What are creative strategy craft skills?

David J Carr
3 min readDec 1, 2017


Strategists face increasing pressures as they ply their role in creating communications, products, services or experiences that solve real customer problems against the background of a world of complex and evolving business, customer, technology, media and data forces.

When everything is new and we can all be replaced by AI what can we do to be useful now and tomorrow? Can we fall back on instinctive understanding of Bernbach’s ‘unchanging man — what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action”? How can someone starting in the strategy dept or mail room, as a (non-nepotistic, paid) intern or grad plot a career and skills progression path?

Questions like these keep arising in the office, on Twitter and at the events and talks which gather “disagreements of strategists” like oft-bespectacled moths to a flame.

In the past I’ve written about seeing the future of strategy in a partnership between creative and business strategists, orchestrating multi-functional teams in order to cut across layers of the “strategy stack”.

What are the craft skills that are needed to deliver this, especially for Creative Strategy, which often has an “inferiority complex” or sense of “imposter syndrome”?

I believe that Creative Strategy — the form of strategy also known as ‘Planning’ in Ad Agencies—is uniquely placed to bridge the gaps between Human Empathy (The Why: Real motivations & jobs to be done) and Data (The What: Real behaviour and opportunities). But we need to be robust. We need to be rigorous, confident in finance, modelling and maths as well as feelings and images, and we need to prove long-term impact and speak the language of CEOs not just CMOs.

When thinking about the skills needed for Creative Strategy and how they might grow and evolve with experience I was reminded of Clay Parker Jones and (the late) Undercurrent’s famous Skills matrix.

So following their lead I sketched out a “7 Pillars of Wisdom” of the Creative Strategy skillset that can be used to identify and validate the real human problems needed to be solved in the market. Against these areas of activity I took some common job titles (that might just correspond with those at DigitasLBi) and laid out some of the skills, deliverables and abilities that could be expected to be performed by a modern Creative Strategist.

The risk with this matrix is that it becomes fuel for an “HR box ticking” exercise that treats people as linear when we all display different competencies developed discontinuously and to varying depths — indeed I’ve met some great Leaders or Partners who wouldn’t claim to be able to ‘completely colour in’ every row up to ‘their level’.

Instead ‘The Creative Strategy Craft Skills Matrix’ is a first draft at a framework to think about where we can focus training and development, a framework on which we can develop a future proof portrait of the Creative Strategist who can navigate novelty but remain true to the values and principles of those who came before.

It’s a baseline, it’s not exhaustive and it’s a work in progress (as is Creative Strategy) so all ideas are welcome.



David J Carr

Strategy Director. ex-CD, Planning Director & Head of UX @ Digitas, DIG, Publicis, Chemistry & JWT. APG Gold & Google Planning Innovator of Year.