AdSchool Advanced Strategic Planning is the essential course for experienced planners to expand their skillset and make a stronger impact as strategists at a senior level. This year we’re delighted to welcome Alex Wood, Brand Experience Director at BWM Dentsu as facilitator for the course in Melbourne. We chatted with Alex to pick his brain about all things strategy and to find out what motivates and inspires him.
Obviously the past 12 months have been like no other for our industry. What do you think have been the most important lessons for strategic planners to come out of the challenges of the past year?
A sentence I heard over and over again was a crisis is a terrible thing to waste and it’s true. There were so many lessons. Reflecting on it now, three really stood out for me.
First lesson was adapting to change. As planners we try and stay ahead of what’s next, but in a time when we didn’t know when we would meet next, we had to adapt. We all learnt new skills and new tools to create relationships, run workshops, pitch new business by having the blanket of face-to-face interaction removed. I think this forced us to be better communicators, be more direct, and because we were staring into the home lives of our clients and colleagues, have more empathy.
Second lesson was how fast we have to move in a changing landscape. We developed new ‘rapid response’ briefs to help us produce ideas faster and get them into market whilst still relevant in the context of COVID. It was scary. It was exciting. I felt like we found another gear to shift into when needed.
Finally, I think every planner in the country realised we didn’t need to be in the office every day to do great work. I love the energy the agency can bring, but I also have two young children. My health, my sleep, my family is all better on a flexible schedule, and the quality of output is better when I have more time for deep thinking.
Whilst it’s hard to generalise, do you think clients/brands’ attitudes towards strategy and planning have changed given the year our industry has been through?
A recent CMO report showed strategy development and planning at the top of the list for CMOs this year. Presumably because the script was thrown out last year and everyone is trying to recalibrate (both agency side and client side). So this year especially, planners have a critical role in helping businesses get back into a more consistent rhythm.
As an accomplished strategist, what are some of the things that excite you most about your work?
The best part about being in strategy is the wide range of discussions you’re often invited to join because of how you unpack problems. It’s fun to talk about business problems and how they collide with culture. It’s exciting when you chat with your team, building on each other’s thinking and then find a lens to look at a problem in a novel way. The thrill of showing that to a creative team to inspire an idea, or a client to help them see things differently, it always feels like magic.
Did you always want to be in strategy/planning or did it come about by accident rather than design?
It happened by accident. I was in PR and loved the energy of the industry, but wanted to get closer to the product and what was created as opposed to selling the story of the product. I landed in digital strategy and learned about design thinking, development, apps and websites, before I finally moved to brand. So I really did everything out of order. I guess there’s no right way or wrong way, but working on a few sides of the communications fence has helped me understand where I can add value and get the most out of partnerships.
Who would you say has inspired you the most in your career – whether from within our industry or not?
This is a great question, but I have a really average answer: I try and take inspiration from as many places as possible. Books, people, podcasts, friends, family movies. I’ve been lucky to have some really great teachers and I’ve stayed really close to each of them throughout my career, I’ve never had ‘one’ person.
Any particular books and podcasts you’d recommend?
Books: Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek; Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler; Strategy Is Your Words by Mark Pollard
Podcasts: Pivot hosted by Kara Swisher and Prof Scott Galloway; The Prof-G Show with Scott Galloway; Reply All hosted by Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi
Looking at the AdSchool Advanced Strategic Planning course, what are some of the key learnings you hope course participants will take away with them to enhance their existing skillset?
There’s a lot to like about this reimagined format. The weekly modules will show new ways to unpack problems, and the tutorials are a chance to debate and learn from one another. Everyone comes with their own unique perspective, so the discussions are always valuable. Overall, we feel like we have an excellent structure for people to walk away more confident to sell their strategies to clients every day.
AdSchool Advanced Strategic Planning begins in Sydney on 22 April, in Melbourne and Perth on 23 September and online on 30 September. Course info and registrations here