Sunday 17 September 2023

Take your strategy chops to the next level. Today’s world demands it.

Gavin MacMillan’s 25+ career in advertising has spanned time at top agencies in the UK and Australia. He began as a data strategist, graduated to mainstream planning and eventually ran strategy for Ogilvy where he is now the Managing Director. He’s also a facilitator of AdSchool’s upcoming Advanced Strategic Planning course. Below he outlines why a broad strategic skillset is critical in an increasingly fragmented comms industry.


Communications strategy has undergone fundamental changes – largely driven by developments in technology, computing power, economic shifts, and societal change.

In the pre-fragmentation world – the world of the five primary communications channels of TV, press, outdoor, radio and cinema – there was little distinction between strategy planning basics and advanced techniques.

The goal was to crystallise insightful understanding of both the audience and the brand into a brief for creativity. The skills were critical analysis, consumer research (mostly qualitative), brand research (mostly quantitative), insight generation and stakeholder management – particularly of creatives and clients. To practice at the advanced level, one simply continued to do the basics, but better.

There were variations on these themes for direct marketing and PR strategy but at their base level, strategy in these disciplines shared commonality with the fundamentals list above.

It is still appropriate to teach the basics as the foundational skills of strategy. These fundamentals remain relevant even allowing for the disruptive forces that have been thrown at the discipline. We still need techniques and practices that lead us and our clients to the fundamentals of good communication: clarity, single-mindedness and emotional resonance. Therefore, learning how to define the problem, set meaningful objectives and define the role for communications are eternal skills that must be mastered.

At the advanced level however, today’s disrupted world calls for strategists to develop a broader toolkit. This breaks the historical straight line between basic and advanced skills.

There are many plausible answers to the question, “How does advertising work?”. At the basic level we learn the salesmanship approaches of much of the last century. These still work in certain situations today.

The advanced practitioner must consider the many other optional approaches such as fame, emotional association, relationship building, social proofing, cultural surfing, entertainment, behavioural nudging and more. We must have a strong working knowledge of these different approaches, understand when to apply them and when to recommend them.

At the basic level, we learn how to plan a campaign. At the advanced level, we must plan an entire brand experience. We go beyond audience profiling to understanding jobs to be done and the decision journey. We then map the entire selling ecosystem, and the pathways within it across paid, owned and earned channels. We plan brand interventions that address pain and deliver gain.

At the basic level, we learn the traditional hierarchy of effects, think, feel, and do. At the advanced level we’re aware that behavioural economics has shown us that the direction of these effects can be reversed to do, feel, think or do, think, feel with clever timing and placement of behavioural intervention.

Mastery of communications strategy basics will take you far in any career where you’re required to make or influence strategy decisions.

Eventually though, the complexity of today’s world will require the leap to a more advanced level and an expanded toolkit in order to keep brands – including your personal brand – relevant.


AdSchool’s Advanced Strategic Planning course is for experienced account, senior account and group account directors, strategists, researchers, and marketing and brand managers with 4+ years of experience. Last courses for the year start Sept 27 in Perth and Sept 28 in Melb, Syd and online. Learn more .
Places are limited.

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