Jul 19th, 2017

What Skills Will Strategists Need in the Future?

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The APG is a membership organization for planners and strategists who are in the marketing and communication fields.  

Six times a year, APG holds a flagship event called Noisy Thinking during which a speaker addresses a provocative question or current theme around planning and strategy. Last month, JWT London’s Shekhar Desphande, Global Planning Director, spoke at a Noisy Thinking event about research he conducted analyzing important skill sets for planners and how these skills will evolve in the future.

Over the last ten years, I have witnessed first-hand the drastic changes that have taken place in the marketing industry. When I joined the JWT London team in 2006, there were only two planners in our meetings, myself included. But now, there are almost half a dozen planners at every agency, covering a range of fields including digital, social, content, data, and CRM. This fragmentation, seeing planners spreading their across these subjects,  made me wonder: Are planners becoming salespeople for a specific product that the agency sells? Or are they architects who solve business and brand problems? 

To address this question, I partnered with the APG to curate research that breaks down the top-rated universal skills that planners. I supplemented the research by conducting personal interviews with twenty-five Chief Strategy Officers across multiple agencies in London. Based off this research, I put together a list of guidelines for how strategists should effectively apply these top skills in the years ahead.

So what do these findings mean for strategists?

We are failing to understand people at a time when we need to know them better.

Understanding people is, in my opinion, our superpower as strategists and what prevents business consultants from taking our place in the industry. Our ability to link this understanding of people to commercial return is our specialty, but we’re not leveraging it enough.

The old with the new, not the old versus the new.

Strategists need to stop living in an “either/or” culture – they need to absorb what is timeless, but also embrace new ways of applying these principles. Strategists should not argue that the fundamentals are changing, but should instead be excited about new ways they can build and grow brands.

Orchestrating, rather than playing solo.

A strategist should be able to put together a team of thinkers who have varied skills. Be prepared to work with a data planner who thinks ‘brand’ is a dirty word! (and vice versa…)

So go, be brilliant.

Strategy is the imaginative understanding of both cause and effect. Through this research, we have learned that strategists must have a deep understanding of people, be able to identify the root cause of a problem, and create a strategy that has a predetermined commercial effect. This is how strategists can be brilliant at the fundamentals, while also applying them to the new world.

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