Reclaiming planning’s radicalism

 

I was recently invited by the APG of Sweden to talk about ‘the future of planning’.  This is the text of that talk - a personal perspective on whether account planning indeed has a future at all. My thanks to all at the APG for the opportunity of catharsis. 

***

The political activist Marcus Garvey once said:

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.”

Now ours is not an industry much given to contemplating the past. And it is easy to take the existence of account planning for granted.  After all, it has functioned now as a distinct agency discipline for almost half a century. In that time been exported, institutionalized, taught, iterated, segmented, and even celebrated. The story of account planning is a success story.

But if we are to shape the next fifty years, then we must rediscover our radicalism. For we are in danger of being that tree without roots, and it is only by rediscovering our past that can we hope to play a part in shaping the future.

***

The story of account planning story begins in 1968.  While the streets of Paris were convulsing with the idealism and missiles of the student riots, in Swinging London, Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King began reengineering their agencies to accommodate what came to be known as ‘account planning’.

This much we all know.  But it is easy to forget that at its inception, account planning offered the industry a truly radical philosophy. For the impetus for the creation of planning was an over-dependence on copy-testing persuasion scores, the abuse of rigid qualitative research methodologies, and a shortage of decent market data.

Account planning in other words, was borne of a frustration at the way research was being used in agencies. King and Pollitt were driven by the desire to create a way of working where the primary use of research was consumer understanding in the service, as Paul Feldwick has put it, of “intelligent strategy and creative communication”.

It aimed to expose and dismantle stifling and unhelpful research methodologies. 

It devoted itself to developing a real and rounded understanding of the consumer, rather than simply selecting and polishing selling propositions. 

It sought to place thinking about the response of the consumer at the heart of strategic and creative thinking.

It shifted the focus of advertising development from finding ways of selling people stuff, to finding ways of making stuff buyable.

And it placed the quest for effectiveness above all other agendas, both internal and external.

***

So where, forty-six years later, does account planning find itself today?

In parts of our industry it is in rude health, with sharp, brilliant, imaginative minds helping shape innovative and effective solutions to clients’ business issues. The APG’s Creative Strategy Awards and the IPA’s Effectiveness Awards both provide invaluable evidence of how intelligent, creative thinking can yield fresh ideas that move businesses.

Yet planning in many other quarters feels like a photocopy of a photocopy – reproduced, but with much of the original clarity lost. 

In fact there is a palpable sense of confusion, uncertainty and anxiety within the planning community. We speculate whether planning is merely a subset of UX, whether marketing has been replaced by growth hacking, whether (God help us) the creative brief format should change, whether the big idea has been rendered obsolete by the small idea, and we entertain advice on what planning ‘should’ be by people with the flimsiest of strategic credentials.

Moreover, there is no sense that planners share a common philosophy, let alone a common body of accumulated marketing knowledge.  So to confusion, uncertainty and anxiety, we can also add ignorance.

Turning to survey the role of planning within agencies we have the planner as creative apologist and ‘strategic setup’ writer. As translator of client briefs into something coherent and workable for creatives. As articulator of other people’s ideas. As powerpoint jockey. As trend spotter. As bad creative with a big vocabulary. As cheerleader for ‘innovation’. As conference speaker and panelist. As politician and manager of client relationships. As speculator about what the future holds. As salesperson for agency capabilities.

However valuable these contributions might be, none of them represent the core purpose of account planning.   Alone they are planning distracted, and domesticated.  

Now I am not suggesting that everybody in this room is guilty of all of this. The fact that you here are all members of the APG is a pretty good indication that your hearts and priorities are in the right place. Nonetheless, there are bad habits and behaviours, and there are plenty of planners outside this room that are guilty of indulging in them. They discredit the discipline, make it weaker, and jeopardize the possibility of great work.

And that is (to indulge in understatement) a pity, for the world brims with opportunity. New consumers are beginning to find the fruits of the marketplace within their reach and means for the first time.  Technology is turbocharging, amplifying, and accelerating our Stone Age instincts,   It is rewiring how businesses do business, and how they connect with consumers.  New industries are emerging, entirely new business models are being created, and new players are disrupting and even obliterating old businesses. As it has always done, the world teems and swirls with the complexity  and opportunity that always attends creative destruction.

If planning is to help businesses adapt, survive, and prosper in this world, it must regain its sense of purpose, and go back to its future as a radical movement. 

