Interview with AOY Winner: Patrycja Sojka, Strategic Planning Supervisor

27 April 2021

Interview with AOY Winner: Patrycja Sojka, Strategic Planning Supervisor

In STORIES, we will highlight and introduce some of the valued TBWA\HAKUHODO pirates!
To start off, we would like to cover the stories of our proud winners at “Japan/Korea Agency of the Year Awards” 2020, organized by Campaign Asia Pacific – the largest advertising magazine in Asia.
The first and foremost is Patrycja Sojka, who won the “Strategic/Brand Planner of the Year” category – as the first woman and the first foreign nationality of the agency to win this category!

Patrycja Sojka
TBWA\HAKUHODO Strategic Planning Supervisor

Beginning her career in TBWA\Germany as a strategic planner, Patrycja Sojka transferred to TBWA\HAKUHODO in 2017.
She is dedicated to marketing and communication strategies for global clients. She is also actively involved in Backslash Japan – a TBWA collective’s culture-analysis team to spot modern edges, Disruption Consulting – an in-house consulting team with cultural solutions, and is a member of “Peace Pirates” – a working group that is leading DEI policies of the agency.

Q. Tell us how you joined TBWA\HAKUHODO and what you do as a planner.

Right after graduating university, I first joined TBWA Germany for a 9 month internship. The experience strengthened my ambition to pursue a career as a Planner, and decided to do a masters degree in marketing. After completing my degree, a former colleague from the internship reached out to me about a new position, leading the new project of Backslash team – TBWA’s cultural intelligence team. Soon after joining, I was leading various projects with TBWA global network and one of these happened to be a collaboration with TBWA\HAKUHODO – which turned into an unexpected opportunity to not only show my planning, but also my Japanese skills. Even more unexpected was then the offer which I received to move to the Tokyo office.That is now over 3 years ago.

Since joining TBWA\HAKUHODO, I am working on several accounts, building culture-led strategies to better understand and communicate with their customers in and outside Japan. Also, I am continuing my dedication for the Backslash team.

Some of the cultural trends posts by Patrycja as a global spotter, uploaded on Backslash's Instagram account (@tbwabackslash).

Some of the cultural trends posts by Patrycja as a global spotter, uploaded on Backslash’s Instagram account (@tbwabackslash).

A consumers’ advocate, always at the pulse of culture

Q. What do you think is a “Planner,” in a creative agency?

Being a planner never gets boring. It is a profession where one really needs to continuously be at the pulse of culture, really understanding what moves people, what impacts their lives and the people surrounding them. So it is a very unique opportunity for one to always challenge oneself, keep learning and always be curious. We planners are always trying to make sense of the fast changing world, understand the fundamentals and find a way to make the message simple and understandable but also emotional and touching to people.

Planners’ common goal is to be the consumers’ advocate and representative in every kind of business decision and creative communications. So when you look at the roles of the people working in agencies, planners are probably the ones closest to the consumers and have the biggest understanding of how we could work better for them and connect them to brands in a meaningful way.

Never stop believing

Q. Tell us how you got interested in working in Japan as well as the advertising industry.

I think one of the key drivers for me to enter the ad and marketing industry is curiosity and love for culture. I have always been very interested in observing people. I love to travel and just live there – just sitting at a cafe and observe the world around me, how people live, how they speak and behave. When I started to learn international business and management in university, I realized that marketing is synonymous with understanding people’s behavior and way of life, in other words, understanding their culture.

To the extent that I can’t recall exactly where and how it started, I have been interested in Japan and its culture for a very long time. I think I was fascinated by the mix of modern and traditional culture, which drove me towards the feeling of connection with Japan even in Germany.

I have been hoping to move to Japan for a very long time, so I applied for internships while at university. However, it was challenging because Japan follows a very different schedule and has this unique culture about employment, and sadly never got a response. So I decided to go back and do what I love, which is marketing – and thought I would come back to Japan some time later in my life with more experience in the industry.

At the point when I gave up trying to find a job in Japan and joined TBWA\Germany, by lucky coincidence I had a chance to work with the Tokyo office and THEY asked to join TBWA\HAKUHODO. It was at a moment I least expected but of course the answer could not be anything else than YES. It may sound cliche but I can say from my experience is – if you really want to do it, never stop believing.

Q. Was there anything that surprised you from the culture difference working in Japan?

Compared to Germany, one interesting thing is, the awareness of being Japanese or different. There are many conversations about “What is a Japanese way?” I have never thought about it in Germany – there is no conversation like “this is the German way of doing things”. I think there is much more consciousness in Japan about the Japanese-Foreign dimension.

Having more life in your life

Q. What part of the culture of TBWA\HAKUHODO or Japan that you like most? And is there anything you see room for improvement?

What’s so unique about TBWA\HAKUHODO is that it is a true “joint venture” of a global company and a Japanese company at its core, which means what we have is a spectrum between Japanese and foreign perspectives, with all kinds of variations between that. Another is that we have diversity in terms of ways of working and experiences. We are all quite individual and have different ways of expressing ourselves but what we all have in common is definitely that we are very passionate about our work.

Despite all different working style and characteristics, the connection we all have at TBWA\HAKUHODO is our philosophy of “Disruption®︎”. It is the identity we have so no matter the project or your working style, you can always come back to this one common belief to reflect and improve the process and the output. I think this flexibility is really interesting, acknowledging various approaches and methods that fit the team and the project best. This fluidity also gives so many opportunities to identify yourself and to explore who you are.

Something I see as a room for improvement not only in TBWA\HAKUHODO but throughout Japan in general is the passion for work that sometimes goes to the extent of being “workaholics”. I love the passion and commitment that everyone has. Germans always question: what am I working for, why do I earn the money, what’s the purpose, what do I want to achieve? – and it always comes back to “being with family or friends” or “spending time for myself”. This acceptance really allows people to actually do it and achieve work-life balance.

I believe having more life, not just work in your life, would make us even more capable, especially as an advertising agency, specializing in communication to the outside world. To live in the outside world, with the people we are talking to is so important.

Challenges continue but bring it on!

Q. What was the most challenging part working at TBWA\HAKUHODO?

The challenge hasn’t stopped from day one, but will continue for who knows how long – it is definitely the language.
As a planner, we may not write copies, but what we create as an output to clients are oftentimes very complex thoughts and ideas put into very simple and easy-to-understand words. Not being able to fully express is something very challenging and sometimes disheartening.

As I can fairly read, write and speak in Japanese, many Japanese people around me are not aware how it is a daily struggle in encountering new words and grammar. These challenges appear here and there, but I am trying to be strong and positive to overcome. Sometimes I ask straightforwardly if I need to express myself in English, and sometimes switch between both languages to express my thoughts in the language which fits best and understand the nuances in-between.

Portrait of Patrycja working from home

Portrait of Patrycja working from home

Q. Do you have a core principle you keep in mind for work?

For me, it would be “to be efficient.” It is important for me to be efficient, wasting nobody’s time as well as my own time..

On many projects, I work with younger planners, some who just joined the agency. I always try to tell them to be thoughtful of their time and how to utilize it best. Of course they are so ambitious and want to do their best investing time and effort but I think putting too much hours on work is not the right thing to do. Being efficient has benefits not just for oneself but everyone else.

Learning “positivity” towards life

Q. How did you spend your “working from home” during the pandemic?

For me, 2020 with COVID-19 has been an interesting year – I could even go as far and say it was one of my best years. For one, I won the Planner of the Year Award of course!
Even besides that, work and private wise, things have been going very well for me, and working from home has contributed to that. I love staying at home, living and working by my standards. Working from home contributed to greater efficiency across teams, not too much time lost on meetings.

Private wise, I started to learn Italian. Last Spring when the number of cases was increasing particularly rapidly in Italy I saw people playing music and singing on the balconies and thought it was so beautiful and inspiring. This Italian spirit of “no matter what the world throws at you we make the best out of it” and “love for life” truly struck me. I wanted to acquire this kind of positivity – I don’t mean singing on the balcony (my neighbours would hate me for that) but to learn how to approach life and things in a more positive and enjoyable way.

First woman and foreigner planner awardee

Q. Tell us how you felt about winning “Planner of the Year”, and your future goals.

Winning this award has always been a dream of mine. There have been many challenges and frustrations working in Japan and in Japanese, so winning this award gives me a sense of achievement and became an important milestone of my career.
At the same time, however, it is interesting because this year was so different from previous years without real-life announcements or events which are a huge part of any award. It didn’t have a sense of reality when I received the message that I won. People were congratulating me through text but it did not really turn a switch for me which is a bummer. Once things will turn to normal someday, I would like to revenge it.

I was the first woman and foreigner in TBWA\HAKUHODO to win this award. I think it is a very important step for future generations of female and foreigner planners. I may be the first, but I am sure I won’t be the last.

In terms of my career goal, of course I want to continue the great work – I am getting better at what I am doing day by day and there is still room to grow.
Additionally, I want to really push forward DEI and SDGs. I really want to contribute to making Japan a more livable and happy place. Also in the agency I want to create a comfortable and encouraging culture that gives more opportunities for people to explore who they are and grow. Hopefully, I am also able to do so as a good senpai (senior, mentor) for the young female planners working with me, who I am supporting and challenging to see grow and achieve even greater things.

Toward a gender equality society – start with your own actions

Q. Regarding the DEI & SDGs topic, what is the most pressing issue for you that you want to make a change?

I think the “gender diversity” issue is the first to tackle.
As women make 50% of the population, if we make the conditions better for these people, it is already a huge change to the world. The sad truth we see in Japan is declining birth rates, marriage rates going down – and I think it is all interconnected with gender inequality which is becoming more and more apparent.

When we think of gender equality, it is not only about women but also men. I think men should also be given the opportunity to be more free, not be defined by work but by as the person who they are. Of course, there are other gender identities and types, but I think the larger gender equality issue is the root of it all. When it is solved, it will have positive impacts for other topics and problems.

I believe it is how you one needs to live as an example. If you want to say to someone, “work less, promote more women,” you have to do it yourself. This also applies to us at TBWA\HAKUHODO – rather than telling people how to do things, we really have to do it first and take a look at ourselves, because actions speak louder than words.

Next in our series of interviews with AOY winners, we will interview our Head of Global Accounts Sayaka Ohno, who won “Japan/Korea Account Person of the Year” award.
Please stay tuned for the next episode!

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