Get a demo Do I subscribe? News sign-up
Print

How strategists can challenge the status quo

Opinion, 10 July 2017

This commentary appears in WARC’s new ‘Future of Strategy’ report, based on a global survey of senior agency planners. The report covers the current state of the strategic discipline, future opportunities and challenges, and guidance on building the planning team of the future.

We don’t have a central strategy team at MediaCom. Instead we have a Challenge and Inspire Department, affectionately known within the agency as “CID”.

There’s a reason for this: the risk of the strategist “going native” with their client.

In order to develop good strategy, it is very important to get really close to a client’s business problems, to get under the skin of their brand, and to get to know how they operate.

We think this is the job of the planning teams who work on the client’s business day to day.

But, at the same time, as a strategist it is very important to maintain some distance from the client, get under the skin of anyone who might be a source of growth, and always be able to challenge existing ways of working.

If you stay too close, you cannot do this. You go native. And if you go native you cannot challenge as effectively, you are less able to identify sources of growth, and it is much harder to re-invent.

There are plenty of people at MediaCom who are responsible for the smooth running and forward progress of the accounts we work on. It’s crucial that we focus on all the ways in which we can contribute to effectiveness day to day. In addition we encourage our CID team to disrupt the smooth running of the account to seek a strategic step change on behalf of clients. To be ready for disruption before disruption arrives. To challenge the status quo. To inspire creativity.  To leapfrog the crowd. To zig when the market zags. To seek growth ideas when others are cutting back.

Richard Rumelt says in Good strategy, bad strategy: “An insightful reframing of a competitive situation can create whole new patterns of advantage and weakness. The most powerful strategies arise from such game-changing insights.”

Get too close, go native, and those insights are very difficult to come by. Good strategy should consider the unexpected. If your focus as a strategist is on understanding the rules of the marketplace you’re involved in, if you’re so close to the action that you’re part of the game, it is difficult to find the unexpected wins.

Even when you’ve built a game-changing strategy, you’ve barely begun the task of a strategist. The most important part of any strategy is the execution. In fact, as Mike Bracken puts it, “The strategy is the execution”. If you are too close to the people involved in the old ways of working, it can be hard to focus on sticking to the changes that might create disruption and, through that disruption, some real advantage.

So, don’t get too close. Don’t go native. Challenge the status quo.

More on the future role of agency strategists Find out what senior agency  strategists told WARC on what's changing, what challengies lie ahead, and  building the planning team of the future. Get an excerpt of the report

About the author

Sue Unerman is Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom