Strategists Need to Continue to do ‘Punk Work’ from Time to Time

On a recent blog posting on Edelman Digital’s site, author Dave Fleet argues that new hires looking to break into agencies are describing themselves as a “strategist” before they’ve earned the title in a way to “avoid learning about critical elements of a communications function.”

Titles in the PR and social media industry often times can be superfluous, especially when words like “social media” and “strategy” are involved. Many folks who have the phrase “social media” in their title, for instance, wind up doing what is actually more like traditional media relations pitching—it just involves blogs instead of newspapers and radio shows.

Fleet’s main argument is that “you can’t be an effective strategist until you’ve got some experience to rest behind it.” It’s important for account level staff to learn from their mistakes and to see strategy plans written by more senior leaders and see how they work. In other words, “there’s a lot more to strategy than just idea creation” according to Fleet.

While his main argument is sound,even if a bit more pointed and argumentative than necessarily needed, it’s probably not best to call a new hire looking to enter the industry a “punk.”

It’s easy to see many new hires leaving college, being told by college professors and guidance counselors that they need to market themselves, and settling on a generic, but fancy-sounding title like “strategist.”

At the same time, it would likely benefit those who really deserve the title of “strategist” – for sake of argument, let’s say SAE and VP and above – to do some “punk” work from time to time.

How many times have we been told by senior leadership, whether it’s internal or from an external client, to execute on an idea they developed that doesn’t necessarily have all the elements needed for a successful campaign? A stunt event without a clear message? A PR pitch that’s generic and too self-serving? The invention of a holiday or a world record that nobody will be interested in?

As you advance in your career, you have to give up your time to activities that are often left to the punks—media pitching, event support, press release writing, etc. It’s not necessarily an arrogance thing—it might just be a time and budget issue.

However, those experiences are the kinds of things that can help you develop a sound strategy that is gleamed from what worked and what doesn’t. Just as there’s a lot more to strategy than idea generation as Fleet says, there’s something crucial to developing good strategy: experience. Just as the inexperienced may struggle with developing sound strategies, so too can the experienced if they give all the punk work – pitch writing, media relations, etc. – to the punks.

If you want to be a good strategy, the best strategy for achieving that, is to be the one that has to carry it out from time to time.

About the Author
Alan Danzis is a Vice President, Social Media Strategy at Ketchum PR, and his opinions here are his own and do not reflect those of Ketchum. He loves guest blogging but has no blog of his own–so follow him on Twitter at @adanzis. He currently lives in – and loves – Hoboken, NJ.


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9 comments on “Strategists Need to Continue to do ‘Punk Work’ from Time to Time

  1. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I completely agree. While usually (although not exclusively) people end up in senior agency roles through having that experience, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get back into the trenches to both brush-up on our skills and to stay on top of the latest best practices. That’s especially true in a fast-moving field like ours, but I’d like to think it’s the case more broadly, too.

    As far as the “punk” term goes, I’m not referring to younger professionals in general – I’m referring to those who think that, by referring themselves as “strategists”, they can avoid getting their hands dirty.

    I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard say that they want to move into the strategy field because they don’t want to have to handle client contact, or managing budgets, or project management. As far as I’m concerned, that experience gives you the context you need to plan and execute successful strategies. Those people are the “punks”.

    Young professionals broadly, meanwhile, are immensely valuable and valued in my books – the younger members of our team are some of the most talented people I’ve had the good fortune to work with. Colleagues like that are the furthest thing from “punks”.

    Make sense?



  2. Dave, thanks so much for your great reply. Was hoping you’d comment!

    It was interesting to hear you talk about folks that want to move into the strategy field because they don’t want to handle client contact as that’s something I hadn’t considered. At the same time, I wonder how many folks head into the “account” side (in quotes for lack of a better term) because they know they’re good at maintaining happy client relationships, managing teams, etc. but don’t want to worry about coming up with creative. It sounds like we both agree that you need a healthy of mix of both to be successful in this field.

    — Alan

  3. Fantastic points on both sides of this post. Very insightful for an up-and-comer to see the dos and don’ts. I also very much appreciated Dave mentioning some of his failures early on in his career. It shows how learning is a process and newbies won’t always get it right the first time. Thanks guys!

  4. our industry is constantly evolving and sometimes I worry that the most senior people setting the strategy are not always up to speed, especially in the digital space. I can think of countless agency FAILS that could be traced back to senior people framing up a strategy by the rules that prevailed when they were on the phones pitching and then having junior people carry it out. to stay relevant (and strategic) in our business you can never veer that far away from doing.

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