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What is the Future of Strategy?

News, 10 July 2017
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GLOBAL: Agency planners are generally gaining influence within the marketing industry, but they are also facing threats ranging from cost-cutting clients to the fragmentation of the strategic role, according to WARC's new Future of Strategy report.

The report is based on a regionally-balanced global survey of senior planners and strategists, conducted by WARC over the past year. The report, including full data, analysis and exclusive commentaries from 12 of the survey's participants, is available for WARC subscribers. Non-subscribers can download an extract here.

In all, 61% of respondents to the survey said they felt planning had gained influence within their agency over the past year, while 46% believe they are gaining influence among clients.

One of the main drivers of this increased influence, according to the survey, is the growing complexity of the media and marketing landscape, which has brought about a rising need for strategic guidance on how modern marketing works.

The fragmentation of strategic roles – into communications planning, social strategy, mobile strategy, and so on – was also a big theme in the survey. To some respondents, this fragmentation offered a threat to the future. "We are specialising ouselves into irrelevance," Gareth Kay, co-founder of Chapter SF and a contributor to the report, warned.

When asked for planners' biggest future opportunities, the most frequent answer (cited by 72%) was the opportunity to move 'upstream' – in other words, to work on clients' deep-lying business problems, not just their ad campaigns.

On the other hand, client issues – in which time pressure and cost-cutting led to the agency being given more and more short-term, project-based 'downstream' work – were cited as the single biggest threat to agency strategists in future, mentioned by 67% of respondents.

This could mean that planners need to make a better case for the value they add. Guy Murphy, Worldwide Planning Director at J. Walter Thompson, commented in the report: "It's ironic that planning, the most effectiveness-minded discipline, pays little attention to whether it creates a commercial return."

Elsewhere in the report, survey respondents offered guidance on how the planning teams of the future should be built. "Philosophy, approach, values. And focus on the work," advised Suzanne Powers, global CSO at McCann Worldgroup, in her commentary on the report's results. "That's how we build an effective team."

The survey also highlighted the need for collaboration with other teams within the agency. Planners' relationships with creative teams in particular is becoming more important than ever.

In his commentary, Tom Morton, SVP for US Strategy at R/GA, pointed out that the most important thing planners could offer creatives is what good planners have always offered: human insights.

He added: "Insight remains the most valuable commodity. Planners assume that creatives want well-articulated problem statements.

"They don’t. They want insight hunters, not provocateurs."

Data sourced from WARC

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