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Strategic Thinking Is a Muscle. Work It or Lose It.

Chicago, IL

What to Expect

In this hands-on training session, you will learn about the building blocks of creating strategy and the resources needed to do it well. You’ll see the integral role of creativity in strategy and how insights lead to creative thinking that eventually results in better performing campaigns. Our goal is for you to leave as a better strategic thinker who is equipped with the tools to lead strategy development in your organization.


  • Understand the steps to developing marketing strategy.
  • Discern between facts and insights and how both contribute to strategy.
  • Recognize how to separate tactics from strategy – and how one leads to the other.
  • Understand that strategy cannot exist without creativity – and why.
  • Learn to conduct strategy sessions back at the office.


Early Bird (Before 08/20/19)Standard Price
AMA Member$698$798
For early-bird pricing, use the code “STRATEGIC19″ at checkout.

Who Should Attend?

Whether you’re just starting a career in marketing and want to get a solid foundation on strategic thinking or are a seasoned veteran needing a jolt to re-awaken your strategic prowess, this class is for you. This program will help sharpen your strategic skills for just about any challenge including business obstacles, product lines, services, target markets and even organization-wide thinking.

Interview With the Instructors

AMA Event Policies

Thursday, September 19

Registration and Hot Breakfast

We’ll kick off the day with breakfast. You’ll also be provided with lunch and breaks throughout the day.

What Comes First? (The Chicken/Egg Dilemma)

Marketers in every industry and organization require solid critical thinking to meet the needs of our customers, employees, partners, suppliers and business.  In an effort to be as responsive as possible, sometimes we get wrapped up in getting the job done – marketing materials, budgets, scheduling – before thinking through how to address bigger challenges.

We’ll discuss the key ingredients to a great marketing plan and strategy including:

  • Insights
  • Tactics
  • Strategy
  • Research
  • Objectives

What do each mean to you? How do you ask the right questions to uncover them? How do they contribute to solid thinking for our customers?

Being Questionable

The basis of any good strategic plan – or relationship, for that matter – is asking great questions. In fact, asking great questions makes everyone’s job easier, including yours.

Good probing questions start with “How” or “Why” and are impossible to answer in one word. When talking with customers, smart questions are better than smart answers. They make your colleagues think about their functions and goals differently. And it turns marketers into customer experts.

We’ll discuss the building blocks of good questioning that leads to uncovering insights (next up) and creating great strategy.

Factually Boring

Successful strategy is formed by customer insights. What is an insight versus a fact? Insights should be informed by reason, but are by no means 100% fool proof. In fact, the closer to fool proof you get the less it becomes an insight.  Forming an insight requires that you step off the ledge a bit and have faith in your thinking. 

However, your thinking needs to be grounded in solid research. That’s where facts come in. Facts support insights, they are not insights.  And insights are not taglines or marketing copy. Insights inform strategy from which tactics are born.  And tactics make taglines, copy, media plans, videos, websites, etc. 

The Role of Creativity

Who identifies themselves as creative? Creativity isn’t just design or copy. Those are talents just like web development or math or public speaking. It’s about asking, “Is there a better way?” If you had the power to change one thing, what would it be? What would it take?

Creativity is really about thinking. It’s being mindful of the circumstance while at the same time, undoubtedly believing you can better it. Creativity isn’t something your colleagues in other functions – accounting, operations, IT – do on the job – or even think about. Creativity can be “the thing” that wins the business or consumer.

How to be creative when you’re not creative? Everything we will do in this program is creative thinking.

The Path to Strategy

Strategic thinking can be taught. It can be learned. And it most definitely can be forgotten. Strategic thinking is like a muscle that must be continuously worked and trained for optimal performance.

When we’re not thinking strategically it’s not because we aren’t thinking at all. It’s because we have a tendency to think about “what” rather than “how” or “why” – tactics rather than strategy. We put a high value on performance and output, which naturally leads to tactical thinking. And the more tactics we develop the more productive we feel.

But strategy is often more about what to exclude rather than what is included. A good strategy will define a finite set of tactics. While communications plans can get deep and detailed, strategy should not be complicated. It’s the macro approach to a challenge or problem.

