Fake it ‘til you make it…as a digital strategist

In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Mark Aquino, digital strategist at Sydney media agency Pearman, tells us how to bluff it in his job.

What does a strategist do?

According to Wikipedia, I help specify an organisation’s vision, goals, opportunities and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of digital initiatives to the organisation. People get me mixed up with the IT guy a lot though. As a digital strategist, I come up with the best possible digital activations for client briefs. Whether it be ads on a website, pre-roll videos that you see before your YouTube video or Google Search ads – these digital ads were probably planned and purchased by yours truly.

What skills do you need to be good at the job?

A digital strategist needs to have the right combination of digital ‘cool’ and digital ‘nerd’. The digital ‘nerd’ allows you to speak eloquently on things like digital technology, the advancements in the field of mobile and the ability to decipher the client benefits of a Facebook cost-per-acquisition campaign versus a mobile ad sponsorship. The digital ‘cool’ is the ability to rock the skinny-jeans-no-socks-with-dress-shoes look without looking like a tool.

Who are the people you work closest with?

On a day-to-day basis, I work closely with my digital executive Phil (who is a Gen Y-er), simply to get the lowdown on everything cool with the kids these days – ie. what apps they are using, what mobile phone/tablets they have, and if Instagram is still a thing.

Otherwise, I work closely with the media department to ensure digital is always a part of our planned media response. I work with our clients to get a better understanding of their digital needs, online objectives and where they currently sit in this vast digital universe we live in. I also work with online publishers to get updates on what’s happening in their digital world and what new ad opportunities are coming to market soon.

Is there any lingo we need to know to do the job?

Everything in the digital world is acronyms. Things like – PCR, CTR, CPE, CPC, iOS, and CPL. Anything more than three letters causes a meltdown to our overworked hard-drive brains, so we like to keep it to a minimum.

My everyday vernacular includes questions like: ‘What is the unique audience of that website? What social media platform can best deliver brand advocacy for our client? Can we buy that pre-roll on CPC or CPE rates instead? Is Pearman trending on Twitter these days?’

What does a typical day on the job entail?

After having a quick natter about the hilariousness from last night’s My Kitchen Rules, we start the day with a brief.

The brief is then discussed by all members of the media team where everyone puts in their two cents with the hope that the big idea somehow comes to fruition. It’s the digital strategist’s job to find out how we can move some of that off-line money into an uber-cool, tweet sensation, augmented realified, mind blowing, media-first digital campaign that will knock the socks off the client, but more importantly… deliver results.

I spend the rest of the day looking into digital solutions. We need to get into the mindset of the consumer, understand where they are, what it is they’re doing and how we can effectively communicate our message. Is the answer in expandable banner ads, or should we look at engaging users on a social media level? Do we use video or should we look at seeding opportunities instead? It’s always important to remember that digital advertising is a slow burn and consumed in many different ways. We don’t have the power to solve all client problems, but digital advertising opens innovative and creative opportunities that no other medium can do.

After shopping my idea around the media department, I consult the oracle – aka my media director – to flesh out my digital response to the brief. We get sidetracked a bit as I help her with a computer issue that involves a frozen screen. Once we are back on track I sell in the digital concept to her and the team and we march forward to digital glory.

We speak to digital publishers and media contacts and brief them on what we need, when we need it and how we need it to deliver. Then I’m home in time to watch the very thin and tanned Pete Evans munch on activated almonds.

What’s the best part of the job?

Hands down, the best part of the job is playing on your iPhone, tablet, Surface or Blackberry without getting asked… “What are you doing? Wasting time?” Just kidding. I don’t have a Surface.

 What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge in my role is converting those less accepting of technology into believers of digital advertising. It’s like Thomas Edison having to explain electricity to the town candlemaker – seriously mate, you can retire early. Let me show you what this light switch does…

No-one ever likes change, and it seems these days change is the only constant thing in our lives. Just when you get accustomed to pop-up banner advertising, you now have to deal with in-streaming expandable banners. The digital world moves quickly and we need to keep up with these changes to understand consumer behaviour and capitalise on advertising opportunities.

How do you become a strategist?

Keep up to date with the digital world around us – consume it, live it, be it, then Tweet it. Above all else, just be sure to leave your socks in the drawer when you step out of the house.


This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.


  1. Is this satire?
    27 Feb 13
    11:08 am

  2. I hope it is. Otherwise it undermines the work of digital strategists/planners everywhere that aren’t faking it and do far more than is outlined in this cringe-worthy piece of buzzword-bingo fluff.

  3. Andrew
    27 Feb 13
    11:16 am

  4. The answer is never in expandable banner ads! Please dont call yourself a digtial strategist because you are giving us all a bad name!

  5. Pascoe
    27 Feb 13
    12:41 pm

  6. From the info above, Mark, a more accurate job title for you would be something more along lines of “digital implementation planner”. It’s not a situation unique to you or your agency, but “strategy” is a terrifically over-used word in comms & agency world these days.

  7. anon strategist
    27 Feb 13
    2:12 pm

  8. Hmmm,

    Sounds like ad land has created another layer of generality and really the articles description is of a media planner/buyer.

