Career Focus: Strategy

Cerebra Submitted by on the 13th of September 2016

Every month or so, we take a close look at one of the career paths in the social media industry. This month, we’re shining the light on strategy – one of the most integral but misunderstood roles of them all. After all, what even is strategy?

At Cerebra, we’re fortunate enough to have a core team of strategists that combine experience with intellectual diversity in a way that sets us apart. At the same time, everyone in the business is expected to think strategically – strategy is in our blood and it shows in our work.

But what does it take to become a strategist in the first place? Various skills, personal attributes and resources can help you get there. The lists below are only a start but they will help guide you in the right direction.

Three personal attributes you need:

Strategists come in all shapes and sizes, often with extremely varied backgrounds and experiences, and that’s the beauty of the role – it requires a certain level of diversity in ideas and beliefs. But there are some things every strategist needs:

  • Curiosity. You need to have a desire for knowledge, both general and industry-specific, and be able to stay ahead of the trends and opportunities at all times. The strategist is the go-to person in most agencies, and your knowledge is a major asset to the business.
  • Problem Solving. Every brief that comes across a strategist’s desk will require some level of deconstruction. Everyone in the business should be able to rely on you for different perspectives on any type of problem.
  • Patience. As Dean Hummel, a strategist at Cerebra, explains, “Strategies take time to develop, implement and test. Trial and error is often a necessary part of the process and you will need to think in the long term.” This is especially true in social media where the pace of change is an obstacle to planning. But that’s what makes it so fun, of course.

Three skills you need:

Again, there are a number of skills required in strategy, and different strategists bring different sets of expertise to the table. At a minimum, though, most strategists will need to hone the following skills:

  • Communication. As well as looking sharp at all times, strategists are expected to have strong presentation skills. Whether that means getting up in front of senior clients to present in-depth ideas in a way that they will understand or trying to convey complex theories using the written word, a strategist needs to be clear, concise and confident when communicating.
  • Logic. At the very least, strategists need a basic understanding of business principles as well as numbers, data and statistics. To understand a problem that you’re trying to solve, you will need to understand the context while applying rational, logical thinking. Data has a lot of answers, but you need to ask the right questions, and that takes a certain kind of mind.
  • Leadership. To ensure a strategy is correctly implemented and tested, you will need to work with and guide a wide range of people in the right direction. It goes without saying that, no matter how proud you are of your work, you can’t take criticism and doubt personally. At the same time, you can’t expect everyone to understand a 60-slide strategy presentation as well as you do – you need to provide guidance.

Three ways to learn the skills you need:

Mike Oelschig, Cerebra’s Head of Advisory and a seasoned strategist who in fact began his career in law, says, “You either have it or you don’t, much like creativity.” It’s not always obvious that you have it, though, so it’s important to learn as much as possible and find the best ways to channel your talents. Aside from reading as much as you can (see further down for some recommendations) and speaking to the right people in your networks, there are various options to consider.

  • Courses. A wide range of schools such as Vega, Red & Yellow, AAA and a number of higher education institutions offer part or full-time courses that could benefit aspiring strategists. Get in touch with a few to compare their offerings. Alternatively, there are online options such as Creative Live – which broadcasts live classes and had a number of recorded sessions available.
  • Conferences. Other than being a great source of inspiration, conferences offer the opportunity to meet and speak to potential mentors or employers. If you aren’t already working in an agency environment and don’t have much access to experienced strategists for mentorship, then this is a great place to start. If the costs or time needed are too high, though, you could always make connections via LinkedIn, for example, or send emails to your favourite writers. Don’t be afraid of reaching out.
  • Cerebra Academy. We are offering one-month courses in October and November for individuals, with a focus on social media for marketing. The classes are a great opportunity to meet and learn from our in-house experts and to gain a fuller perspective of the power of social media. You can find more information here.

Three books you should read:

There are too many great books to mention – anything you can find about strategic thinking, business management and creativity will be worth reading. We’ve also mentioned the classics such as Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational in previous posts – both of which are the gold standard for anyone entering this line of work. Below are just a few others you should take a look at.

  • Tribes by Seth Godin. When we asked her for a book recommendation, Cerebra strategist Lara Oberholzer said, “I love anything by Seth Godin – the man is a genius!” We couldn’t agree more and, indeed, any book by Godin is worth reading. As a starting point, particularly in the social media context, Lara recommends Tribes which looks at the way the internet is changing the way humans form groups and, in turn, the remarkable effects those groups can have on society.
  • Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. Most brands aren’t the biggest or best in their industries, but the vast majority of them would like to be. This book tells the story of challenger brands and provides a framework for intelligently tackling the big fish, making it extremely valuable to strategists.
  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell, like Seth Godin, is one of those authors you should really get to know. In David & Goliath, he turns one of civilisation’s best-known stories on its head, forcing you to see the world in a completely different way. That ability is vital in strategy – you need to see every problem from multiple angles to really understand them, and the stories contained in this book will certainly help you do that.

Three Cerebra eBooks you should read:

Sometimes, we can’t help but blow our own trumpets. In the case of our eBooks, we’re incredibly proud of the knowledge and information we’ve shared over the years. In fact, our CEO Mike Stopforth shared his theory on the importance of doing so in his latest blog post. First, though, here are three Cerebra publications any budding strategist should be familiar with:

  • CATS Rule the Internet. A definitive guide to the principles of social media, CATS is the best place to start if you’re new to the world of social media marketing.
  • The Social Identity. What would happen if your brand removed its logo from all of its content? Using the right language and visual cues are key to resonating with your audience, and this eBook will show you how.
  • Content Marketing Sacrifice. While it may seem like another buzzword, top brands are using content marketing to great success on social media. Understanding the costs and opportunities within is vital to any strategist.

Three online resources you should follow:

The internet is so good to us – we barely know where to begin. We’ve got one website, one podcast and one YouTube channel to start you off, but please feel free tweet us with more recommendations that we will share.

  • Social Media Today. In short, this is your one-stop-shop for all things social media. That’s all you need to know.
  • Freakonomics. These guys are famous for their unusual approach to economics and human behaviour and their podcast is no exception. A great place to start is with The Maddest Men of All, which looks at the role of behavioural economics in modern marketing.
  • Future of Storytelling. Best known for its annual summit, FoST also produces regular content for its blog and newsletter, hosts regular exhibitions and showcases, and runs this fantastic channel filled with insightful videos. Storytelling, after all, is what our industry is all about.

So, that’s that. We hope the tips help you out and, if you think you’re already a fit for our team or you’d just like to get in touch with us, check out our Careers page or email info@cerebra.co.za.