Group Case Study Activity

After reviewing, you will deconstruct case studies to develop strategies for success including:

1. Objectives – What is the company trying to achieve?

2. Research – What would you recommend to get more information, if anything?

3. Insights – Try to come up with an insight based on the information you have.

4. Strategy – How would you advise the company based on the objectives?

5. Tactics – What would you recommend doing based on the strategy and objectives?

We’ll present our strategies and vote on the best one. Competition!

Todd Coats

Todd Coats

Associate Director for Brand and Creative Association of International Certified Professional Accountants​

Todd Coats has helped businesses with complex stories find compelling and strategically sound ways to reach audiences. Coats brings his 32 years of experience to create effective concepts and ideas for industry sectors such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, energy, higher education and retail. He brings an emphasis in brand building, integrated marketing, employee branding and digital advertising.  His experience ranges from working with large global corporations such as Deloitte, GSK and 3M to consumer-facing brands such as Cartoon Network, The Academy of Country Music, Hanes and Epic Games. Coats holds awards from such highly respected shows as Graphis, Print, American Advertising Federation and many more.

Shane Johnson

Shane Johnston​

Principal, Market Position Strategies

Shane Johnston has developed branding, marketing and product strategies and integrated communications plans for Fortune 100 companies, small businesses and non-profit organizations. His 25-year career spans client and agency marketing roles. His expertise in campaign development and lead generation has delivered results for companies such as Lenovo, VMware, Chase Bank, the AARP, The Wall Street Journal, TruGreen and UNC-Chapel Hill. Shane’s client-side experience includes positions at Sprint, Mutual of Omaha, Methodist Health Systems and Nortel Networks. He is now Principal of Market Position Strategies, providing marketing consulting services to enterprise and higher education clients. He’s also a Partner in Firestarters Club, which provides consulting sessions for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Johnston served as 2010 president of the Triangle American Marketing Association. He earned his BSBA and MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Training Series Location 

AMA Support Center
130 E. Randolph St., 22nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.542.9000

The AMA Support Center is right in the heart of Chicago. We’re nestled between Millenium Park and the Chicago River meaning you are just steps away from premiere hotels, shopping and world-class dining. While you’re at our office, you’ll have access to work cubbies in case you need to step out and take care of something back at your office.

Recommended Hotels 

Hyatt Regency Chicago
151 E. Wacker Drive 
Chicago, IL 60601 
Phone: 312.565.1234
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (5 minutes) 

Swissôtel Chicago 
323 E. Wacker Drive 
Chicago, IL 60601 
Phone: 312.565.0565
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (8 minutes)

Fairmont Chicago 
200 North Columbus Drive 
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.565.8000
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (5 minutes)

Club Quarters
75 East Wacker Drive 
Chicago, IL 60601 
Phone: 312.601.3400
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (8 Minutes)

theWit Chicago – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
201 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.467.0200
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (7 minutes) 

Homewood Suites Downtown Chicago
40 E. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL  60611 
Hotel Direct: 312-644-2222
Reserve a room now and receive a 10% discount 
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (15 minutes) 

Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
540 North Michigan Avenue, (Driveway Entrance on 541 North Rush Street)
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312.836.0100
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (14 minutes) 

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago
221 North Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.565.5BLU (5258)
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (5 minutes)

Virgin Hotels
203 N. Wabash
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.940.4400
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (5 minutes)

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago
225 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.960.8500
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (6 minutes)

LondonHouse Chicago
85 East Wacker Drive at North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: 312.357.1200
Walking Distance to AMA Support Center (9 minutes)

Area Attractions and Events

Please visit Choose Chicago for additional city information.


The AMA is committed to providing equal access to our meetings for all attendees. If you are an attendee with a disability and require program accommodations, please contact the AMA Support Center at (800) AMA-1150 or A member of our staff will ensure that appropriate access arrangements are made. If you have specific disability-related needs for your hotel sleeping room, please be sure to communicate those directly to the hotel when you make your reservation. In an effort to provide the highest quality of service to all attendees, we require that details of all access requests be communicated to our office at least 14 days in advance of the beginning of the meeting. 



Strategic Thinking Is a Muscle. Work It or Lose It.