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Most strategists want to leave agency life, says Warc’s Future of Strategy 2019 study

A global survey of senior strategists reveals a growing discipline faced with challenges and opportunities

Warc has released the results of its annual worldwide survey of senior strategists, distilling their opinions on the changing role of strategy within a shifting marketing landscape.

Warc's Future of Strategy report, now in its third year, is based on a survey of 800 senior strategists from around the world to provide an in-depth study of both the challenges and opportunities for strategists going forward.

Warc's Future of Strategy 2019 key findings are: 

- The rise of CX offers new opportunities

Customer experience (CX) is dominating the marketing agenda. Almost half of the strategists surveyed are doing more work on CX for clients this year, and for a quarter, work for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands has increased. Respondents see this as an exciting opportunity as the strategist role and craft skills evolve to shape brand experiences and brand truths.

Tom Morton, US Chief Strategy Officer, R/GA, said, "If experience is the new high ground for brands, experience strategists are the new brand guardians."

- Most strategists want to leave agency life

The growth in CX is driving demand for the strategic services of consultancies, which have used their tech and data heritage to position themselves as experience experts. One outcome of increased competition is that strategists are becoming untethered from their traditional place within agencies, with more career options to choose from. Whilst 40% of strategists surveyed say their team has grown over the past year, 63% do not think their next role will be with an agency.

- Lack of clarity undermines strategy's value

The movement of strategists away from agencies may be exacerbated by the perception that strategy is being undervalued in agencies. Though most believe their influence is growing internally, selling the value of strategic services to clients is a challenge in an environment of budget cuts and a lack of understanding around the role. Strategists see their value in working on upstream business problems and drawing insights from data. However, the reality is that they spend their time juggling both upstream and downstream work.

Andreas Krasser, CEO, DDB Group Hong Kong, commenting on the value of strategy in Asia, said, "Short-term-orientated planning approaches and an overtly executional focus in many of the region's marketing communities make it difficult for strategists to prove their worth."

- Despite all the data, strategists need the human touch

Strategists were almost unanimous (92%) in the feeling that they would do a better job if they had more access to client data. In the age of 'big data', the disciplines of strategy and analytics are increasingly merging as strategists are being asked to make use of the wealth of first-party data that brands now own. However, data alone will lead to predictable, unexciting advertising. Strategists need to retain the link to 'real life' and use their understanding of consumers and culture to drive creativity.

Emily Rule, Strategy Director, BBH London, said, "There is a widespread assumption that data equals insight and strategic direction. But in the context of creativity, data is useless without imagination."

Summing up, Amy Rodgers, Managing Editor, Research & Rankings, Warc, said, "Warc's Future of Strategy 2019 report reveals a discipline that is changing. We see an increased focus on customer experience, growing competition from non-agency shops, and the continuing battle to sell and price its value. And whilst the influence of strategists has increased, the role needs clarity in both function and value if it is to thrive."

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