Middle School Marketing: Balancing Strategic and Tactical Work

Anjali McKenzie, Former UX Researcher

Article Category: #Strategy

Posted on

We kicked off last week’s Middle School Marketing meeting with this question: How does an interactive agency balance strategic “big idea” work (e.g. coming up with grandiose marketing campaigns) and the more tactical “execution” work (e.g. building interactive sites/apps, driving traffic via search, and then measuring results)?

As a fast-growing interactive agency, we find ourselves asking this question a lot. Luckily, we got a lot of great input from members of MSM and their past experiences. The overwhelming response was that every agency does it differently and there is no clear method or process to finding that “perfect balance.” Here are a few ways that other agencies have gone about balancing their strategic vs. tactical work.

  • Smaller agencies are strategic and tactical. Usually with agencies less than ten people, there is minimal segmentation of work between “higher” and “lower” level employees. In this situation, everyone is on every project from the initial strategic brainstorming sessions through the execution of the idea or campaign. 
  • The big agencies (Ogilvy, McCann, etc.) have a highly segmented vision between strategy and execution. Senior level employees develop and sell the strategy then pass on the project to entry-level and mid-level employees for execution, while moving on to pitch the next client. This works best in an agency that has a rigid hierarchical employee-structure and career paths that are very clear.
  • Democratic agencies get as many employees involved in the initial strategy and then divide or pass of the work to a smaller team to execute. Everyone has great ideas, so everyone should be involved in the strategy development, but execution is more effective and efficient with a smaller team. Of course, not all budgets and schedules can allow for everyone to be part of the strategy brainstorms, so that is certainly a limitation for these progressive firms.
  • Iteration based agencies sometimes find that instead of chasing big budgets, they prefer to focus on shorter projects. In this situation, you don’t need the big ideas and long brainstorming sessions, but rather, small teams that can quickly develop microstrategies that are easier to implement and measure. These teams work on the microstrategy from start-to-finish, developing the strategy and then executing in quick cycles.

Everyone is inherently involved in strategy to some extent, so while separate strategic teams may be preferred, they are certainly not necessary. Whether it is a search marketing campaign, a social media blitz, or an email newsletter, all “tactical” work requires some amount of strategy behind it. Maybe it’s in the copy or the design, or even the demographic targeting of the ad. Everyone is involved in thinking about the bigger picture, whether they know it or not and ideas are built into execution. Ultimately, as agencies evolve and grow, so do their internal methodologies, just as we are here at Viget.

What are some ways your agency handles the balance between strategic and tactical work? Feel free to share in a comment.

Thanks to everyone who came out to MSM this month – hope to see you all again in April!

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