However, you don’t have to follow the exact same archetype that was used how ever many years ago.  It’s adaptable, and it’s a conversation.  A briefing is a chance to fully engage the creatives in what the situation is, and what the biggest insights are in order to develop some awesome work.   There will always be a briefing in order to collaborate with the creative department and ensure they are well-equipped when developing work.  The question of how that briefing happens is debatable.  The actual sheet of paper that holds the golden nuggets might change in format, but will always live.

What books/ podcasts/ blogs/ websites should an aspiring Planner check out?

Regularly, I read Ad Age and Advertising Today.  I get them in my inbox, so always at least take a glance at the headlines.  I love reading the digital pieces too – it’s inspiring to see how digital is evolving advertising so much.  In an ideal world, I would be reading a lot more right now, and – when that extra time comes – I will be compiling my list of must-reads.

What is one piece of advice that you wish someone had told you upon graduation?

You will learn leaps and bounds by being immersed in the industry.  Not to discredit the education you have prior, but hands-on is absolutely invaluable.  Get as many internships as you can – even if they don’t turn into a job right then, they are a valuable stepping stone in the right direction.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am so grateful for the experience I had with the UT AdGrad program.  This program helped me realize my passion and gave me the tools to exercise it.  Hook ‘em!


Ad Campaign: Johnny Walker is an easy one to love – the story telling in that campaign is beautiful, not to mention the strategy in finding that connection with the younger audience – making an established brand attainable for a younger demographic.  They re-targeted without straying from the brand.

Food: Mexican, hands down.

Website: Does Google analytics and survey gizmo count? 

Movie: My recent favorites are The Fighter and The King’s Speech.