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Eva Grimmett 

Is media strategy getting harder?

Is media strategy getting harder?

Strategy LeadersMedia strategy is more complex than it used to be and there is a greater need for agencies to differentiate themselves.

I’ve written previously that there is a crisis brewing in strategy. That while we might feel in rude health right now, there are dark clouds on the horizon for how media agencies value and market strategy.

Strategy is often viewed as a key differentiator, an agency’s IP, the game-changing ideas that balance the optimisation of increasing digital spend. But is this still the case?

Is our flavour of strategy really that different from one agency to the next? As our industry becomes more complex by the day, the need for strategy to help simplify is ever more present. But is strategy getting harder?

What a question. And what do I mean by it? Harder to do in itself? Or harder to differentiate? I think it is important to answer both.

And as agencies evolve, we continue to view strategy as a growth lever, but are clients buying it? Or going elsewhere? Or going in-house?

I had thought that clients would start to in-house comms strategy within the next two years, but I have seen evidence that it is in fact happening now.

Continual learning mode

Now, this might all sound like doom and gloom, but I promise it isn’t. By posing these questions, we can start to think about how our discipline needs to evolve. I’m passionate about the impact media strategy can have and want it to continue to flourish.

So, to the first question. Is the act of creating strategy harder than it used to be? It certainly needs to take an increasingly expansive number of composite parts into consideration. When I first moved into a strategy role in 2008 there certainly seemed to be fewer channels and platforms to think about.

I don’t think that the skill sets required for strategy have got any harder, we are generalists that are better able to connect the dots than many other disciplines. The challenge arises in that, this generalist approach needs to include more things. This means a media strategist must be in continual learning mode.

It’s one of the reasons why I have a Media Futures function within my team. It is, however, an ever-increasing task to stay connected to how technology is shaping everything that we do. So, the answer to whether strategy itself is getting harder, is yes, while the skills required are the same, the nature of the beast is far more complex.

The logical conclusion of this answer is that clients should therefore need strategy more than ever. In navigating this, however, how do agencies package this up and make it easy for clients to differentiate?

As media pricing becomes less of a differentiator, how much more important is strategy? And more importantly, how do we package up our strategic approaches so that clients continue to come to media agencies, rather than look elsewhere?

People, not the process, creates great strategy

When it comes to winning pitches, we all know that a weak strategy can lose it for an agency, but what does a strong strategy do? Ultimately, I think it gives clients confidence in an agency, for a great strategy can create huge growth for a client in a way that increasingly automated buying can’t optimise to.

So, what does all this mean for agencies seeking to differentiate their flavour of strategy?

Firstly, I think it is imperative to ensure that an agency’s purpose infuses the way that agency responds strategically. The strategy needs to be the embodiment of the promise the agency kicks off with, otherwise the promise remains an empty strapline.

As with most things, it ultimately comes down to talent. It is the people, not the process that can create great strategy (although a good process can enable), so agencies need to invest time in thinking about how their strategic talent needs to evolve. Diversity is essential to great insight and ideas, but my observations are that it is lacking in many strategy teams. More diversity will also help with the increasing complexity of the landscape that strategy needs to account for.

Lastly, I’m a great believer in the power of intellectual property. A strategy is only as good as the insight(s) it is built upon. A far wiser person than me, Dave Trott once said something along the lines of (I think I may be slightly paraphrasing) that clients pay us for what they don’t know, not what they already know. Insight can genuinely be a differentiator.

So is strategy getting harder? It is certainly more complex than it used to be, and there is certainly a greater need for agencies to differentiate their flavour of strategy versus others.

Ultimately, I think there are three things that will help: purpose, talent and insight. And yes, these three have all become harder.

Eva Grimmett is chief strategy officer at Havas Media Group

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