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Strategists miss the big picture

News, 07 September 2016

LONDON: The strategist of the future needs to have the capability and aptitude to find new growth by answering the big questions that face an organisation and not just addressing parts of the picture, a leading industry figure has argued.

Writing in the current issue of Admap, Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, says strategists have no innate right to exist while making a case for whole-puzzle thinkers.

Strategy is an added-value activity, he notes. "It exists only if and when it can add significant value to the business, or for strategists in agencies and consultancies, to the performance of a client's business."

That can be done in one of two ways – fine-tuning existing operations or, at times of "periodic disruption", examining more fundamental questions about brand direction.

And, as Huntington observes, "there are some pretty big questions in most businesses right now ... Businesses and brands are almost all in start-up mode, turn-around mode, or they are failing".

Good news for strategists then, one would think, but Huntington argues that too many young planners are trapped in optimisation-only roles – planning customer journeys and creating content plans for social media – while senior planners have become satisfied with building brand strategies and delivering a high-quality creative product.

"We are desperately in need of planners and strategists who are capable of ranging across the spectrum of tasks, problems and questions with ease and competence," he says.

"What we desperately need are whole-puzzle thinkers: people who are able to solve the whole puzzle for the client and brand and not just a tiny bit of it."

Huntington cites a Direct Line campaign featuring Harvey Keitel as an example of a whole-puzzle solution that reinvented the brand and boosted growth.

The decision to turn Direct Line from an insurance brand into a company of fixers was an idea that reached into product and proposition development, customer experience, internal culture and external communications.

"No one strategist delivered this brand turnaround, but all of those involved were working to a belief that the whole puzzle needed to be solved in order to deliver growth for Direct Line," Huntington says. And that's where the future of the agency strategist lies.

Data sourced from Admap