Balancing the Grind with Aurelie Plessier, Head of Strategic Planning at Brain Value

Aurelie Plessier is an international brand strategist and currently the Head of Strategic Planning at Paris-based consumer research agency Brain Value.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am currently head of strategic planning of an international consumer research boutique called Brainvalue. Based in Paris, 70% of our projects have an international scope, with 2 key countries – China & the USA – where we have local offices handled by locals.

I worked for 13 years on international projects in the advertising business in France & in India, exploring different international networks & ad agencies (TBWA, Grey, Ogilvy, Publicis, Young & Rubicam).

I shifted to the consulting side 3 years ago, to develop the strategic planning business of Brainvalue. The founder of Brainvalue is Nicolas Riou, an ex-adman. We share the same desire to reconcile brand strategy & human relevancy.

For decades research agencies were doing a fantastic job at exploring human motivations & behaviors, but struggled to get marketing & communication teams to make the best of these cultural & consumer insights. Many reports would sit on a shelf and pick up dust.

We believe in bringing the best of both worlds (communication/marketing & research) and helping our clients make the smartest informed marketing decisions.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I am an ex-workaholic. I am passionate about brands, communication & cultural insights.

When I am in the middle of a social media listening analysis or trying to crack a brand positioning or else work-related, time flies.

But my life changed after my first burn-out, and later on with my first kid. When I was single, I used to go running in the morning but nowadays I woke up peacefully with a big & long hug from my two young boys around 7am.

A nice family breakfast, a quick shower and then either I would take the boys to school or I would take our lovely 6 years old beagle for a walk.

Then I would head to the office, calling on the way my mum, my brother or my best friend. I am a social animal, I care for the others & I love the feeling to be surrounded by dear people who care too. My day starts with lots of love. It may sound cliché, but it is a great mood booster.

My day in the office starts around 9-9.30am with a coffee, a little chit chat with colleagues & reading some of the dozens of newsletters I subscribe to. My partner does not understand why my inbox is filled with so many messages. International strategic planning requires to be interested about any & every topic, from different parts of the world, to be inspired & inspiring.

For the rest of the day efficacy is my main motivation, as I want to make the most of every hour spent in the office. I expect my team to do the same. I hate working late or weekends because one took unlimited coffee / lunch / cigarettes breaks, or exhausting useless long meetings.
It is part of our culture at Brainvalue, positive, friendly yet seeking excellence & performance.

I leave the office by 6.30pm to be able to be home to read books to my kids, talk about our day and put them to bed together with my partner.

It was difficult, when I worked in advertising, to stick to such a routine. There is this toxic idea that you should work late as many creatives work late. I hate presentism and having to stick somewhere to adapt to others’ lifestyles.

We should all be able to be flexible and live harmoniously. Some work better in the morning, some work better in the afternoon & some are night animals. It doesn’t matter, be smart, do your job brilliantly and respect your internal clock. Even when I was working in Mumbai, I used to be in office “very early” because I loved the peace in the streets and in the agency before it started buzzing.

The last part of my day is very precious: dinner with my partner or/and friends, ordering, cooking or going out to restaurants. I love food & wines, exploring new places, new tastes, new savors.

I would rarely work at night after dinner. When I do, time flies and I tend to work from 10pm onwards with no limit.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My current role would allow remote working, as we do not have as many meetings as in the ad world & they tend to be shorter. Most of them could be conducted by Zoom or Bluejeans or Teams. Even with clients.

With the pandemic we have started conducting 100% online strategic workshops. Recently we conducted – during 2 days – a co-construction workshop involving more than 7 countries, 3 time zones, using only videoconferencing and Google Slides. No exhausting flights. No expensive flight tickets. 20 participants happy to work and ideate from their homes.

I believe that flexibility and remote working is great to bring a better balance into your life. Yet being 100% on remote could be depressing. The energy of the group is so powerful when you experiment it live. I hope that remote working couple of days a week will become a new normal in France and abroad.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I worked on so many ad campaigns about women balancing things (work life and personal life, kids and work, kids and husband) that I got sick of the expression “work-life balance”!

Yet what it covers is key. I do not believe you can be obsessed with work, spend your days & nights working and remain sane on the long term. It is exhausting, for your body but also for your mind, for your soul.

To keep up a good routine is essential. Routine used to be a dirty word for me, it meant having a boring, predictable life. Then I read The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma and I decided to include better things in my life.

Better food for my body, my brain, my soul, moments dedicated to myself, stronger mental discipline. I acknowledge that my friends, family and lover are my sanity guardians. I spend lots of time with them over the phone, messaging and in real life.

Finally, I discovered the power of plants & pet therapy.

When I joined Brainvalue one of the first things I did was buying plants for the strategic planning team space and asking for larger windows.

All team members feel responsible to care for them, water them, clean them. Light and greenery contribute to our wellbeing. I wish for everyone to be happy to come to the office and enjoy every minute spent there. Be happy or quit. I quit many jobs in my life and never regretted it. You should own your life.

One summer I took our beagle to the office. Her name is Ibiza, she is a hedonist! She loves food, jumping & running around. She became the little star of the office, people click pictures with her, play with her, take her out for short walks.

I saw smiles on people’s faces like never before. Angry people, sad people, stressed people suddenly lighten up. She brings balance into our life and I try to take her to office regularly.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

With the pandemic, like millions of people, I suffered from uncontrollable fears: How will I manage my two kids? Will the business be back on track? Is my job useful? Do I really contribute to a better world? Will my partner keep his new job? Will my ageing parents suffer from the covid, my family? Will we be locked up for months & months?

So many questions, so many dreadful news. We started enjoying life pleasure to compensate, having richer food (yet home cooked!) – more cheese, more wine, richer meals with larger quantities. Our bodies carried the weight of our apprehensions, for a couple of months.

Then I got tired of it all. I had to get back on track. I took the Spanish classes I have been procrastinating for years and introduced new healthy habits.

For the past 2 months as a family (even if the kids are not really interested!) We started taking intensive 30 minutes online gym classes 5 days a week. It is not much but I can already see the results on my fitness level & on my mental health.

I used to go running once or twice a week, I feel less of an urge now. We have also reduced our dairy intakes, no cheese, very few yogurts, very little carbs (to the exception of rice!). Let’s see how it goes.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

It is very difficult to pick & choose… I would recommend reading Robin Sharma (The 5 am Club – great learnings even if you wake up at 7 or 8am, The Monk Who Sold Its Ferrari); The Secret by Rhonda Byrne; Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse; Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler.

These are books I read a long time ago but that inspired me. There are many more newsletters & podcasts & books but they are all in French.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I am not attached to any product or gadget. With the lock down, we chose to go to the French countryside & took very few things with us as we have a small car. The only thing that was difficult to live without was a good Wi-Fi network!

The only app I am really loyal to is Spotify, as I listen to music to concentrate on my work or disconnect. I tend to listen with only one earphone on, to make sure I am always available for people around me. What a contradiction.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.