Be a 5% Better Strategist: A Career in 3 Documents

There are three key documents a strategist must master throughout his or her career. In fact, his proficiency with each of this pieces of paper is a easy bellwether to gauge his skills and growth. Here they are:

  1. The Creative Brief: Junior Planner to Planner, First 1–5 Years

The first document is the most obvious one. It is the bread and butter of every good strategist— a good creative brief. One that is clear, concise and compelling. One that clarifies commercial haze for Clients. One that makes great work easier to do for Creatives. In some ways, it’s the most basic of strategy documents, but often it’s the most difficult because it has to be good every single time.

At at the core of every good creative brief are answers to three questions: 1. What’s the difference between your brand and others? (e.g. more bleach) 2. What does it mean? (e.g. more cleaning power) and 3. Why should I give a shit?(e.g. less time cleaning means more time with the kids).

The ability to pinpoint “the difference” is a creative brief’s most important a quality. It’s the most efficient way to create attention and desire. It is primary and without it everything else is lost.

A strategist can never forget how to write a good brief like a boxer can never forget how to throw a good jab. No matter how senior you become you must always be able to do it.

2. The Deck: Planner to Planning Director, 5–10 years

The second document is the actually the trickiest one. It’s the deck or the entire story from beginning to end. Figuring out where to start and how to end, at what speed and detail and with what tone.

It must be simultaneously logically tight but emotionally fluid. It must strong as an legal argument but inspiring like a storybook. Long enough to demonstrate rigor but short enough to hold attention. And then it will poked and prodded and commented on and challenged by a dozen audiences.

The deck is typically where the difference between a good and a great strategist is made most clear and therefore the document that requires the most practice and craft. It is a strategist’s most potent tool of motivation.

3. The Org Chart: Planning Director to Head of Planning, 10 years+

The final document is one immersed in total ambiguity. A good brief will lead to good work. A good deck will lead to a won pitch. A good org chart will lead to nothing specifically tangible, but inarguably, the most important result of all — culture.

The hiring, firing, shuffling and team-making of who works on what is the one thing that affects everything. Creating personnel complements, leveraging personalities, positioning people to grow— there is no science to it, but when done well, it does what a brief and deck alone can’t. It creates a consistency of good briefs and good decks.

That’s it — an entire career spent striving for a more perfect brief, deck and chart.