Now by ‘radical’ I do not mean mean wayward, destructive, or self-consciously hip – coming from the Latin radicalis, meaning root, the original use of ‘radical’ meant going to the root, or essence.  Planning in other words, was (and at its best continues to be) about going to the root of the matter.  It was about asking questions – the obvious yet unasked, the awkward, the penetrating, the fresh and unexpected. It appreciated the fundamental truth that creativity begins with questioning.

Without radicalism – without the desire and tenacity to ask the smart, challenging, hard, good, fundamental and penetrating questions, without the interest, ability and fearlessness to get to the root of things – we cannot hope to produce intelligent strategy and effective creative communication. No amount of lateral thinking, digital savviness, powerpoint, eloquent brief writing, and hanging out with creatives can make up for that.

So some thoughts with on what radical planning takes seriously.

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In a world characterized by constant change and innovation, planning will be knowledgeable about the fundamental principles of marketing and communications. 

It is breathtaking how little planning knows about how businesses actually make money, and how brands grow and are sustained. It is equally depressing how uninterested many planners appear to be in any of this today. Planners who find this stuff too tedious, or beneath them, would probably be better off advising production companies, than advising clients on how to address their business issues.

In contrast, radical planning will take a keen interest in how our clients actually make money – in the business behind our clients’ brands. 

It will know about the relative profitability of increasing volume or price, the difference between short- and long-term effects, and the economics of promotions. 

It will understand the fundamental patterns of buying behaviour so that it can translate business objectives into realistic marketing objectives.

And it will understand the relative contribution of penetration and loyalty to brand growth.

It will understand how people really make decisions, and it will understand how people influence each others’ decisions.

It will understand the different ways that people process communications, from low to high attention processing, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.  

It will understand how people respond to the same communications in different contexts (and on different devices), and why they will screen them out in some contexts and pay close attention in others. 

And while the body of knowledge so far is not extensive, it will try and understand how communications affect people in ways that are not explicit. 

Engagement, participation, loyalty, segmentation, differentiation… Marketing is full of myths, received wisdom, old wives’ tales, superstition, and zombie ideas (ideas that should have been killed by evidence, but which refuse to die).  Too much of this is simply being accepted uncritically and unexamined, swallowed wholesale, and mindlessly regurgitated. So while enthusiasm for the new is one of the things that makes our industry such an endlessly stimulating one to work in, radical planning will understand that thoughtful examination is the necessary partner of enthusiasm, not its enemy.

Of course people don’t really need communications. They need brands and products that contribute to their lives. And so planning will seek to understand how people actually use and experience products and services – both the physical and the digital, how that makes them feel, and how this helps form habits that shape future behaviour.  Indeed it will spend more time trying to understand how habits are formed than thinking about ‘loyalty’ or some other form of deep ‘engagement’.

We work at the ‘show-business’ end of business, not the business end of show-business. If we want a future in which we add value and are valued, we’d better start being interested in and knowledgeable about what keeps the wheels of business turning. 

***

Secondly – though surely it should be unnecessary to demand – planning will be knowledgeable about how ordinary people live.

95% of all that’s awful about the output of our industry stems I’d argue, from the fact that it operates as ‘Adland’. Because to operate in the tiny world of ‘Adland’ is to live and work in splendid isolation from all that surrounds us. It is to see ‘consumers’ not people; to worry more about the accolade of one’s peers than people in the real world; to be out of step with culture, both fast and slow; to create work according to ‘rules’ that have no foundation other than corporate solipsism; to breathe in an environment filled with the exhaust fumes of our own rhetoric; to find inspiration only in the output of ‘Adland’; and to judge our work against other advertising, rather than all other things that interest and excite people.

Now the notion of the planner as “voice of the consumer” has fallen for good reason into disrepute. It had come to legitimize marketing’s slavish following of consumer research. But we are in danger of replacing it with ‘the voice of adland’, which is just as terrifying.

Radical planning will not have forgotten that its role is to bring a knowledge of the outside world into creative process.

In providing that window onto the world outside adland, it will know the basic stuff about demographics, lifestyles, incomes, etc. But it will go beyond this, and occupy itself as much to understanding societal and cultural change, as it currently does to understanding the shifting technological landscape.

And it will understand that the real world can be very different from the cloistered confines of adland. 

