The Blackboard – Writing strategies that sell – Part 1

The word ‘strategic’ seems to be one of the most over-used, cliché words in the comms industry. I’ve read endless website copy and countless CVs all plagued with the word.

However, when asked to define what it means to be ‘strategic’ – most people will stumble over their words, clutching at straws as they try to come up with an intelligent sounding definition.


Perhaps we should stop claiming to be strategic until we can define the word.

One person who can legitimately say they are strategic is Samantha Allen, former MD of Pulse Communications. Samantha is about to jet set on over to New York to embark on her new venture as Global Director for Ogilvy. Before departing the Pulse office, Samantha imparted a few pearls of wisdom on what it means to be strategic.

So according to Samantha Allen, strategy – what is it?

Strategy is a framework. In no more than one or two paragraphs, it provides the direction for the activities/tactics/solution which follows. It maps out the way in which the stated objectives will be achieved. It sets the scene.

So before I unpack that further, what do we have to do before launching into the drafting this all important few paragraphs?

1.   Unpack the brief

Often a rather convoluted brief will land on your desk, requiring a deep breath, a cup of tea and a clear head to digest the rambling information. Take the time to unpack it. Circle key points and challenges. Then start researching!

2.    Research

Research is crucial. Make sure you understand the space your client or potential client is working within or wants to enter. Look into the competitor landscape, consumer perceptions around the brand or product, the target audiences and so on.

Tick – done. Now what to do with the mountain of information you’ve accumulated? There is no point printing all of this off or copying and pasting this into your document (referenced of course!) to simply appear as though your strategy is well researched and sound. The weight of a document will not win an account or sell an idea. It’s what you do with that research that will make the difference.

3.   Insights – Look for patterns

So what should we do with it? Get out your highlighter and prepare to pull it apart! Start looking for patterns. What insights are continually recurring? Pull those insights out and use these to write up your research. Make sure these insights are written in a concise, easy to read and engaging manner. If you don’t enjoy reading it, there is a good chance the client won’t either.

And the key – always remember you’re pre selling your ideas. Your research should be painting a picture, outlining a challenge which your strategy and tactics will follow on to address. Your document should take the reader on a journey. Consider this research as the introduction.

4.   Objectives

Once you have an understanding of the space in which your client wants to be positioned and the challenges they face, go back to the brief. With research and understanding under your belt, look again at their objectives and resist the urge to copy and paste them into your document.

Their objectives don’t necessarily have to be yours. You are being hired as a consultant to give advice. If you simply repeat their objectives back to them in your strategy, you instantly put the label ‘executor’ on your head. From the get go, be the ‘thinker’.


Having conducted the research, their stated challenge might not be right on the mark. Are their target audiences in fact the right people to be communicated to? Perhaps they are, but are there others you should be reaching out to? Perhaps their objectives aren’t actually objectives at all. For example, to gain media coverage is not an objective.

Decipher what your campaign objectives need to be to ensure the identified challenge is addressed. Be a consultant and consult from the beginning – your professional advice will be respected from the outset.


Gemma Crowley

One Response to “The Blackboard – Writing strategies that sell – Part 1”
  1. Sam says:

    “Their objectives don’t necessarily have to be yours. You are being hired as a consultant to give advice.” Couldn’t agree more. Often advice doesn’t fit neatly into what some may consider ‘Comms’. Part of comms industry is challenging perceptions of what we do and how.

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