Dan Drullinger: A Strategic Mind

By Courtney Lang

When there’s an advertising professional stuck in Texas and we’re in Michigan, the only way to handle it is by utilizing technology. For the first time, EVER, Grand Valley’s Advertising Club had a skype call instead of an in-person visit. That’s right, Senior Strategist Dan Drullinger just made history. We weren’t going to let our geographical hurdle stop us from speaking with him and learning more about his life as a strategist.

So, who even is this Dan Drullinger guy that we are talking about?

In 2008, Dan was attending the University of Oregon where he was in the same boat as we are right now. He was involved in his school’s Advertising Club and was also terrified of the idea that he wasn’t going to get an internship. Fast forward not much later and Dan has been working as a Senior Strategist for GSD & M located in Austin, Texas for over two years now.

Defining strategy

Dan used a Lawrence Freedman quote when discussing with us what strategy means to him. Freeman said a strategy is “getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.”

By remembering this definition of what it means to come up with a strategy, he has had undeniable success within the advertising industry. He has worked for several big brands, such as: Good Year, Best Buy, Paypal, Dodge, Domino’s, Vitamin Water, Charles Schwab, and John Deere. Talk about a fantastic portfolio.

His main client right now is Dodge, but he continues to bring in new clients by pitching ideas. The bloodline, or better yet, the artery of GSD & M are their new clients. At the end of the day, GSD & M wants to come up with ideas that will make a difference in the advertising world. To do that, you must think creatively as well as strategically. 

How to be strategic

  1.       Identify the problem

First and foremost, to come up with an effective strategy to solve your problem, you’re first going to have to identify what the problem is. You must peel back those layers before doing any form of creative work.

  1.       Research and data

A strategist conducts both qualitative and quantitative research for their clients. Qualitative includes focus groups, ethnographic and one on ones. It’s a perfect opportunity to get away from your Mac screen and just talk to people. Be sure to talk to the people outside the major cities and big crowds. Find out what their wants and needs are so that you can come up with a strategy that helps achieve them. 

Qualitative data is great, but you cannot do much without quantitative research as well, which includes: copy testing, data analysis, and surveys. These numbers can help validate the qualitative side of everything.

  1.       Segmentation

This as a lot to do with understanding your target audience’s personas. You want to be able to know what they would say and how they would react because of a strategy being used. In a sense, you want to find those shared values that both you and your prospects would appreciate and accept.

A great example is the Harly Davidson advertisements that say, “may wind be the only product in your hair.” The reason this is so powerful is because they used their research to understand their target audience. They found that shared value between the driver and the vehicle itself.

  1.       Creative brief and briefing

Dan stated that he believes that briefing is just as valuable as the brief itself. According to Dan, if a “problem is well-stated then it is a problem half-way solved.” You must be willing to rewrite the brief over if it is the right move. This is because an even better idea or thought can easily come about in a single moment.

For instance, one of Dan’s former colleagues wrote a brief and was about to pitch it the following day, but one event changed everything. He had a barbecue with his colleagues and just threw out his original idea. When he made his pitch, all he said was that he wanted to recreate the feeling of that barbecue. He did not have a brief, but he still won the pitch. This just goes to show that a formal document is not always necessary to create great work.

After Dan discussed with us about strategy, he opened up the floor to questions. The main question every student wonders about is the best way to get an internship, which Dan was happy to touch on.

Advice- Internships

When you consider applying for internships, make sure you admire their work as well as their approach to it. Make a short list of agencies that you want to work at and then go ahead and get your hands dirty. You have to do some digging to get as much information as you can about them. That way you will stand out from the crowd during the interview process.

No matter how long it takes, stay positive because within the advertising industry things change overnight. Be open to opportunities if you can financially afford it and it makes sense in your life.

Once you land an internship, do not sit there and simply listen. That’s easy. Provide your thoughts even if you think they may be wrong. You are there to prove you can add to the conversation. In Dan’s words, “I’m nothing if I am not opinionated.”


On behalf of Grand Valley’s Advertising Club, I would like to thank Dan for taking time out of his day to Skype with us. It was extremely engaging and informational hour.

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