Now I’m old enough to remember when when planners moderated their own focus groups. If this did nothing else it confronted us with the fact that most people lived very different lives from ours. Today, for all our glut of data and for all our ‘listening tools’, a great many planners are spectacularly and completely out of touch with ordinary people.

Radical planning will recognize that the lives of the people it seeks to influence can often be very different from our own. In reconnecting itself with reality, it will seek to dismantle the insulating assumptions, rhetoric, borders and behaviours that isolate ‘adland’ from the real world.

And in doing so, it will finally accommodate itself to the fact that for most of the time, most people are not terribly interested in brands, and that our primary task is not the nurturing enthusiasm of the few, but overcoming the indifference of the many.

***

The landscape is evolving and changing rapidly, but planning will have a good working knowledge of people’s media behaviours.

When I started in advertising, the media choices would be between TV, outdoor, print, and maybe if you were feeling adventurous, a bit of radio. Communications planning since then has of course changed dramatically. Marketers today are faced with a truly dizzying array of options, choices, and potential media combinations. Indeed almost anything can be a medium.

This complexity is compounded by the  the explosion in the number of brands vying for consumers’ attention, and the endless tsunami of compelling, distracting, useful, or entertaining content that now surrounds us.

In this environment, gaining and sustaining competitive edge demands that imagination be married with a new degree of rigour and objectivity. As Kate Cox has observed, once upon a time media recommendations invariably began with the objective of “build rapid reach and frequency to raise awareness”.  Today, the endless flexibility of digital interactions demands that we think through what each point of consumer contact does for a client’s brand and business.

However, there is in some parts of the planning community an almost wholesale ignorance as to the media diets and behaviours of different consumer segments. To some degree we can blame separation of the media function from the creative  one. But it is not an excuse.

While it will not know more than the specialists, radical planning will have an understanding of the relationship people have with different media (in the broadest sense of the world)  so that it can have useful and intelligent conversations with those experts.

It know the basics of what different channels, platforms, and devices can deliver – in terms of experience, audience, scale – as well as value to a brand and business.

For example, we talk about ‘second screening’, but exactly how many people do it, how much time do they spend doing it, when do they do it, and what are they doing on that second screen? Radical planning will know the answers because it will have got over the collective allergy or lack of interest in data that bedevils us today.

It will be able to distinguish intelligently between ‘wide’ channels that deliver reach and frequency and ‘deep’ channels that offer a more immersed consumer experience. And it will have the breadth of vision to appreciate that both can play a role.

And in contrast to our frequently naive response to media data and factoids, radical planning will be able to exercise a sense of proportion. It will be able to distinguish between apples and pears, and not fall for example, for comparing the audience delivered by a one-off broadcast with a video that has taken months and months to aggregate its views.

And it will be able to critique the sales patter of salespeople from, for example, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Certainly it would not have gushed quite so much at the 100m+ views that a certain three minute film garnered online.  It would have known that this is tiny for a global phenomenon, and equates to about a 200 TVR campaign just in the UK. There’s really not much point us banging on about ‘big data’ if we cannot cope with this much smaller data.

And finally, radical planning will know the relationship between media investment and market share growth, and be able to have an informed voice in the setting of task-appropriate budgets.

Our ideas are nothing if they are not experienced by consumers, and mediating technology is increasingly part of the idea, rather than merely a delivery system for it. Planning must climb out of its pit of ignorance and begin to ask all the questions that communications and media planners have been asking for decades.

***

And finally, planning will be able to actually evaluate the effectiveness of the ideas it helps develop.

Our purpose is to help in the creation of work that worksAnd yet investigating how it worked in the marketplace is neglected by too many planners. How can we hope to have clients take creativity seriously – to encourage it, invest in it, and pay us for it – if we ourselves have absolutely no idea what its contribution to their business was?

Radical planning will take seriously evaluating the business impact of creativity. 

Now evaluating communications responses – whether people saw it, remember it, liked it, etc. – is relatively easy. And of course people’s digital interactions give us even more things we can measure – searches, downloads, uploads, clicks, views, tweets, shares, likes, visits – the list goes on and on. All these things are easy to monitor and easy to count. They tend to move quickly, and they’re relatively easy to link to marketing activity. But despite our industry’s collective and frequently naive fixation with mindlessly counting these numbers, communications effects and media efficiencies are not evidence of effectiveness. Even if others do not, radical planning will grasp this distinction and understand that the end goal for clients is money and profit.

