Archive for the ‘ communication planning ’ Category

How far should planners go?

I had an interesting conversation recently with another planner where the question was raised: what exactly is in scope for planners, and what should be left to the creatives?

Or to put it another way – is the main job of the planner to simply define the task as clearly as possible, or should they also be involved in developing the solution? There seems to be two schools of thought.

Some creatives believe strategy ends with the single-minded proposition. This could be a product truth, a consumer benefit based on an insight, or a brand promise. Planners can add pointers on tone of voice, do’s and don’ts, but otherwise the communication idea is largely left up to the creative teams to develop. Either the proposition is creatively fruitful and everyone’s happy, or it’s not, in which case it’s back to the drawing board to revisit the brief.

There are other creatives who want more than the proposition. They want detail, multiple insights, alternative hooks which could spark an idea. They want texture, thoughtstarters and potential ways in to the solution. The role of planning for these creatives is as much about inspiration, as simplicity. It often means creative thinking starts before the brief is finished. It also assumes that strategy doesn’t end at the brief, and that both planners and creatives will continue to evolve the thinking together based on what’s actually producing interesting creative work.

Obviously personality comes into this, as does the overarching culture of the agency. It’s also wrapped up in whether creatives think planners add any value. The more a creative team rates a planner, the more they are invited to be a part of the creative process. Their opinions are actively sought out, their ideas are given credence. If the creative team doesn’t rate them, or perhaps doesn’t rate planning in general, then they don’t really want planners pissing in the well of inspiration before they get to drink.

I wonder however, will Darwinian selection put an end to this debate, as the demands of modern campaigns push us to work differently.

In many categories, we’ve moved beyond a point where brands are significantly different enough on a product or consumer benefit level, to win with these types of messages. Most brands are “good enough” and the incremental improvements are irrelevant to ordinary people (does anyone need 6 blades in their razor?). We also know that actually, brand differentiation is less important in determining purchase behavior than brand distinction.

In other words the “what you say” part, traditionally owned by the planner as the single-minded proposition, is often less important than the “how you say it part”. Planners have a lot to offer when it comes to insight into tone, language and nuance because they are closer to the people the communication is aimed at, so there’s no reason they can’t re-focus their efforts here.

But more importantly, as the most interesting creative work starts to move further away from straight “advertising” ideas towards richer “multi-faceted and multi-platform” ideas, planners have even more to bring to the party. They may not have expertise when it comes to print artwork or camera techniques, but they are very good at understanding things like cultural context, behavioural trends, user pathways and media behavior. These types of insights are increasingly at the heart of innovative creative ideas, and at the heart of how, when and where they are executed.

So perhaps in the near future when the question comes up again, “how far should planners go?”, the answer will be “all the way to the end”.


Future of Planning

I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Admap Future of Planning Prize, the winners of which were announced last week. The calibre of the three winning entries was exceptional – some incredibly original and thought-provoking thinking is on offer here and free to download for the next week.

Nick Hirst wrote about “Experience Architecture” which I found particularly fascinating as someone who started their career in a media agency and was always interested in cognitive psychology – context is key to how we understand or experience a message. My takeout from his article is the need for creative planning that is much more involved in the when, where and how ie. staying involved in the practical application of the idea –  and media planning which is as qualitative as it is quantitative. So many times I’ve encountered media choices that look great on paper (large reach against the right audience at the best price) and yet it’s the wrong moment, the wrong mood and mindset, so it’s unlikely ever to convert people. Whether those two planning roles should be united or separate remains to be seen…

Tom Woodnutt wrote about a concept called “Mutuality”, also highly relevant in modern planning given that like it or not, the influence of the general public on actively shaping your brand is reaching new heights, so you might aswell invite them in. And a philosophy that puts give and take at the heart of brands is definitely something I would support. And Philippa Dunjay wrote about microcutures, which I think is a really fruitful and creatively rich place to look for both target consumer potential, and ideas on how brands can add value.

There were also many excellent pieces by the other shortlisted authors, all on WARC if you have a subscription. In particular I’d check out Brian Millar’s piece which offers a compelling invitation for undervalued planning talent to think beyond advertising agencies and make a mark on the wider world, John Shaw’s voice of experience that elegantly looks at the things that will never change in planning, and Sarah Booth’s piece which is a refreshingly written take on cutting through the trends in plannery thinking and going back to basics.

And when you’ve read all those and for some unfathomable reason still want to read more, I’ve linked to my article below.

Taking a step back, I think I was writing slightly off the topic as my essay probably focuses more on the future of business and brands, than an analysis of the discipline of planning within an agency. But it was an interesting process to work through the essay title and to really think about the work we do as planners. I also found myself tying together some of the recurring strands of thinking which have been bouncing around this blog over the last few years.

Would love to hear your thoughts…  Do you see any truth in the wisdom argument, or have I lost the wood for the trees?

Wise Planning by Neasa Cunniffe

Fear and Failure

There were several common themes running through the talks at the BrainFoodStore digital conference last week, one of which the speakers themselves picked up on in the panel discussion at the end: fear of failure.

They were responding specifically to audience questions around clients and companies who are afraid to take the leap into social media, where the rules are fluid and the risks seem high. But this fear of failure can be found in many other aspects of our business too and the effects are potentially fatal.

Whether it’s a company culture, or a defining characteristic of a client-agency relationship – how we approach and think about failure is a marker of whether or not we’ll ultimately succeed.

Fear is a plague in any organisation. If an environment is full of people who are quick to criticise, jump into the negative, or actively seek out points to challenge, it’s no wonder that the resultant work becomes cautious and insipid. It doesn’t matter whether these critiques are valid; what matters is the effect they have on innovation.

When fear takes over, tasks are completed with the aim of satisfying expectations, not pushing boundaries. People move away from imagination and into bureaucracy, because accepted ideas and standardised methods won’t garner recrimination. We over-research, over-rationalise and push out decisions because we’re not ready. 

Martin Bailie insightfully pointed out that if you wait too long to try, you’ll make all your mistakes in public. By the time you decide to catch up with the world, everyone else will be ten steps ahead of you. The lesson is obvious – if failure is a necessary step on the road to success, you need to try and fail early.

Banish fear, embrace failure and learn while the stakes are low.

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