Traditionally, the Future of Strategy report explores how to protect and sustain the strategy discipline, but the changes brought about in 2020 have forced a rethink of how it should change and improve.

This is according to senior strategists contributing to WARC’s Future of Strategy 2020 report, which subscribers can read here.

“Throughout lockdown, strategists everywhere played such an important role for so many brands,” says Tom Roach, an Executive Strategy Director based in the UK.

But the sea of sameness that constituted the first wave of responses to the pandemic suggests that the task of a strategist is not only to advocate for creative solutions that truly differentiate the brand “under whatever circumstances.”

The Future of Strategy 2020

This article is part of WARC's The Future of Strategy report, which is based on a global survey of senior strategists and in 2020 focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on strategy.

Read the full report

Those circumstances have been grim so far. By May, brands had already cut $50 billion from global spend in anticipation of COVID-19’s impact. 69% of respondents to the survey believe that the pandemic will fundamentally change the agency business. Strategy will change too.

“The problem for strategy, like the ad biz itself, lies in the narrowing of the importance of ads – part of the marketer's arsenal – to be more relevant and get paid”, says the freelance strategist Ed Cotton. “The scope of services offered have to be broader and more holistic, and therefore more capable of impacting the business.”

The result is that the discipline must change from a focus on advising on spending to one that runs at the future, able to adopt “new kinds of solutions to new kinds of problems,” says Roach. At the moment, strategy is in far more demand than planning.

Part of the solution requires undoing the monolith of the strategist. As Iris Worldwide’s UK Chief Strategy Officer suggests, there should be a finer sense of specialism among strategists with expertise in three different parts of a solution:

  1. What should I do?
  2. How do I do it?
  3. Where can it take me?

With that, the discipline ought also to shed its superiority complex.

“When faced with a fast-evolving crash like we are experiencing, telling your clients to invest in brand advertising matters, but it will severely test a strategist’s tactical edge”, says Shann Biglione, Head of Strategy at Zenith, USA. “Understanding how each media platform operates is mission critical if you want to make recommendations that are remotely actionable.” In short, strategy needs to be comfortable in the nuts and bolts of the campaign.

This new plurality chimes with a need for the profession to diversify in terms of background as well as expertise. The problem, argues Ally Owen, co-founder of Brixton Finishing School, is that “strategy is still seen as a such a cerebral role and as such, old biases remain, where recruitment frequently centres around the those with traditional degrees in classic subjects.”

Until we start to see all groups represented, she adds, “we cannot have balance, and without that balance, can we truly claim to understand all the audiences that our clients need to reach?”

Ultimately, one of the biggest changes will be in the structure of strategy within agencies. Or outside of them.

“Divorcing high level ‘grand strategy’ from advertising execution is going to be critical moving forward,” argues the Fawnbrake Collective co-founder Amelia Torode. “The traditional agency system was broken before COVID and now agencies are desperately gulping for oxygen but the strategic client needs have changed and the agency structures have failed to keep pace.”

Sourced from WARC