What it’s really like to be a Strategy Manager in Media
5 min read

What it’s really like to be a Strategy Manager in Media

Find out what a Strategy Manager at a global media company really does, get some insider secrets on the industry and tips on how to get a role.
What it’s really like to be a Strategy Manager in Media

What do you tell people you do?

I tell people that I work on the company strategy, or do “corporate and business unit strategy” as my colleagues would say. That I’m helping to set the strategic direction for the company and helping to shape the future of the company and its place in our industry.

What do you really do?

What I really do is work on small discrete projects that are the pet projects of influential people or politically motivated. Usually these go nowhere because the intention wasn’t to follow through on them, but for the executive to have some work to show. This is what I spend most of my time on. Once every three or four years we work on a strategic plan, or strategy refresh, which involves wrapping a narrative around the random projects and initiatives the company is doing . Every year we review the company's progress against the strategic plan. What this means is that we fit a neat narrative around why the company isn’t hitting the plan.

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What is the biggest misconception about the role?

People think that the strategy team set the strategy. The closest we come is to influence the direction and shape the narrative in the documentation that accompanies the strategy. It turns out that senior executives all think that they know best, and want to determine the strategy based on their experience, gut-feel and personal ambition. Everyone thinks they can do strategy, and that’s why most strategies are bad strategies that fail.

Why do most people get into this role?

There are three main reasons people get into this role: 1) as an escape and break from the faster pace of management consulting (me!), 2) because they have a deep interest in the industry they are joining and want to focus on that area (e.g. media), or as an entry point into strategy from another discipline like marketing, human resources or finance.

How do people typically enter this role?

It’s probably evenly split between people coming from a consulting firm, moving from a similar role at another company and internally from within the company. The beauty of these roles is that they are typically advertised on job boards like Indeed and have a very consistent role title like  “Strategy Manager”. This means you can more easily search for all the open roles in your market. If you work in a company with a strategy team already, make friends and stay close with the leader of the team and offer your help where you can. If you do this and make your intentions known, they’ll let you know when roles are coming up.

What three main skills do people need to bring to this role?

There are a few, but I think these three capture the essence of what’s needed:

  • Structured problem solving: I use this term as a catch-all for the ability to understand and select the right frameworks, break down a problem, apply critical thinking, and use storytelling to convey the right message.
  • Financial modeling: At the end of the day, this is essentially a fancy way of saying that your stakeholders will want to see the cost-benefit analysis of what you're recommending to them. Understanding the drivers and assumptions and putting the analysis and a clear and logical format so they have confidence in the numbers.
  • Project/Stakeholder management: This has two parts. The first part involves using a structured toolkit to make sense of a situation, the key issues and come to a logical set of actions and next steps. Keeping track and managing the process. The second part involved the softer skills around getting and keeping stakeholders onside and supportive of what your project or team is trying to achieve.

What opportunities do people typically get after this role?

This is a really interesting question because as far as I can see, the options and opportunities are quite limited. Basically, a Strategy Manager will be responsible for projects and a Strategy Director or Head of Strategy will be responsible for running the strategy team. This is the main opportunity for career advancement, stepping into the Strategy Director or Head of Strategy role. These opportunities are rare and competitive as you will be against the other Strategy Managers on your team and external candidates too. Of course, you could always move to a similar role at another company or move to a consulting firm.

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What did you least expect in this role?

To be honest, I moved from consulting to in-house strategy for more work-life balance and I seriously underestimated the degree of work-life balance I would get. In-house strategy teams work a typical 9 to 5 with few expectations to work late nights, lower pressure and a less demanding environment. Like I said I expected all of this, but didn’t realize just how good the work-life balance is and how low the demands on this role are.

What’s the most frustrating part of the role?

I wanted a work-life balance, but I still want to get things done (I can’t totally ignore my consulting firm training and work ethic). The slow pace of some colleagues at a corporate can be frustrating. The strategy team relies on inputs from other teams and sometimes getting inputs can be a really slow and hard to influence process. I’ve also had to lower my expectations around quality, but that’s been a helpful learning experience. Instead of striving for perfection (impossible!) delivering work at 80% is good enough. Of course, there is also still politics, but that’s an every workplace problem.

What would only other people who do your role know about it?

To complete your work, you need and get access to really interesting information that’s not available to the rest of the company. Obviously you can’t talk about it so it’s really interesting going to meetings where people are sharing information you already know, or speculating about things you already know the answer to.

What would the haters say about this role?

I know that there are some important projects or initiatives that just wouldn’t happen without support from the strategy team. We also bring structure, logic and project management skills to important business-as-usual activities, especially when they are at risk. However I do know some people who think that the strategy team doesn’t add any value and exists only to justify its own existence and to keep and expand their roles. I can see how this would happen at some companies and with some ambitious strategy leaders.

What advice do you have for people considering this role?

If you’re so inclined, really think about what your career path looks like beyond this role so you go in with the right expectations. I see a lot of people taking a Strategy Manager role as an escape or for a small salary bump, but the trajectory slows from there. Be comfortable and happy with this, and know what you’re getting into.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in this role?

Haha. Our main stakeholder and the most senior person at the company (think Chairperson) once nodded off in a meeting where we were presenting a major strategic initiative that needed their sign-off. It was funny, reminded us to take things a bit less seriously and also encouraged us to make our presentations a little but for fun and entertaining after that.

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