What is the role of strategy in a post-digital era?

"Strategy today is coming from all sorts of places."

If I were asked, what is the role of strategy in a post digital era?

I’d say it’s somewhere between herding cats, fighting dragons and navigating the galaxy.

Because work today more than often lives outside of the TV and print box. Strategy is, by default, the art of masterminding solutions that can shapeshift.

Be they experiences, codes, songs, art, film or education, or indeed, a TV ad, connecting these to each other to create an impact that is bigger than the sum of its individual parts has become the skill for planners to master. And a skill to celebrate. On the same stage as the work itself. 

For me, strategy has always been the prequel to work. Whilst you don’t always see it, it happens and exists in order to define the ambition, set the direction and make sure everything and everyone arrives at the destination. Great work, bar those few exceptions where the epiphany struck on the beach or in a traffic jam, can usually be traced back to some extraordinary strategic problem solving.

And brilliantly, strategy today is coming from all sorts of places. Each with new things to teach us. Whether consultancies, in house operations, innovation labs, think tanks, governments or agencies. Our industry is diversifying at breakneck speed and we are spoilt from the choice of opportunities to learn from different walks of life. Strategy, and the work it yields, has never been so multi-faceted. So rapidly evolving. With such a creative heartbeat.

And so, it’s imperative that we look beyond executions, beyond growth and effectiveness, beyond all the PR, hype and fame and go back to that first spark that lit the fire. This year, Cannes Lions are launching a new award that will for the first time, recognise the thinking behind the work. The Creative Strategy Lions will look for problem solving that showcases the very best ideas, ideas such as:

The flip that reframes (Channel 4 ‘Superhumans’), The ‘aha’ that wows (Cheetos ‘Museum’)

The obvious made special (Donate Life "The World’s Biggest Assholes"), The journey that’s omnipresent (Nike ‘Time is Precious’), Solutions beyond communications (Savlon "Healthy Hands Chalk Stick") and many such great examples of brilliant strategy in the work that’s picked up awards recently.

The newly launched Creative Strategy Lions is an all- important addition for two reasons. Firstly, it will, for the first time, provide a ‘warts and all’ account of the problem-solving process that leads to great output. A fly on the wall documentary, a behind the scenes view of some incredible thinking, different techniques and new approaches from inside and outside of the agency world, globally. It’s like the APGs and the Jay Chiat Awards coming together and having babies.

The reason this kind of evolution is good for us all is because it sheds light on doing things differently. A great opportunity to shift our collective gaze sideways and learn. And a better and shared understanding of these planning lessons will only push the bar higher and higher in years to come.

As with the best awards shows, looking back should serve what lies ahead. And the more generous we can be about lessons learnt, the better the strategic and creative harvest for everyone going forward.

Secondly, it puts strategists where they should be, shoulder to shoulder with the creatives and the work. While creative strategy has never been an end in itself, some of the best work owes its punch to planning. And any awards show that severs these two feels out of step with the times.

Frustratingly, still too many awards exist to only recognise the work, or only the effectiveness of the work, or just the thinking that led to the work. Very few offer their stage to unite these disciplines. But it’s likely symptomatic of the working culture we operate in. Creating lots of different fiefdoms rather than one glorious kingdom.

With the addition of the Creative Strategy Lions, Cannes Lions is creating that kingdom for all. A festival not just for creatives, or producers or clients. But a place for people who care about learning something new about creative problem solving. It’s for people who recognise we’re all in it together, we just have different ways of getting there.

In the inaugural year of the Creative Strategy Lions, Cannes Lions in association with The Effectiveness Partnership, presents a thought-piece on Creative Strategy by industry leading Strategist, Anna Vogt, Chief Strategy Officer of TBWA London and member of the Creative Strategy Lions Steering Committee.

Anna Vogt is the chief strategy officer of TBWA London and member of the Creative Strategy Lions Steering Committee.

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