Properly radical planning will have a working knowledge of how to evaluate the effectiveness of our ideas.

It will know that short-and long-term effects are different kinds of communications responses, and it will know that they must be measured differently, over different time periods.

It will be aware that creativity is in all cases only one of the many factors, external and intrinsic, which may have driven sales or created a change in behaviour. So it will have an appreciation of how (I borrow here from the advice for entrants submitting cases to the Cannes Effectiveness Lions) distribution, pricing, competitive failure, share of voice, superior product performance, market monopoly, seasonality, price promotion, macro-economic pressure, cultural bias, legislation, average temperature, rainfall, force majeure, popular culture, fashion, politics are all potential factors in the fortunes of companies and the performance of brands, and that the influences on buying behaviour of consumers is almost infinite.

In working to identify the specific contribution of communications, it will know how to manually discount these factors.

It will have at least a working knowledge of the principles of econometrics.

And of course it will know that creativity makes money in different ways, whether that’s driving top-line sales, securing new distribution, supporting a price premium, reversing reputational damage, reducing the cost of sale, and so on.

If we really want to demonstrate to our clients that investing in creativity is good business (rather than just talk about it), then we must all take seriously the task of evaluating its business impact.

***

So, the fundamental principles of marketing and communications… how ordinary people live… media behaviours… and effectiveness. None of this is merely ‘nice-to-have’ theoretical knowledge – it has a direct bearing on what we choose to create. It shapes objectives, targeting, timing, channel and platform choices, investment levels, creative solution, and performance metrics. The fundamentals of what makes for good, effective planning have not changed.

Indeed the need for properly radical planning, for planning that has the intelligence, conviction, determination, and skills to involve itself in, ask, and address the fundamental questions is arguably more urgent than ever.

For while planning has long been obsessed with simplicity and reductionism, as Tracey Follows has noted, what clients really want is not so much help in coping with complexity, but certainty.  Uncertainty can paralyze a business (think about all those corporations that have been amassing vast cash reserves) and surprise can jeopardize it.

Uncertainty is of course, a perennial challenge in business planning.  But it’s probably fair to say that our world is volatile, complex and interconnected like never before.

Uncertainty of course cannot be eliminated. Risk is always the inescapable partner of return.  But if planning is to help clients manage risk, then it must be radical.

So rather than be content with breezy confidence, a dollop of marketing buzzwords, some observations about the Zeitgeist, some references to Nike+, Zappos or other case study du jour, and some pretty powerpoint, it must commit itself getting to the very heart of things.

Now this is not to insist that the development of ideas is a linear and entirely rational process in which each step logically leads to the next. Nor is this to argue that rigour and radicalism are the only requirements for effective planning.

As Stephen King himself noted:

The whole process of advertising is not a safe, cautious, step-by-step build-up, because that would inevitably lead to me-too advertising for me-too brands.”  

Hunch, gut, improvisation, lateral thinking, guess work, hypothesis, prejudice, intuition, even naiveté … they all have an essential and vital role to play in the development of strategy and ideas. Planners who fail to bring these elements to to the table are just as handicapped as planners who fail to bring to bear rigour and a desire to get to the root of the matter. Planners after all work with research, but in communications. As such their business is the same as everybody else’s – the application of imagination to clients’ business issues, helping create entirely new futures for our clients’ businesses and brands.

Planning then, is an essential part of the messy process, and is not just an upstream, conceptual discipline that does not get its hands dirty with the work. It is practical, pragmatic, and focused on execution, not mere abstraction.

However, without the skills and interest to get to the heart of the matter, planning is a body without a skeleton, and without this necessary infrastructure of knowledge and ability – without radical planning – we do ourselves, the work, and our clients a disservice.

Without planning that gets to the root of things, planning simply has no foundation. It speaks without authority, reduced to just another opinion – one everybody else is perfectly entitled to ignore. We are, after all, already over-supplied opinions.

Without radical planning, we also do creativity a disservice. We risk creativity being tasked with unreasonable, unrealistic, or inappropriate objectives, we deny the creative process the fuel of that old fashioned word, insight, and devoid of deep understanding, we render the development of successful ideas a roll of the dice.

And of course without radical planning we also do our clients a disservice. 

