What every digital strategist must know

I’ve now been at JWT for one full year and have developed a healthy respect for all the different kinds of skills and temperaments that are required to make advertising, irrespective of whether it is TV, Radio, Print, Out of home or digital. I’ve also had more time to develop further my initial point of view and early thinking on the role of a digital strategist. My thoughts below are based on observations and discussions with my peers and colleagues.

A Digital Strategist is an amalgamation of planning, account and creative.

An ideal digital strategist wears many hats and balances many tasks artfully. Most of us have a stronger predilection towards one of these three roles or tend to be better at one or two of them. And that’s okay. It only means that there are other areas we need to get better at.

In working with the planner, the strategist must offer input on the digital behaviors of the constituents.

In working with the account teams, the strategist must demonstrate a clear understanding of the client’s business. More important, also understand how to do business with the client. Know what the client’s risk tolerance is or understand the level of due-diligence the client requires for new ideas, the parameters the client likes to operate within and other such sensitive information. Unfortunately, there are no guidebooks or decks on how to do business with a client. This sort of intuition is developed with experience.

I typically chart my clients on a digital appetite spectrum – some clients are more ready than others for bold, new ideas and some need a little more hand-holding and others are perhaps too scared or risk averse to try new things. But understanding where your client stands is essential because that dictates how you will approach and plan for them.

And lastly, the strategist needs to be able to partner with the creatives. Throw away all preconceptions and ideate with a blank mind for the client.

A Digital Strategist must learn to produce and execute.

I have come to the understanding that digital strategists must take a healthy interest in execution. Sold an idea, great? But nine times out of ten, what I end up launching does not look anything like what I initially sold. And I suspect this is true for a lot of us in this role.

Going through the feasibility checks, budget requirements, threshold checks, idea iterations and testing is painful and has often been outside my comfort zone. But it’s taught me to ask the right question and know when to raise red flags. I read this excellent article recently about the three types of knowledge. (Things you know; Things you know that you don’t know and Things you don’t know you don’t know.) Going through or being closely involved in aspects that don’t necessarily concern me: user experience, production, coding etc. have broadened my knowledge of “Things that you know you don’t know.” To me, a digital strategist doesn’t always know all the answers, but he/she knows where to get them. And this can only happen once you’ve been in the trenches.  Once you’ve executed and made stuff.

Another thing I’ve learned is to involve production early on in meetings and preferably team up with producers that are problem solvers. The right producer will not only find a way to make the idea happen but will push you and the creative teams to make the idea better.

At my previous job, my boss once had be execute a conference. My initial reaction was pure horror. “I’m a strategist,” I whined. “I don’t do conferences!” But he wouldn’t listen. Instead he said, “I know you won’t believe me now but this is only going to make you better strategist.” And that is true. I didn’t believe him them but the wisdom of his words stayed with me. It wasn’t until a few months after the conference that I realized how right he had been. Executing that conference had helped me evolve my thinking process and I wasn’t even aware!

Bottom-line: If something is making you feel uncomfortable, it means you are growing. So just do it.

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I know I’ve got some more thoughts floating around in my head so will eventually put them on paper. I’ve been thinking about “Invention Strategists,” the term that Winston Binch invented. I need to crystallize my thoughts but I think it’s a great way to integrate strategists into the creative department. But more of an organizational strategy than a new role. I’m not sure though that all strategists belong in the creative department but more on that later…

3 Comments

  1. Tim Ho February 10, 2012

    Thanks for writing this.
    It’s one of the best articles I’ve read about digital strategist.

    Title of digital strategist is so overused now that more people should read this article to understand what it is.

  2. Sling February 10, 2012

    This is all meaningless bullshit. You advertisers are leaches on society, trying to trick people out of money by talking shit and producing nothing of value.

  3. @mortizs March 16, 2012

    I love this ” If something is making you feel uncomfortable, it means you are growing. So just do it”

    Nice post! :)

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