What 1 Year Experience as a Strategist in Digital Advertising Agency has Taught Me.

More Blurred Lines. Source: Archillect

More confusion.

The advertising scene with the ramification of digital and technology keeps blurring the line between strategic planner and digital strategist.

I’ve been working at digital agency for a year. I remembered clearly the first time when I decided to quit from media agency as traditional media planner into creative planner (or you may call it strategic planner). I thought I would work with the account and the creative team developing brand strategy and proposition, communication direction, and integrated channel planning to deliver accountable ad campaign for the client. I thought I would work with market research agency and discussing the Brand Health Report every quarter of the year so that I can improve brand’s communication along the year. I thought I would work at traditional creative agencies.

But fate said a different thing and I’m ended up working as a strategic planner at digital advertising agencies. So, can I call myself a digital strategist? Apparently, it is not an easy claim to do so.

Traditional Creative Agencies Vs. Digital Agencies

First of all, let me clarify some terms to give it the right context. Essentially, traditional creative agencies offer services for brand strategy level and ATL creative development. ATL (above the line) includes the oldest yet still most effective media for advertising practice such as TV, Out of home, and radio. Sometimes, they also offer activation services such as brand activation for the in-store campaign, and event management.

The difference between ATL creative agencies and digital agencies, in the most fundamental way, is the service that they offer. Digital agencies offer full service in digital campaign management, from creative development, channel planning, social media, influencer management, SEO, SEM, website development, technologies innovation, customer experience, and media buying. Theoretically, ATL creative agencies hold the core of a brand. They are the brain of the brand, and give pulse and command to the nervous system so they can operate functionally at the same time (here, the digital agencies play their role).

Strategic Planner vs. Digital Strategist

Again, theoretically, planners in ATL creative agencies call themselves strategic planner, or brand planner. They understand how brand should work. They are the type of people with full of thoughts and “Steve Job” in the agencies. They paint the concept, and people will execute the plan after they give the order.

Meanwhile, planners in digital agencies call themselves digital strategist. They are the type of people who understand how the platform works. They have the brightest mind when it comes to channel planning to create an integrated framework and deliver the KPI. I personally think digital strategist should come from digital media planner because it gives you ground knowledge for understanding the mechanism, algorithm, and whatnot. It will root your sense of the effectiveness of the implementation strategy.

Both strategic planner and digital strategist sometimes are demanded to understand also about consumer behavior, finding insights, and translate it into big idea and proposition, only strategic planner is for brand level, whereas digital strategist is for campaign level. So you can see already the differences.

Wow, Digital Strategist seems to be like Google, know everything and understand how things work..

That’s the problem. Digital is no longer “part” of the touch point when creating channel planning for brands. Digital is no longer “tactical”. Digital is huge. Digital is broad. You have SEM, SEO, social media, influencer, content creation, UI/UX, everything. It doesn’t make sense for a single digital strategist to understand each channel because it has its own specialist. In digital agency, you must have social media specialist, UI/UX specialist, SEM specialist, SEO specialist, even the latest and exotic product in digital agencies: customer experience specialist, where it combines the principal of user experience and brand experience. So is it still relevant to call planner in digital agency as digital strategist?

Back to my position as a strategic planner in digital agencies..

My job requires me to find consumer insight, develop creative briefs, define the digital proposition for brands, and together with the creative team creating channel planning based on the creative idea. But you can say that my scope of work is actually on a macro-level. I don’t comprehend each implementation. I think holistic. I understand the objectives for the social media and SEM for the brand, but I don’t master the content creation in Instagram and Twitter or the right keywords for meta tag in SEM. I understand digital consumer journey, but when it comes to user experience journey, my knowledge needs to be improvised because I have to analyze consumer’s experience on micro-level, which is usually revolving around apps or websites.

The thing is, many strategic planners from ATL creative agencies think me as a digital strategist that should understand all the things I’ve just said, just because I work at digital agency.

But if strategic planner in digital agencies is actually different from digital strategist, why does it exist in the first place? Apparently, the line has blurred. There is a new breed of clients whom investment channel is 100% on digital, thus thinking to abandon ATL creative agencies and expecting digital agencies to deliver brand strategies as well. But these cases are still rare.

I personally think being a strategic planner in digital agencies is promising since clients also start to invest more in digital. But a true strategic planner should understand how the brand works, not just create beautiful mumbo jumbo deck that has no additional value for the overall strategy. And for now, I think being a strategic planner in ATL agencies can get you more exposure to brand planning. Unless you’ve decided to step down from the strategic planning and rooting your foot to become a specialist. For example, a UX specialist for brand maybe?

I have experiences in advertising and marketing industries, and desire to learn consumer behavior.