Posted 29 November 2022
Mention Anomaly
Written by Fadi Dada
Written by Mahadi Manyokole

What is strategy and how do you get into it? Anomaly on tasks, skills and resources to kickstart your career

Though they’re core members of many creative teams, the job role of a strategist is often shrouded in mystery. In a nutshell, strategists are problem definers, solvers and communicators. But how does this work happen and what tasks are involved? We ask strategists Fadi Dada and Mahadi Manyokole from creative agency Anomaly to break it all down for us – from the exciting projects strategists sink their teeth into, to the skills required to work in the field. Plus, the team share some essential resources – including newsletters, podcasts and books – for budding strategists to check out.

🤔 How would you describe what strategists do?

We define problems, make choices on how to solve those problems - and write it all down in a way that is simple, distinctive and motivating.

Clients will approach creative agencies with an ambition: “We want people to like us, notice us, buy more, care more, give more.” Whatever the ambition, there’s usually a problem that sits right behind it.

Defining the problem is the most important thing a strategist can do. To do that, we ask a lot of questions – questions about the consumer, the brand, the product, the surrounding culture.

  • What do people think about the brand?
  • Do people understand the product?
  • Do people think about the product in a way that isn’t helpful?
  • What’s happening in the world around our brand, is it having an impact?

Once we’ve understood and defined the problem, we can make choices that guide creatives along the path to solving it.

📂 What kinds of projects do strategists work on?

Strategists are involved in almost every project that comes into a creative agency.

We put in the constraints (or a creative brief) that close the gap between the client’s ambition and creative idea. Making choices about what kind of things we need our creative to say, do or signal if we’re going to achieve our goals.

The ECD (person in charge of the creative department) at Anomaly says that “strategists are paid to almost have ideas…” I think he means it as a compliment, that’s how I take it anyway.

🔨 What skills are required?

There are a variety of skills that will come in handy, such as:

  • Curiosity. You find interest in a wide range of topics, and have an insatiable appetite for learning.
  • Critical thinking. You’re able to explore topics, gather information and form a point of view. You also have the ability to ask the sorts of questions that open conversations.
  • Speak it simply. You have the ability to take in information, break it down and be able to share it with others in a simple way, bringing them along on the journey.

👀 Where have I seen it before?

It’s hard to ‘see’ strategy in action, as it’s usually expressed across many different bits of creative communication, and often spanning multiple campaigns over many years. So, the best way to consider strategy is to look at a brand’s output over the long-term.

One of the most important elements of brand’s strategy is its ‘positioning’, which is a statement describing what the brand stands for. Consumers don’t see this statement – what they might see is the brand’s creative platform, which is the articulation of that positioning to the outside world.

So, for example, Nike’s positioning is ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ and Nike’s creative platform is ‘Just do it’. You might then see a series of creative tactics from Nike – TV ads, PR, social – all of which land that positioning, all under the banner of ‘Just do it’.

Technical definitions aside, perhaps this quote sums it up best is from writer Jef I. Richards, who said, “creativity without strategy is called art, creativity with strategy is called advertising.”

Nike’s “Dream Crazier” campaign; Wieden+Kennedy (2019)

Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick; Wieden+Kennedy (2018)
Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, featuring Shaquem Griffin; Wieden+Kennedy (2018)

⏰ What are the culture and hours like?

Despite what others might say, strategists are very collaborative. We work closely with other strategists and researchers to find interesting insights from a sea of research. But we also take time to work solo and untangle complicated problems that need more thinking.

In terms of hours, you can expect to work regular office hours. Some briefs, however, can be more challenging than others… How that is handled will largely depend on the culture of the agency.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking out for trends or gathering insight from odd places, your strategist brain is always ticking.

🌱 What kinds of entry-level roles are available?

Hiring a junior strategist is a bit of an investment for an agency, as the learning curve for strategy is steeper than a lot of other roles.

Our advice would be to just get your foot in the door. Take an account role, production role, or any role at an agency you like the look of. From there, work hard, impress, find the right people and make your intentions known. You’ll be surprised by how much people will want to help you achieve your goals.

