I have only ever come across one person who calls himself a tactician in the ad trade and that's Dave Trott in his brilliant book Predatory Thinking. Let's face it, that's not bad company to be in.
In Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt defines strategy as discovering the "critical factors in a situation" and focusing resource to deal with them. His illustration is easy to visualise. Nelson, at Trafalgar, overcoming the enemy – who outnumbered the English by a huge factor – by using his ships to break through the line of Franco-Spanish fleet. Rumelt writes: "Despite the roar of voices wanting to equate strategy with ambition, leadership, vision, planning or the economic logic of competition, strategy is none of these."
In Alastair Campbell's new book Winners And How They Succeed, José Mourinho gives his definition of strategy versus tactics. It is somewhat contrary to the idea that strategy is a broad, long-term, all-encompassing idea under which tactics sit to be deployed in the short term. He says: "The tactics are the model, the principles… when the keeper has the ball, does he go short or long? When the other team has the ball in midfield, where do our players go? […] Tactics are the DNA of the team… strategy is when you do something for a certain game."
Mourinho goes on to criticise the England boss, Roy Hodgson, for his failure to change strategy in their last World Cup game versus Uruguay. Hodgson made two substitutions at 1-0 down. The subs weren't sent to play a different role and they didn't change the course of the game. England were playing with four at the back and losing 1-0. To at least get a draw, Mourinho would have put an extra man in midfield/attack and run with just three in defence. This, at the very least, would force the opposition to have to react to a change in strategy.
We are building the opportunity for real-time course correction into communications plans as the exploitation of real-time big data allows us to change what we do mid-campaign, as opposed to delivering a plan that has been set in stone for months (and hanging on for a post-campaign analysis at the traditional point when all the media information is available). We are planning for outcomes in business results, not media rating delivery. The obvious thing to do when we course correct is to stick to the same strategy and just refresh the plan with a minor adaption of the same plan. As Mourinho points out, a bigger opportunity lies in switching strategy to significantly overpower the competition.
So next time the opportunity comes up for real-time course correction, ask yourself: are you Hodgson or are you The Special One?
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom