Why marketing has a strategy training problem – and how to fix it

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Training plan: Strategy is key to agencies, so training should be too.

When you’re working out your next big strategy have you ever spared a thought for those who are charged with coming up with your agency’s big plan of action?

Mark Pollard is the founder and CEO of global strategy training company, Sweathead, and he says the UK’s marketing agencies have a strategy training problem, but it CAN be fixed


Mark Pollard, Sweathead

When a strategy training session ends in tears it hasn’t gone badly. Often, a strategist will cry in realisation that if they had only been taught a new method, or way to think about a problem earlier in their career, it could have transformed the way they work, or saved them from years of frustration.

The reality is, there is no way near enough training, or support, for the strategists and planners in today’s agencies. And training and development is so crucial.

How do we know? Well our latest report ‘What Strategists Want From Work’ surveyed the global strategy community to uncover their thoughts.

It found that 42% of those surveyed globally were looking to move jobs in the next 12 months.

One of the core reasons they cited was a lack of training: 56% feel they’re not learning enough in their current role, and 69% say they don’t get enough training from their company.

We polled strategists and planners in the US, UK, Canada, India, Malaysia and Mexico, to gain a global perspective, predominantly from those working within advertising agencies, but also creative in-house teams, design agencies, marketing agencies and PR agencies, across all levels of seniority.

Strategists are essential, so why are they undervalued? 

It’s surprising that strategists feel so undervalued when you consider that agencies and brands rely so heavily on their skills.

This has increased twofold recently, compounded by an unstable economy that’s contracting advertising budgets.

Every creative company is now battling to ensure their creative work is not just effective, but can be proven to be so, and that needs strategic minds to do the thinking and present the results.

The latest LIONS State of Creativity Study found that for 63% of brands and agencies, strategic thinking was the most important area for up-skilling the workforce in 2023.

So if creative effectiveness is so important, why is every agency not giving strategists, and wider teams, the right effectiveness training to underpin every brief?

Agencies use strategists to help them win new business in difficult times, to explain rapid changes in culture to clients, and to help companies adapt better to new realities.

Strategists will always be the voice in the client meeting asking “but what’s the problem you’re trying to solve?”

Strategy is needed more than ever, BUT companies are struggling to hire and retain talent. They’re just not providing the right company culture for strategists to thrive.

Introducing The Cruciality Paradox

Therein lies ‘The Cruciality Paradox’. It’s the idea that while strategists have become crucial to the desires of many companies, strategists have not become crucial to the fabric of those companies.

From the strategists polled in our survey, many feel undervalued, and as a result, are on the move. Some are leaving agency life for good.

On top of this, inflation is adding to pay demands. And strategists leave a company when they’re not earning, or learning, or both.

Agencies are missing a massive trick here: training can give strategists additional support, and provide a clear sense of career progression, even if their pay isn’t rising.

So what can agencies do?

At a time when companies are struggling to hire talent, strategists want to not only be valued, but be visible.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
A place at the table: Trained strategists want to be visible as well as valued.

Our findings show that 80% cite a company that values strategy as the most important factor in making somewhere a great place to work.

Strategists want to be continuously learning and be challenged, and they need to feel that they’re able to make decisive contributions to a campaign.

They want to know that their work will be part of the creative process and impact the final work.

Creativity is crucial here. Many say that their company culture has become focused on bureaucracy, over creativity. So they’re looking for companies with a creative culture.

And for creativity to flourish internally, strategy teams need the right tools and training, and be given adequate thinking time to come up with creative ideas, and to let those ideas percolate.

There is no doubt that the creative industry has a strategy training problem. And training and developing the next generation of strategists is crucial to agencies’ future success.

So my advice for every strategist is make sure training is added to your timesheet, and for agency leaders, make sure you find time and resources to train your teams.  It could save you from tears.