Strategy is growing in importance and divergence but lacks diversity in its hiring
Posted on 2021 Aug,25

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The strategy career path is diversifying, but there remains a lack of diversity in its hiring, finds WARC, the global authority on marketing effectiveness, in The Future of Strategy 2021 report released today.

Covering headcounts, budgets, career development, skill sets and DEI, the report uncovers insights and opportunities of the increasingly important role of today's strategist.

Key takeaways are:

1. The past year has driven renewed dialogue around DEI issues, but there remains a disconnect between discussion and action within strategy.

86% of global strategists agreed that strategy teams need greater diversity in hiring, but less than half have a framework in place for doing so and only 27% have targets in place to hire diverse candidates.

Melanie Norris, Managing Director & Head of Planning, BBDO Worldwide, says: "As planners we have a significant responsibility around D&I. If we as an industry want to get to more authentic representation and to do better and more diverse work generally, and we really do want and need this, we have to start with the stories we tell, and this all starts with strategy."

2. Strategists are busier and more productive than ever, having increased their speed of working and become closer to clients as they cycled through crisis and recovery. 

More than 60% have felt their influence increase during the pandemic, which has seen strategists relied upon for direction and problem solving in unprecedented scenarios.

3. The shift in the type and volume of work following the pandemic may accelerate a longer-term trend in shifting career paths. Whilst young strategists are most likely to see their next role in an agency environment, those in mid-career have a growing desire for broader experiences and new challenges.

60% of respondents agreed that their plans had changed over the last 12 months, which could signal a significant swing in the future of where strategy sits within organisations.

4. This is likely being compounded by declining training opportunities within agencies. However, strategists continue to feel that the best experience is on the job and in the real world. When hiring, 66% of managers look for an enquiring mind over specific skills. 

Zoe Scaman, Founder, Bodacious & Co-Founder, MCX London, advises: "We need to start to redefine our careers; from exact categorisations into expansive constellations, from skill sets trapped within the ad world to skill sets transferable into the wider one."

5. There is a divergence in upstream and downstream planning, with most strategists looking upstream for opportunities to have the widest impact possible. Increasingly, they are looking to the client-side, to consultancies, and to freelance career paths to find this opportunity. 

Mark Lester, Head of Strategy, We Are Pi in Amsterdam, comments: "After years of being marginalised, diluted and defunded, strategy has come back with a bang. The world is now full of big, head-scratching problems and mind-boggling new opportunities, so clients are once again desperate for great strategic thinking.

Summing up, Amy Rodgers, Managing Editor, Research & Rankings, WARC, says: "This year's Future of Strategy reveals that as well as the role of the strategist being crucial to the post-pandemic recovery, there are more opportunities as the shift to upstream planning increases.

"However, with diversity proven to drive innovation and better decision-making, and with only a quarter of respondents having targets in place to hire diverse candidates, much needs to be done to drive long term positive change."

The annual study, now in its ninth year, is based on an annual worldwide survey fielded in May and June this year, and in-depth interviews carried out by WARC with marketing strategists, both brand and agency side. The focus this year is on their evolving role following the impact of COVID-19 and the different routes young strategists can take to build their careers.