ramarketing’s CEO explores what we can learn from soccer about strategy…

28th November, 2022

With the World Cup underway read Dr. Emma Banks’ thoughts on strategy and what we can learn from soccer.

So, what is strategy anyway?

The definition of strategy, according to various sources, is: 

‘A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim’

Strategy generally involves setting goals and priorities, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions.’

When we talk (ALL the time) about strategy vs tactics do we really understand what we’re saying?

Working in an agency that has evolved from a strong PR background to an integrated multi-service global marketing business has ignited a heap of discussion about strategy for us as a business, and for our clients. 

Despite all the strategy talk, I think that strategy is often confused with other things.

A good strategy solidifies a plan that makes sure your people and their key strengths are applied in the right way at the right time.

Let’s talk about football (soccer to my US friends) for a minute – a subject I know very little about but like every other fan, I have an opinion, qualified or not. 

Just like any team manager I want to win. Great. But how do I win? 

I need to:
assemble the right team with the right skills
know my opponent inside out
plan my tactics across the full 90 minutes and beyond ( including extra time and penalties)
know when to adjust and when to hold firm on the plan
have guts, commitment, resilience, and determination
be flexible
look at what’s right in front of me and ahead to the final whistle 

I have talented team members and individual contributors who when given the ‘ball’ in the right place can ‘score goals’ without really trying – but who can become disillusioned if the opportunities don’t present themselves. I also have creative and ideas people who need to be aligned with the team tactics so they can shine. 

Bringing it back to reality (I will never be the next England Manager), let’s be brave with our questions about what we want to achieve, why we want to do it, and how we’re going to meet our aims. 

What does strategy mean to you?

Strategy is not coming up with ideas – although that is a big part of delivering a strategy.
People often talk about being creative and strategic in the same sentence. Ideas and creativity are amazing and I am in awe of the creativity coming out of our team on a daily basis, but ideas are no good without a plan. 

A plan is no good without ambition – a vision, an aim, goals, and objectives.

We all know this stuff but we so often lose sight of it in the day-to-day busyness of work and life.

The real magic happens when the right team members are involved, with the correct oversight and when the strategy reminds everyone to always look further ahead than tomorrow or next week. 

A clear strategy enables everyone to better predict the future, to know when to hold firm, and when to adjust. It is tactical so we’re clear on when to bring the ideas and creativity so they are delivered at the right time and in the right way. 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

We are reminded in the well-known management quote that no matter how well-designed your strategic plan is, it will fall flat unless your team shares the appropriate culture. Something everyone can learn from whether you’re a soccer player or a senior postholder in life sciences!

Being strategic is not a badge of honor 

A strategic approach is actually hard work and requires all the core skills we apply in life – decision-making, project management, planning, and budgeting all come into play, and no one is perfect at it – it is always a work in progress.

So the next time someone says where’s the strategy? Why is this so tactical? Or where are the ideas and creativity? Ask for the big goals and objectives and also ask for the plan. 

Otherwise, we risk throwing mud at the wall and scoring an own goal!

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