This year’s awards will be judged not only on the strength of the strategic thinking that went into the brief, but also on how and where that strategy created real influence. Put simply, we’re looking for evidence of strategic influencing not just strategic thinking.
At the APG annual conference this year, Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman gave an outstanding talk on the nature and history of strategy, in which he reminded us all that ‘no battle strategy ever survives contact with the enemy’. In fact the overall theme of the whole day became the need to more closely connect the strategy that one sets out with, to the ever evolving and changing circumstances that reality imposes on it when one puts it into action. Ben Malbon of Google rightly identified this as ‘emergent strategy’: the messy, scrappy, iterative strategic thinking that is necessitated in an increasingly real-time world of data, insight and product experience. In a nutshell, the successful and ongoing operationalizing of a strategy is as important as the upfront theoretical thinking that sets one off an initial course.
This year’s APG awards want to credit and account for that. Its partly why we are evolving the judging process so that entrants have a chance to talk through some of the ongoing challenges the implementation of their strategy might have faced, and what was learned, what changed, perhaps what even improved on a strategic level once strategic thinking evolved into strategic doing. It is a recognition that strategy that creates influence doesn’t begin and end with a well-thought-through powerpoint presentation. In fact, strategy never stops.
The question you might want to ask yourself as you consider entering a paper into the awards then is, ‘where did our strategy create a disproportionate influence on events?’ And the answer could take a variety of forms. For instance: did your strategy influence an organisation’s culture, practices or positively affect the morale of employees? Did your strategy bring about the transformation of a category or change how people perceived or considered that category anew? Did your strategy influence the creation of partnerships of some kind, perhaps a coalition of brands was required to get the job done? Did your strategy revitalize a brand by creating greater participation of its user base, influencing people’s level of engagement and use of that brand? Perhaps your strategy even influenced the political agenda? It’s not enough anymore for brands to embark on a traditional advertising campaign, planning the effect upfront and then hoping it will be delivered with a bunch of TVRs. How did your strategy start, and then continue, to create a positive influence on consumers, employees, the category, other competitors or even the wider society and world around us, and how might you be continuing to ensure it does.
We’re not looking for proof of return on financial investment, simply return on intellectual investment, that your strategy helped your brand, product or client in the end get more out of a situation, than initial circumstances might have suggested…that’s what we call influence.