Having said that, agencies are increasingly investing in and hiring junior strategy talent – Anomaly included, so reach out if you’re interested 😉

💰 What can I expect to be paid?

For junior roles, starting salaries are roughly around £30,000.

💬 Any last words of advice?

Paths into strategy aren’t always linear, so don't be afraid to take a scenic route. Find out everything you can with what’s accessible to you. Stay curious: read, watch, listen to everything and anything. When you land a job, being able to pull from a wide range of sources and experiences will allow you to offer a creative and unique point of view.

Ask questions, reach out to people that work in roles you’re interested in. Flex your strategic chops with online briefs or apply to a talent programme to show you the ropes. Oh, and check out the resources we’ve shared below!

Resources for budding strategists, as recommended by Anomaly

🎧 Podcasts

On Strategy Showcase
Velvet-voiced host Fergus O’Carroll interviews planners and strategists who have worked on some of the best advertising and marketing campaigns. An incredible resource to learn about real case studies from the people who actually worked on them.

Listen to On Strategy Showcase here

Tech journalist Kara Swisher and New York University professor Scott Galloway offer insights around the biggest stories in tech, business, and politics. Aside from handing you plenty of soundbites that’ll make you sound smart, there’s a lot to learn from the way Kara and Scott analyse, discuss and think.

Listen to Pivot here

Sweathead is a podcast and support group for strategists and account planners around the world. It’s such a valuable hivemind – especially in your early days, when you need all the help you can figuring stuff out. It’s run by Mark Pollard, a brilliant strategist and teacher, who is well worth a follow on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Listen to Sweathead here

📧 Newsletters

Decode; The Hustle; Morning Brew; Fax No Printer
Newsletters are a great way to read far and wide – especially as someone has already done the hard work of sourcing the information for you. Sign up to newsletters that cover topics you’re interested in. These ones (Decode; The Hustle; Morning Brew; Fax No Printer) in particular are really helpful in shaping a future-led perspective.

Read Decode here
Read The Hustle here
Read Morning Brew here
Read Fax No Printer here

📚 Books

The Strategy and Planning Scrapbook by Alex Morris
This digital book is part- aggregation, part- art magazine. The Strategy and Planning Scrapbook exists as a resource that makes better planners and strategists. It’s full of thought starters, how-to guides and frameworks. Super-helpful for getting to understand the fundamentals, and useful for inspiration too.

Read more about The Strategy and Planning Scrapbook here

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
This is the ultimate go-to guide. This book is helpful in building a foundational understanding of strategy. It uses real world examples of both good and bad strategies to highlight how you can approach challenges differently.

Read more about Good Strategy, Bad Strategy here

🗃 Tools, glossaries and other resources

Glossary of Marketing Terms by Adweek
‘Adspeak’ can be pretty impenetrable for people coming into agencies fresh. This glossary of terms is a lifesaver – it’s very handy to have it open in meetings and search for jargon as you hear it. (Although maybe we should all just agree to say things simply!)

Read the glossary here

LoveTheWorkMore’s Cannes winners database
This free resource is a handy bank of case studies containing all the Cannes-winning campaigns and creative work of recent years. It’s a great place to find inspiration for the creative brief you’re working on.

Visit the database here

Map of Reddit and Redditle
Reddit is such a great place to find interesting insights and perspectives. Map of Reddit takes that to the next level by giving you a visualisation of subreddits that share common users. It’s very useful for seeing how different topics, passions and conversations intersect. Also, Redditle is a ‘Reddit-only search engine’ that we’ve found to be useful at times.

Visit Map of Reddit here and Redditle here

Hyper Island Toolbox
Take some time to get creative. Hyper Island has some great learning tools. Check out the ‘Creativity’ and ‘Energiser’ categories in their Toolbox to build your creative confidence and inject energy into your process.

Visit Hyper Island Toolbox here

Anomaly is a Creative Lives in Progress brand partner. Every year, we partner with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Creative Lives a free resource for emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]

Mention Anomaly
Written by Fadi Dada
Written by Mahadi Manyokole