    Just because you did a few short courses and you may have spent some time in a name agency does not equate to strategy

    What ever happened to:
    goto market strategies
    Minimum Viable Product for launch
    Market Analysis/Forces
    PEST analysis
    Pricing strategies
    Elasticities of demand
    Investor Valuations. NPV’s, IRR’s
    Ratchet clauses

    Oh dear. Confusing real strategy with agency media buying strategy :-( Bad name for the rest of us I agree.

    Work in a real digital business or start one of your own and raise some bucks to know what real digital strategy is.

    Best of luck though

  9. MikeZed
    27 Feb 13
    2:28 pm

  10. It would seem that one of us needs to change our title – we’re a business that focuses primarily on digital strategy and working with clients to determine the role of digital in their business, and our “digital strategists” do a whole different role to the one you’ve described above. I’d suggest you should consider a title along the lines of “Digital Campaign Media Planner” rather than digital strategist. Either that, or step up the level at which you’re operating, because currently you’re giving the job title of Digital Strategist a bad name…

  11. eaon
    27 Feb 13
    2:41 pm

  12. I really hope this is Onion-esque humour that’s so clever-dick that I almost don’t get it.

  13. JB
    27 Feb 13
    2:51 pm

  14. @Pascoe

    Here here

  15. shamma
    27 Feb 13
    3:08 pm

  16. “We get sidetracked a bit as I help her with a computer issue that involves a frozen screen.”

    10/10 Bravo. This made me laugh as most people in a digital role have been in this position. :)

  17. JB
    27 Feb 13
    3:50 pm

  18. Love it!

  19. anon strategist
    27 Feb 13
    4:50 pm

  20. “Who am I?” – A very beautiful digital strategist looking into a muddy puddle at a mine site where his estranged father works ……..

  21. Onya, pedants!
    27 Feb 13
    6:16 pm

  22. So he’s a digital strategist who works in media! Big frikken deal if he doesn’t refer to himself as a “Digital Campaign Media Planner” or a “Digital Implementation PLanner”. Wanks words.

    There’s loads of different specialisations within digital strategy – this guy has chosen to write about his. Does it really warrant the pedantic, self-important negativity (comments 1 & 2).

    Your only real mistake, Mark is submitting an opinion piece at all – and running the inevitable, small-minded commentary gauntlet.

  23. Sam
    28 Feb 13
    12:04 pm

  24. David St. Hubbins: It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh…

    Nigel Tufnel: Clever.

  25. DTM
    28 Feb 13
    1:32 pm

  26. I know Mark – and he is a very cool & knowledgeable guy. And certainly can handle this role. Just a bit fun guy’s, calm down.

  27. MA
    28 Feb 13
    2:26 pm

  28. @Onya, pedants

    Is that you mum?

  29. Montague Tigg
    28 Feb 13
    2:45 pm

  30. “I just tweeted that you hate me and got a promotion and a raise”
    digital ninja, I love you and your very cool hair

  31. nell schofield
    28 Feb 13
    3:45 pm

  32. my aren’t you all a jealous bunch of haters!

    i’m an advertiser and we don’t care about your wanky titles or making you feel better about your chosen occupation

    none of you are true strategists so stop abusing the word

  33. anon strategist
    28 Feb 13
    4:47 pm

  34. Hey we’re all aussie or work in this country.

    We’re born knockers ( and I don’t mean a lovely set of coconuts either)

  35. Waaah
    1 Mar 13
    9:50 am

  36. Brilliant! Totally agree with “Onya, pedants!”

    Well done Mark. :)

  37. Craig
    5 Mar 13
    7:18 pm

  38. That’s no how you make digital strategy.

    Digital media planner maybe, but digital strategy is a far broader and more senior role focused on meeting an organisation’s business goals directly, not simply specific campaign strategy.

    Digital is not all about advertising – a one-way traditional media concept. And it isn’t simply about engagement either. It is a paradigm shifter of business models, organizational strategy, structure, process and relationships.

    A digital strategist understands this and helps organisations to change their culture and operations to benefit.

  39. Worker in digital space
    5 Mar 13
    10:14 pm

  40. @Craig

    What does seniority have to do with strategy?

    When I played under 16’s Football (Soccer) our captain (a 15 year old) coached the reserves, who won the league that year and is now coaching a reps side, age 23. In business he launched his first company at 18 and now has two, both in the digital space and both firing.

    He is the most strategic person I know. He is young and full of idea’s and ability.

    It is people like you Craig who try to impose rank into companies, as opposed to adopting a flat structure, which empowers and supports it’s excellent staff.

    Titles are a load a wank anyway – just get the job done and let your clients give you a pat on the back.

    Walking along the road is strategic, however seniors are very slow at it…

    I bet you lead a very bureaucratic life, full of rules and red tape.

  41. yeah
    5 Mar 13
    11:59 pm

  42. I tend to laugh at anyone in advertising who thinks anything they do is creative or strategic. We make ads for christ’s sake.

  43. MarkieMark
    7 Mar 13
    3:30 pm

  44. If you guys have nothing good to say? step up and say it to my face? I don’t need any strategy to defend myself.

  45. Michael Drohan
    12 Mar 13
    4:44 pm

  46. Why did i read this? No, wait – why did i read the comments?! Cringe.