THOUGHT LEADERSHIP FOR HIGHER EDUCATION SINCE 2001: Reach out to us.
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When I introduce myself to new people, I usually get asked what company I work for. Outside of higher education, these introductions often involve explaining the company name mStoner, especially since I live in the state of Washington. Job titles also usually come up. When I say I am a “strategist,” I’m usually met with either a blank stare or the question, “What does a strategist do?” It is a fair question; the title is pretty broad.

According to Google images, being a strategist has something to do with playing chess, ancient warfare, writing the word strategy with a pen, or drawing Venn diagrams*. I am here to dispel the myth that my job includes any of these things.

A strategist is a generalist
At mStoner, a strategist is a generalist charged with making sure the work (in its entirety) relates back to institutional goals. At the onset of a project, a strategist helps by identifying client needs and helps plan for success.

A strategist is also a specialist
mStoner specializes in web site work for colleges, universities, professional and graduate schools, so my clients’ institutional goals are always related to admissions and fundraising. There are typically secondary goals or nuances connected to both of these goals. Within this space, a strategist is expected to be a specialist. Fundraising and admissions are worlds unto themselves, and a strategist is expected to have deep knowledge of these worlds and how best to serve them on the web.

What does a strategist do?

• project planning / approach
• running client interviews / stakeholder interviews
• running meetings with client leadership
• information architecture
• content and/or site audits
• top line analytics review and recommendations
• competitor reviews
• responsive design recommendations and mobile recommendations
• prototypes (wireframes, style tiles, etc.)
• hosting workshops on writing for the web
• usability tests and reports
• reviewing creative work and HTML
• writing / attending sales pitches
• writing for proposals
• product offerings and how to best to add them
• product development (stuff like EDUniverse)
• speaking engagements
• administrative work (I try to keep this to a minimum!)

Customizing the role
I come from a design/usability background, which explains some of why my billable work includes things like prototypes and responsive recommendations. To help you understand how this role changes from person to person within the firm, Fran Zablocki (another strategist) focuses on lifetime engagement management and has a strong project management background. Susan Evans (a senior strategist) brings many years of experience with team management and human resource skills. In other words, each strategist on our team brings a different skill set to the table and is assigned to slightly different tasks as a result.

Does the title really matter?
Probably not. Let me clarify: I believe the work itself matters greatly, but I don’t think the title matters much. Titles can be toxic. In a small company, most people are interested in helping clients and doing good work. At the end of the day, it’s about what you bring to the table, not what they call you.

*I did draw a Venn diagram recently but it wasn’t for my job. I hope any Walking Dead fans reading this post will appreciate it.

Doug Gapinski

AUTHOR - Doug Gapinski

I'm a user experience strategist and designer who has worked on web projects for higher education (Ivy League universities, community colleges and everything in between) for more than seven years. Find me on

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