This article originally appeared on LinkedIn:

A few years ago, I read ‘Winning’ by Alastair Campbell – he opens by talking about the importance of Objectives down rather than Tactics up thinking. What’s the Objective, what is our Strategy to achieve that objective and what are the Tactics we will use to implement our strategy?

Although OST thinking is obvious once it’s obvious, it is surprising, when we are thinking in this way, how much activity is in-fact tactics up rather than objective down. Campbell himself points out how many senior executives he has worked with that have struggled to differentiate objectives from strategy and, often, tactics.

Indeed, a significant percentage of briefs that come our way are tactically rather than objectively or even strategically oriented. Example brief – we need a social media campaign (tactic). We want a meaningful presence on x platform (tactic). We need you to plan this media for us (tactic). We need a website (tactic). We need you to make us a video (tactic).

Of course, it is and always has been our responsibility to challenge briefs and interrogate the objective. However, we can argue that it’s more important now than ever that we get to the heart of the objective that sits behind our strategy before we even start to plan the tactics.

One of our clients pointed out the other day that her organisation is a ‘big ship’ (it is, one of the biggest) and can be slow to turn. Now, a few years ago the big ships we were taking out of port and into the waters of advertising were finding (to extend the metaphor) much more predictable marketing weather. The media was the media, the audience used certain media in certain ways and the variables were more dependent on us, (spend, campaign quality etc.).

If a media owner wanted to make a change in the recent past if was hard. When The Guardian (UK newspaper) moved away from broadsheet to its (recently replaced) ‘Berliner’ format, the change required massive investment in new presses and was heavily promoted for months in advance. The impact – slightly smaller ad sizes and nothing else; same audience.

Now Facebook and Google can make an algorithmic shift overnight, with much more profound campaign changes i.e. the same investment will not reach the same audience, or no audience at all. The result, if your campaign is tactically oriented, e.g. doing x thing via Facebook, a change to an algorithm leaves you with nothing.

Starting with clarity of objective puts us on a steadier course.

Say our objective is to recruit xhundred top grads from EU business schools, we need them between Sept and Dec and they need to be 2.1 or above. However, they would not normally join our organisation because we do not have a reputation for graduate development.

Our strategy might be engagement and dialogue through raising awareness and then explaining our offer and answering questions in a way that is, or appears to be, high-touch. Our strategy is to beat the competition on personal contact.

Now, our tactics could be a combination of campus presence and outreach, digital engagement through our website, and a variety of social contact tactics across, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

We would develop a creative idea that delivers our strategy and plan a launch campaign across our platforms (our tactics). If, in the middle of the campaign, Facebook makes an algorithmic change that prevents any corporate advertising, we have lost a channel but we know where we are going and how we are getting there - so it’s a tactical shift but we simply refocus resource.

For us, it’s no more than a change in the weather us we guide our ship towards our objective. Down with sail X, up with sail Y, tack left, tack right and forwards.

However, if we had started out by saying we wanted a Facebook campaign to reach grads – the wind would be gone from our sails completely.

In a fast-moving world, we need to think more like sailors; be very clear on where we are going, have a good strategy, then set some clear tactics but be ready to adapt on the way. The algorithmic weather is changeable!


Executive Vice President, Europe

Gareth Edwards leads the AIA business in the UK, and TMP business in Europe, and is focused on driving the agency’s strategy and creating a business that is driven by creativity, powered by technology and focused on people. Gareth has held a variety of senior roles in the industry and has worked with a wide range of clients in sectors including retail, banking, professional services and central government to help them develop and execute their talent marketing strategies.