At this point we should pause and shudder as we contemplate the fact that the average tenure of a CMO is now a paltry forty-three months. 

The implications for the organisation are clear. Results (sometimes any results) must be delivered, and delivered quickly. Inevitably then, short-termism has become the scourge of the marketing world. And it is a scourge because real, significant, sustainable business results are felt in the longer term.

Only by getting to the root of things do we have any hope of helping clients set the right objectives, select the best tools, and marshal the appropriate level of resources. For as Laurence Green has observed:

Too often, our business has sliced and diced its tasks in the style of a sub-prime mortgage bundler. A corporate task set by the chief executive, reframed as a comms task by the marketing director, refined by the brand consultancy, and reduced by the ad agency to the stuff advertising can do: Grow awareness, nurture engagement. Too many links, too indirect and weak a connection between commercial possibilities and creative resolution.” 

Without properly radical planning we – along with our clients – we will remain hostage to this kind of thinking and operating.  

So if we want to take proper advantage of the ever-expanding canvas of creative opportunities, if we desire a broader application of creativity to clients’ business needs and issues, and if we are to go beyond only ever seeing and solving ad-shaped problems, then we must go beyond the merely superficial and apply ourselves more seriously to asking more, better, and different questions. 

***

We should never forget that the emergence of planning as a discipline was driven by anger and indignation. 

Anger at stifling and bogus research techniques. 

Anger at spurious assumptions about how communications worked. 

Anger at poor quality data that yielded no insight. 

Anger at a research and marketing infrastructure that got in the way of work that worked. 

The work and our clients today deserve this same degree of energy and fearless intelligence.

This same independence of thought.

This same commitment to cut through the self-serving rhetoric and rigour-free bullshit.

This same determination to look beyond the easy platitudes and lazy thinking.

This same relentlessly questioning spirit.

Planning is radical, or it is nothing.

***

 

 

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49 comments

  1. Ronald Laan (@RonaldLaanCMI)

    Thank you!
    Having spent over 10+ years at Consumer Insights at client-side I totally agree. In addition, what you say is just as valid for any CMI-professional taking oneself serious. I wouldn’t feel a professional if I sheepishly followed all the nonsense going on about facts, insights, media and imagination.
    CMI and Strategic Planning should join hands.

  2. edward (@cotton)

    Martin,
    A great piece- as usual.
    A couple of weeks back, many of New York’s planning and ad community got the chance to hear Jane Newman and her fellow planners from the early days of Chiat talk about the early days of the emergence of the discipline in the US. They were brave radicals fighting a great fight and doing whatever it took to create and sell brilliant work. Planning grew Chiat’s business from $50m to $1bn in a few years, by presenting radical ideas to transform business. Jane’s talk was inspiring for many of the reasons you outlined above, the discipline has lost that spirit and drive. What struck me most about the talk was how willing the Chiat planners were to be brutally honest to their clients- obviously they were armed with insight and facts to support their argument, but they were brave enough to speak up. I am not sure that happens much these days.
    Thanks for the kick in the pants and the much needed “rallying cry”. I will be interested to hear what others think.

  3. Yves Van Landeghem (@ief)

    One of the best read-ups on our profession I have come across for the past few years. And I’ll urge every young/old/digital/social/conversation/content/brand/comms… whatever planner to come by and have a gander. Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Learn something new from the Mad Men era: The “radical” idea of customer-centric marketing plans | Lift - The SeriesC Blog
  5. William Charnock

    Good article. Problem is that planning can’t radicalize in isolation. Most big agencies of today are different to the agencies of the past (or more accurately they never moved on and got fat and bloated)… and are stuck is old models, old conventions and old methods. Planning is less than 3% in most agencies (I know I raised it to 7% and 10% at JWT and R/GA respectively) and can’t singlehandedly change the status quo. Nor frankly is it worth the effort. Most planners do radicalize by leaving the agency model and leaving planning (or for the younger generation not even starting there!). The principles of planning are alive and well but just not in advertising agencies.

