There’s been an interesting debate on the strategy internet as of late about what the difference is between a planner and a strategist. Given the indecision in the industry today, I thought I’d go ahead and find an answer that works for all of us. That answer is simple:
It literally does not matter what you’re called. They’re just words. Go do your job.
By the way, this is also why account handlers and creatives don’t invite us to the pub.
Now that we’ve cleared all that up, here’s a bit more context.
The current debate began with an argument about the difference between long and short planning/strategy — as in when to leave things alone and when to meddle. It was posited that ‘strategists’ are persons who mess about with things like long term brand strategy, whereas ‘planners’ focus more on tactical activation, day to day stuff.
Once again, and louder for the people at the back — you can call yourself whatever you like, but unless you’re bad at your job, you should know when to leave things alone, and when to meddle.
In fact, if anyone in your strategy/planning department ever says to you, “Oh that’s not really a job for me…I’m more strategy and that’s planning.” (or vice versa), please feel free to smack them around the head with a rolled-up trend report. It’s like a mechanic saying they’ve fixed your carburetor but that the brakes aren’t their problem.
Gaze Away from Thy Navel
As with most things in life, the root of this problem comes not in the symptom, but in the cause. That cause is navel-gazing, which is a time-honored practice throughout the ranks of our major agencies.
Maybe this leads to trying to look too smart for our own good. Many strategists have siblings that are doctors, lawyers, and hedge fund managers. My sister, for example, has a high-powered job, a house, and a husband. I, on the other hand, had a fish finger sandwich for lunch both today and yesterday.
This I am certain of…strategists and planners tend to share a defining trait. At times, we are deeply insecure about how clever we are. This insecurity rears its head in many forms; most recently those pastel-colored librarian glasses, utilitarian mandarin collars, and meta opinion pieces about ongoing internet debates with an alternative view.
The problem is that this insecurity is bad for our business.
Narrow Your Focus to What Matters Most
The smartest and most useful strategy and planning people are the clearest. The best condensers. The most voracious editors. They detest fluff and obfuscation because it’s limescale on the wheels of progress. They’re confident and self-assured in their style. And most importantly, they’re not precious.
So, let’s end on a positive conclusion, the same one we need to keep reminding ourselves of. Go walkabout, get out of the industry, get out of your echo chamber, talk to real people, feel the sun on your face, smell the flowers.
Re-realise that there are remarkably few things in life (and in strategy/planning) that actually matter. Very few indeed. Go from there.