You’re Not a Strategist – You’re a Punk

I’m constantly astonished at how many people looking to get into agencies describe themselves as a “strategist” and think that by doing so, they can now avoid all of the work they don’t want to do. Whether it’s planning and budgeting, client project execution or measuring the outcomes, some people seem to think that by calling yourself something different, you can avoid learning about critical elements of a communications function.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s by doing that that you learn how good programs and strategies work.

I know I’m going to piss a lot of people off here, but in my opinion you can’t be an effective strategist until you’ve got some experience to rest behind it.

Mashable recently published a post that nicely explains my frustration. It’s entitled “What Does It Take To Be a Social Strategist?” Key points:

  1. About a third of companies look for at least six years of experience when looking for a social strategist
  2. 92% of social strategists are manager-level or higher
  3. Key success factors:
    1. Rallying stakeholders across the organization
    2. Leading multi-faceted, cross-departmental efforts
    3. Having a long-term, customer-centric vision
    4. Being multi-disciplinary and wearing “many hats”

Sounds pretty intense, right? So then why do I encounter so many inexperienced people giving themselves that title?

Here’s where I’m coming from: When I started working in communications, after doing a few internships during school I spent four years, analyzing quality assessments of communications plans in the public sector.

Sounds mind-bogglingly boring, right? On the contrary, I think that experience set me up fabulously to succeed later. I looked at poor plans and learned to spot the holes and what doesn’t work. I looked at good plans and learned how they effectively fit together. I did the same for tactical materials, too.

Later I moved jobs, began executing things myself, and learned from my mistakes. I organized a media event that I thought was near-perfect but that had ZERO media show up (sob!). I had drafts returned to me by editors with so much red ink on them, you could barely read the original draft.

On the flip side, I also wrote a release that got verbatim pick-up on the front page of tier-one media (I still have a copy of that paper!), and led programs that delivered great results for clients. In short: I learned.

You can’t just flip a switch and consider yourself a strategist without gaining experience in these other areas. You need to get in the trenches, get your head down and learn.

What’s more – sorry to say it – but there’s a lot more to strategy than just idea creation.

You might be great at putting the pieces together, and have a really great mind for integrating different elements to solve problems, but until you’ve gained enough experience to know (the majority of the time, at least – communications isn’t a science) what is likely to work and what isn’t, be quiet and continue to learn.

If you think you just flip a switch and become a master strategist overnight without gaining the experience needed first, you’re not a strategist. You’re just a punk.

(photo credit: Flickr)

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.