Creatives come up with ideas. Copywriters work on content. What about strategists? It’s clearly an important role, but their exact responsibilities aren’t always that clear.
Campaign US caught up with strategists from across a wide variety of agencies to ask them to describe what they actually do in 50 words or fewer. (However, most failed to keep to the 50-word limit, so maybe the position is just too hard to explain briefly).
Here’s what the strategists had to say.
Mick McCabe, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Group:
"I think there’s no grand wizardry to strategy. Doing is better than talking though. Mostly about identifying the right and real problem (or opportunity), and with a team designing an insightful, inventive, and charismatic plan that helps solve it. Which means strategists have to be incredibly precise and concise sometimes, and be a bit wild, expansive and divergent at other times. Which keeps it interesting."
Meghan Stephens, Senior Director of Strategy, Laundry Service:
"Research and problem solving. Let’s say a client wants to lift sales by 10 percent. We’ll evaluate what they’re trying to do, who they’re trying to reach, etc. Then we’ll propose a solution—figuring out which channels/platforms to use and what to say. Basically, strategists help clients understand and reach consumers."
Danielle Betras, Strategy Director, Redscout:
"Occasionally I uncover something truly new. More often, my job is to take information you already know and present it back to you in a surprisingly simple way that changes everything. Gareth Goodall told me that good strategists make complicated things simple and simple things inspiring. I tend to agree."
Greg James, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Media Group:
"Strategists should clarify, simplify and innovate. Within a media group, strategists take multiple insights, channels and tactics and help to make choices: Sometimes they’re ruthless in pursuit of clarity. Strategy is the blood brother of innovation - simplify the path to shine light on opportunities for creative thinking."
Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director, The Innovation Group:
"I’m part Futurist (as head of J. Walter Thompson’s think tank) and part strategist. My job is to look at cultural shifts; consumer change - from generations like Gen Z to markets like the Middle East; to innovation in lifestyle verticals, and scenario plan what this means to brands. And devise creative strategies against this. Change is happening faster than ever today so strategists almost need to be futurists too, making sure brands adapt to change. My team in New York and my global teams in Asia, Middle East and Europe are constantly looking at the world and what consumers are doing. As well as looking at new trailblazing concepts - analyzing why they are resonating with people and what we can learn."
Suzanne Powers, Global Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup:
"We leverage all flavors of strategy from insight to optimization, to interpret the ever-changing world of people, culture and business. Our role isn’t to be the expert in all of it, but to understand all of it, calibrating the right expertise at the right moments, to create impact for our clients."
Justine Bloome, Chief Strategy Officer, VaynerMedia:
"A strategist is like a forensic detective. They absorb all contextual clues (research), interrogate any likely suspects (consumers) to understand potential motivations or intent, identifying patterns, links or tensions between the evidence and the human narratives. They shed light on the case by articulating the most probable sequence of events."
Brent Vartan, Managing Partner, Strategist, Bullish:
"Strategists - good strategists - create an environment where ideas grow. They do the work behind the work to help teams discern the difference between what you could do and what you should do. The good Strategists are building a plan to get from A to B. The best strategists are infectious."
Caleb Yarian, Associate Partner, Strategy at Work & Co.:
"In the digital product space, launching isn’t the end of the job. Strategists create a long-term vision for products -branded mobile apps, chatbots, e-commerce platforms- that keep them sustainable and relevant for years. Achieving that vision means working closely with designers and developers to create roadmaps for continuous improvement. Real success is connecting client business objectives to user needs in ways that remain meaningful long after launch."