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What is “strategy” anyway, Mark Ritson?

Posted by Sanjay Dove on 5th July 2019

Cue eyerolls from my colleagues when I start talking about Mark Ritson again…

Mark Ritson is one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing. For me, he’s singularly influenced the way I view the whole industry. I mean, the man’s a genius — an adjunct professor in marketing at Melbourne Business School for the past 15 years, a PhD in marketing from Lancaster University, and a couple of decades’ worth of consultancy experience with some of the world’s biggest brands.

But it’s not his qualifications (or really even his experience) that I care about — it’s the manner in which he tells you what’s important and what’s not in marketing. He just says it how it is. If he thinks something is rubbish, he’ll tell you that it’s rubbish. And he won’t mince his words.

Which is why I’ve watched pretty much every video of him I can find on YouTube and I always look forward to his latest piece in Marketing Week with great anticipation. If anything, Ritson is a superb entertainer, and most unlike what you may perceive a university lecturer to be.

Strategy versus tactics

There’s just one thing, though, that I’m not sure I can totally get on board with. And that’s Mark’s view of what is “strategy” and what isn’t. From a marketing strategy point of view, Ritson would argue that marketing strategy is all about simply answering three — and only three — questions:

  1. Which customers are we going to target?
  2. What is our position to those customers?
  3. What is our objective with those customers?

That is it. But before it sounds like I’m dumbing down marketing strategy, there’s obviously a lot of work that needs to go into answering those questions. You can’t target customers without effectively segmenting them first. You can’t position yourself to that audience without first understanding what drives that audience, what you’re good at as a company, and what differs you from your competition. And you can’t set a proper marketing objective without understanding where along your sales funnel you’re leaking customers. All of that comes from research, research, research.

However, everything else, Ritson argues, is tactics. And I mean everything. Communications? Tactic. PR? Tactic. Social media? Tactic. Ritson will then argue that the tactics are taking over. We’re seeing the “communification of tactics”, where comms is becoming the be all and end all at the expense of product, pricing and distribution. Then, we’re seeing the “tactification of marketing”, where CMOs are spending way too much time on comms at the expense of answering those first three questions.

So, by Ritson’s logic if we lump everything else into the tactics bucket, that means, for example, a “PR strategy” is a contradiction in terms — and it’s that I can’t get on board with.

PR has to be strategic — otherwise what’s the point?

Look, Mark, I totally get it. There are too many senior marketers that fail to address those first three all-important questions and dive into communications. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that communications or PR can’t be strategic.

At Wildfire we think like strategic marketers to make sure that we build PR campaigns that actually make a difference to your business. We don’t just float something big down the Thames for the sake of making a splash (sorry).

Just like Mark advises marketers do from a strategy point of view, we do from a PR point of view. We assess your audiences (and journalists) and get to the bottom of what they like, need and despise. We look at the aspects that make your business unique or distinctive (from a media point of view), and we audit what your competitors are doing (again, from a media and content point of view). At the end of all that research, we build a campaign for you that a) addresses something your audiences care about b) showcases your distinctive ability as an organisation and c) is different from what others are doing in the market.

We call it our Think.Bold process. The “think” part refers to all the research we do that informs our strategy and the “bold” part refers to the way in which we execute on strategy. And at the end of the campaign, we measure the business impact against SMART objectives — and not just present clients with a pretty coverage book.

So yes, sorry Mark, I do believe that PR and comms can be strategic as well — it’s just that one person’s tactic (the CMO’s) can be another person’s strategy (ours).

I guess on this point, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Sanjay Dove

A senior account manager at Wildfire, Sanjay has extensive experience with executing campaigns for brands in the IT, cybersecurity, marketing tech, semiconductor and consumer tech industries — with notable clients including Acquia, RepKnight and Samsung. He is equally at home working with small startups to build their brand awareness and credibility, and working with the big tech brands to manage their reputation within their given industries. Sanjay joined the agency in October 2014 after working for a couple of years in technology copywriting and sports PR. An English Language graduate from the University of Manchester, and a Journalism postgraduate from the University of Salford, Sanjay confesses to being a bit of a grammar nerd. While away from the office, he enjoys playing cricket, watching Chelsea play football, listening to jazz, and playing the piano and the drums. But not all at the same time. Obviously.