Revisiting COVID-19 white papers, one year later

May 2020 felt like a turning point.

From rescheduling trips to cancelling them. From “see you in three weeks!” to “see you in October? Maybe?” From scrambling to survive a new normal, to struggling to make sense of it.

As we realized that this crisis would last for months, if not years, a new quarantine coping mechanism emerged: future-forecasting. Nearly every major ad agency, consulting firm and think tank released some kind of study and list of predictions for the future. This repository of trend reports , compiled by Ci En Lee, became all the rage.

Nearly a year later…

How algorithm awareness is re-writing the rules of social

Originally published in February 2021 on Muse by Clio.

Do you remember when you first encountered Fast Food Twitter? It felt unhinged. It felt risky. But soon, brand mascots swapping postmodern quips about depression started to feel stale. Other companies joined the party and the content became increasingly contrived-which ruined the fun.

Today, we’re seeing this cycle play out at scale. People demand authenticity everywhere, not just on Fast Food Twitter. We’re increasingly suspicious of anything that looks polished or planned-especially online, and especially from brands. This cultural shift will only gain steam in 2021, creating a new brand playbook…

On generation-generalization and the real ways we’re different from our parents

I’m not the first person to gripe about hot-and-cold generational conjectures, nor will I be the last. But they drive me nuts.

Most of Gen Z isn’t looking for a purpose-driven pair of shoes. Not all Boomers vote Republican. There’s only one thing that distinguishes these generations in a meaningful way: economics.

Lessons in brand identity from direct-to-consumer startups

This article was originally published in The Drum in November 2018.

We communicate differently. Brands should, too.

Direct-to-consumer startups such as Casper, Allbirds, and Glossier are like the Candy Crush of brand identity: simple, addictive, and sweet. They make conventional consumer goods chic and capture the millennial market with clean web design and viral subway ads.

These brands are succeeding at things their competitors have chased for years and turning industries upside down. Their contemporary spin on marketing best practices helps them stand out to elusive younger audiences. For these companies, direct-to-consumer is more than a business model — it’s the foundation of their brand.


Here’s what I learned.

So universally cringe-worthy.

“What are you writing your thesis about?”

I’m lucky. All I had to do to answer this question was say some combination of the words “Pepsi” and “Kendall Jenner,” then wait for the cringe.

“That,” I’d say, “is what I’m studying. I want to figure out a way to do that better.”

My thesis wasn’t groundbreaking lab research or a fresh take on a literary classic, but it did tackle something important: the intersection of corporate speech and cultural tension.

For eighteen months, I studied what happens when brands adopt the voice of activists — and what it might mean…

On trusting (and building) my instincts

A few months ago, I read a great article by Heidi Hackemer called “All hail the gut.” The phrase stuck in my head like a song lyric. The gut. It was almost haunting: something I’d been told to rely on time and time again, but could never quite understand.

These past few years, I struggled with my gut. I drowned everything resembling an instinct in circular justification: an attempt to understand what I couldn’t explain. I over-thought and over-wrote and doubted, doubted, doubted.

And then finally, I learned.

My battle with my gut isn’t over, but I see it more…

I was honored to deliver these remarks at the 2018 University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Commencement.

I am a sucker for a good commencement speech. I’m not joking. Every year I refresh Twitter looking for a new batch of sappy, life-affirming essays to recharge my inspiration.

When I was 17, my favorite teacher handed me a copy of Claiming an Education, a speech that influential poet Adrienne Rich gave in 1977. I never forgot how she opened her remarks:

“The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to…

After a week visiting advertising agencies in New York City, one thing was clear to me: everyone, from small creative shops to legacy powerhouses, smells trouble.

Big clients rely increasingly on their in-house creative teams. Consultancies are acquiring creative agencies to widen their breadth of service to companies. Edelman, a famed public relations firm, is expanding its advertising arm, as well.

Across the board, clients are moving away from the stable, traditional agency-of-record model. Though agencies still enjoy trusted relationships with brands, those brands are looking for more nimble partnerships, and often seek agency consultation on smaller, one-off projects.


Lessons on making great ideas come to life — from scratch.

9 out of 10 startups don’t fail because 9 out of 10 ideas are bad.

Personality clashes. Lack of shared vision. Poor financial planning. There’s a million reason why great ideas can fail to make real world impact.

Pivoting isn’t failure.

It’s key to distinguish between the parts of your idea that work and the ones that don’t. With that self-awareness, you know where to make changes and where to be resolute.

Practice makes partnership.

When looking for partners, start small. Pick up the phone early and practice your pitch on different stakeholders. Find “internal ambassadors” in big organizations who will push your idea right onto their boss’s desk.

Keep asking why anyone should care.

When you give your elevator pitch dozens of times a day, it’s…

Lessons on catalyzing the change you want to see

Impact isn’t what you do. It’s how the world changes because of it.

Consider your net impact: how do your actions improve (or worsen) the issue you’re tackling? Identify a few impact performance indicators, then track those carefully to see how your idea adds value to the world.

Instinct falls apart at scale.

Going with your gut might work in your cultural bubble, but when it comes to translating your ideas to a national or international context, you need to check your assumptions with research.

Don’t skip the dress rehearsal.

You can prototype almost anything, whether it’s a product, a service or a campaign. Seeing how people interact with your idea helps you refine and improve it.

It’s about impact, not intention.

Your brilliant, planet-saving idea can have…

Rachel Benner

Personal & professional musings. Opinions my own, as they say.

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