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Planning for the Best: Shagorika Heryani on Why Strategists Are the Future of Advertising Agencies


Grey MENA regional head of strategy on her obsession with consumer behaviour and having a learner’s mindset on steroids

Planning for the Best: Shagorika Heryani on Why Strategists Are the Future of Advertising Agencies

Shagorika Heryani is a multi-discipline brand strategist and business leader with 18+ years’ experience across categories, geographies and diverse consumers with a deep understanding of all aspects of marketing from business and brand strategy, customer journeys and communication.

As regional head of strategy for Grey MENA, she works with a diverse portfolio of brands from HSBC, LEGO, P&G, GSK amongst others. She leads Grey’s efforts to deliver strategies that are at the intersection of cultural trends, consumer motivation and technology. She helps brands invigorate their business through maximizing the digital-first marketing ecosystem that directly impact purchase, brand reputation and loyalty. 

Previously she has worked across marketing, agency and brand consulting roles globally. Shagorika has won awards at the Effies, Dubai Lynx, Goafest including most valuable brand ranking, best customer service on social media etc. 

She was awarded ‘India’s most influential digital media professional’ and ‘Top 50 most influential strategy leaders APAC’. She also writes frequently for publications including Campaign, WARC, Little Black Book etc. She’s also been a judge for Adfest in Asia, Creativepool Awards and Immortal Awards, WARC Strategy in the Middle East, the MENA Effies and Pakistan Effies amongst others.

LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one? 

Shagorika> In an ideal world, the moniker of planners or strategists would be redundant but traditionally, there are two significant differences between their roles. The first, is the scope of their work. Planners typically over index on consumer and cultural behaviour and live to discover the actionable insight for creative work. Strategists focus on aligning business goals to brand strategy rather than a single communication idea. The second, is how future-forward their work is. Planners look at past and present data to inform their work and accelerate brand equity in the ‘here and now’. Whereas strategists, or at least the good ones, are futurists and can set the roadmap for brand and business growth in the short and mid-term. 

LBB> And which description do you think suits the way you work best?

Shagorika> I believe planning and the sharp focus on consumer insights is an invaluable tool for a strategist and therefore, I think it will soon be a redundant distinction. Personally, I think strategists are the future of advertising agencies because they understand and implement how a brand can be a powerful catalyst for business growth and that’s the value clients will pay for. I am very much a strategist and obsess equally about business shifts and consumer behaviour. 

LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?

Shagorika> There are quite a few that fill me with both awe and a sting of jealousy, wishing I had done it. From a strategic perspective, I think De Beers ‘A Diamond is Forever’ – very much a part of popular culture and folklore - is on top of the list. The legend of a diamond being scarce and therefore inherently valuable is genius because it guarantees a significant price premium vs. any other kind of gemstones. And secondly, we use a diamond to propose because of De Beers. The positioning of a diamond as a symbol of eternal love rather than extravagant luxury and embedding that in popular culture for decades, is the marketing of a philosophy not a diamond or a brand. We could have an ethical debate about it, but the reality is, this strategy spawned a new cultural truth and one that created almost limitless demand and value for De Beers.  

LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?

Shagorika> I research the topic on social media, find relevant posts and read the comments section. It tells me everything I want to know. It’s fascinating the truths we inadvertently reveal when we communicate on social media. I also draw upon brand insights and analytics to inform my thinking. 

LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?

Shagorika> Uncovering the opportunities for a business and the brand by first understanding the rules of that category and figuring out how to disrupt. 

LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful? 

Shagorika> I am very inspired by the seminal work done by Les Binet and Peter Field on ‘The Long and Short of it – balancing short and long-term marketing strategies.’ Besides clarifying my own opinions on this subject, it also empowers me to not make the false choice – of choosing brand over sales activation or vice versa. It’s often pushed me to find the fertile middle ground between the two and combining them for maximum effectiveness. 

LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?

Shagorika> I love creative people that aren’t riddled with their own stereotypes and approach briefs with passion and interest. As a strategist, I want them to fully understand that the singular job we have is to use creativity to solve business problems and that’s our north star. 


LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?

Shagorika> I think agencies and clients are increasingly embracing the value of strategy and how it’s a springboard for creativity but also the differentiator in a pitch or for a savvy client looking for an agency that brings both sizzle (creative) and steak (strategy)

LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?

Shagorika> In the MENA region, strategic talent is harder to recruit and nurture than other markets because, the region is dominated by expats who are constantly in transit, so they lack the deep cultural and business knowledge that strategists are expected to possess. Covid unshackled that by allowing us to work comfortably and borderless with the best talent for that project, wherever in the world they may be. 

LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?

Shagorika> External validation often leads to appreciating your own value and that’s what happened here too. Strategists are more confident in their work and the impact that it has to campaigns and clients’ businesses. We see the growth of effectiveness awards, management consulting firms snapping at our heels resulting in ‘strategy as a service/consulting’ become a agency revenue stream and that can only lead to better work and a more positive perception of us. 

LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?

Shagorika> Yes and no. Yes, because I think we limit our impact to informing the creative and becoming research and consumer insight specialists whereas our abilities could be much greater. No, because I believe that things are always changing and evolving and so will strategy as discipline and in my own small way, I’ll like to be the change. 

LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?

Shagorika> Have the learner’s mindset on steroids and you’ll do well. 

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Grey Dubai/MENA, Thu, 28 Oct 2021 10:50:00 GMT