The best-laid plans: the importance of refining your strategy

I recently attended a workshop all about strategy, organised by our friends at the Design Business Association. We discussed what strategy means, explored the elements that comprise it, talked about how we frame our own strategic services and pondered how we use it to help us move forward as an agency. During the workshop, I was asked to define what strategy means to The Frameworks. For me, it boils down to this:

“Strategy underpins everything we do. It is the reason behind every action we take. Because fancy words and pretty pictures mean nothing without context and purpose.”

It’s valuable to take stock and ask that question every so often. Because “strategy” can sometimes prove a tough sell. To clients and to decision-makers in your own business. The end deliverable isn’t something tangible like a flashy new logo or a thought-provoking blog post. But those assets wouldn’t be possible without strategy.

All of us around the table agreed on the importance of framing our strategic propositions in the most effective way. And a lot of what we discussed resonated with how we at The Frameworks approach and integrate strategic thinking:

Strike it right

Framing our strategic services has always been about striking the right balance. We realise clients want and expect the optimum mix of process and creativity when selecting an agency – and the way we’ve positioned our Think/Frame/Make/Work methodology caters to those requirements. Not only does it guide prospects and clients through our creative process and the services we provide along the way, it maps out how everything we do falls under a wider strategy to nurture a client’s fundamental brand.

A solid but adaptable approach like this is crucial; some trademarked or “unique” strategic processes can seem contrived and put clients off, which is why we don’t force things. Again, it’s all about balance. We also avoid posting long “shopping lists” of services on our website, as they can prove too rigid – particularly if you leave out that one service a client is looking for.

A case in point

Good business breeds new business. And new business is central to our own strategy as an agency. Nearly two thirds of clients find agency case studies less helpful than they would like them to be. So, we always re-evaluate and adapt our existing case studies (and try to add new ones, of course) to make them more useful to clients and prospects.

Listing the names of clients we’ve worked with isn’t enough. Chances are, they already work with dozens of other agencies too. It’s the impact that we’ve made on a client’s business that really matters.

At the workshop, it was suggested that case studies should be ruthlessly categorised into one of three buckets: projects that delivered the basics brilliantly, work that made a compelling difference and ideas that totally changed the game. All other applicants need not apply. It’s something we agree with wholeheartedly.

Practise what you preach

Love them or hate them, pitches aren’t going anywhere. In fact, 99% of businesses believe pitches are good business practice for high-value projects. At the workshop, we were reminded that whether we’re pitching for a project or a long-term relationship, it’s crucial to practise what we preach. We were also reminded that, during a pitch, agencies often spend too long regurgitating the brief and offer strategy and creative as siloed services.

At The Frameworks, we try and treat a pitch the same way we would any other creative project. How can we get a brand excited about the stories we can help them tell if we can’t grab their attention from minute one? A piece of advice worth remembering was: “If you can explain fully how you would answer the brief in less than five minutes, then you might have something good”. And if you can nail that, you’ll never need a 50-slide pitch deck.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines strategy as: “A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”. And perhaps sometimes we’re all a bit guilty of failing to review and refine that plan. So it certainly doesn't hurt to ask what strategy means every so often. Because fancy words and pretty pictures mean nothing without context and purpose.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks


  • Strategy