Strategists have more influence in the industry

A survey by WARC finds that while strategy is more valued, many senior leaders feel like their expertise isn't properly utilized.

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While strategists and planners have more influence with their clients and within their agencies, many of them feel like their skills aren’t being properly applied, according to a new report from WARC.

WARC surveyed more than 500 senior planners and strategists globally to compile the findings in this year’s “Future of Strategy” report. It also gathered 12 agency- and client-side experts to interpret the report’s findings and provide commentary.

Overall, the planners surveyed feel like they have more influence than a year ago, both within their agency and with clients. That feeling is more prevalent among digital and other specialist agencies (70%) than in creative and media shops (56%). This is leading to over half of them reporting that they expect their strategy department to grow over the next year.

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However, there are certain factors that are giving strategy leaders cause for concern. Namely, many pointed to the pace of change in the marketing industry, client-side budget cuts and a client focus on technology leading to more of an emphasis on short-term strategies over sustainable ones.

The budget cuts are also putting pressure on strategy departments, with more than 60% saying they are affected by cost-cutting as clients move functions in-house and automate processes. This is also leading to a feeling among 75% of planners that they can’t leave their desks.

“Fewer and fewer planners spend much time in the real world, preferring to observe it from the comfort of a research report and Google search,” said Rob Campbell, chief strategy officer of Deutsch, in the report.

The report also picked up the ever-looming threat of consultancies as a major concern, with 56% of respondents viewing them as a hazard to their business, although the growth of in-house client teams and strategy departments at larger media organizations were also high on the list. However, only 15% of respondents saw the influence of consultancies as a “current” obstacle to their job, suggesting that many see them as more of a long-term threat to their business.

More than 40% of strategists in the poll said they wanted to move their services “upstream” with clients, as that appears to be the biggest opportunity from both a business perspective – working with clients who need strategy services but not assistance from the rest of an agency – and in terms of putting their skills to the best use – working on big-picture business challenges, instead of simply “tweaking” the approach to individual executions.

However, Paula Bloodworth, strategy director at Wieden & Kennedy, points out that strategists should not be too adverse to working on things that discount fast-changing consumer needs. In today’s marketing industry, she says, a focus on execution could be beneficial to clients in driving creative and using a test-and-learn approach to see what is most effectve.

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