    I see a vibrant culture of “planning” alive and well in the new digital businesses where knowing peoples needs is critical to success, where experimentation and testing is part of our process (Optimizely anyone?) and shaping a brand through what it does as well as what it says. Without huge budgets entrepreneurs have to reach out to people in innovative, meaningful and emotionally stirring ways; persuade others to champion their cause and their product; use every trick of behavioral economics and every trick of psychology and behavior change. They don’t talk about it because they are too busy doing it, learning in practice not in theory, trying out crazy notions and seeing if they work and learning damn quickly if they do or don’t. What advertising agency offers that to a young planner? Why would anyone who is genuinely talented in strategic ideas and imagining “what could be”, not “what is” go to an advertising agency or a planning conference to earn their stripes? Where in that world does a young planner learn best practices and share what they are doing with others? It just doesn’t exist…(and much as I love them it’s not the 4A’s conference, the APG or the IPA effectiveness awards!) But, go to a growth hacking Meet-up. Go to a SEO event, go to maker events or any other tech meet up and you will see planning alive and well and with new tools and methods old planners like me (and you) rejoice at.

    • Martin Weigel

      Good comment. That said, no part of the marketing industry has the monopoly on intelligence any more than any part has the monopoly on stupidity. There are brilliant planners and unguided halfwits in both advertising agencies and the new digital businesses. Each has its vistas of clarity and insight, as well as its blind spots and incompetencies.

      I wholeheartedly agree that that digital businesses have much to teach us about planning. But then again, there are some fearsome planning minds in so-called traditional agencies who could teach digital minds a thing or two. I’d hazard a guess that the discipline would make more progress if it acknowledged that, than erect yet another set of silos.

      • William Charnock

        Maybe I didn’t articulate myself well. You seem to have missed my main point.
        I was not creating a new silo, that is simply the realm I am currently working in and therefore the perspective I have evidence from. What I was trying to say (badly) was that in my experience, my craft skills and value were much more valued and much more challenged/honed/developed when I stepped outside the advertising community than when I was within it.
        The issues you raise for planners, specifically, 1) not knowing how a business makes money 2) not knowing fundamental and changing patterns of behavior 3) not knowing how real people live 4) not having working knowledge of the media behaviors 5) not coming up with new, never seen before ideas and learning if they work and 6) not having or using data or evidence. are all problems with planning in agencies…These are NOT ignored outside agency walls and there is something about being inside a big agency that allows you (even encourages you) to forget them.

      • Mark Lewis

        Great piece Martin, though I would strongly support all of Williams comments. Planning needs an environment it can express itself in and where it has support to act in a certain way (or at least an entrenched boss that backs you when you want to be radical). This is to often lacking. Ed’s experience of listening to Jane Newman is also instructive – she was in part successful because she had an agency and man (Jay Chiat) who wanted to be as radical as she was.

      • Martin Weigel

        Mark, your last observation is the key. There are a few notable exceptions to the dumb, constipated, politicized, legacy-bound, risk-minimizing ways of agencies (though again, I’d point out that no-one has the monopoly on either smarts or stupidity). I am fortunate enough to find myself in one of them, and probably the only thing I’d get fired for is not being radical enough.

  6. James

    A brilliant call to arms, MW. For those that now feel suitably chastened, could you suggest a reading list? Part of the problem with grasping these root ideas in order to avoid ‘opinion culture’ is that each of those four topics is rife with opinion, too. Do we as a discipline need to cleave to some set of axioms before we can move on?

    • Martin Weigel

      Hey James,
      I think there’s a better place to start.
      Talk to your client.
      Ask them about how they make their money… what their levers of profit are… who buys their brand… how people use their product…
      Ask them to take you through the research, the learnings, the data.
      Oh, and don’t expect the brand team to have the monopoly on the answers.
      They may lie elsewhere in the business.
      And then talk to all your client’s other partners and vendors, from media agency to shopper marketing specialists.
      Far better I think, to start there than any marketing text (though I will ponder that question).

      • James

        Hi Martin,

        Your answer is a tiny bit prosaic, because it’s mostly right… but at the risk of sounding arrogant, what if the clients don’t know? As you say, the brand team may not know, but what if one of your zombie theories permeates the business? Let’s say for example, that a client’s business model is sales-based and short term (often true). Not just because of the short tenures of CMOs (as you cite), but the way that CMO, their juniors and seniors are all bonused.

        On their ‘levers of profit’ model, something like outdoor media space might show up as unprofitable because outdoor is better a building brand, and building brand doesn’t necessarily lead to sales (but again, are these misapprehensions I’m labouring under?). And yet, it makes sense in a strategy. In situations like these, there’s a clear role for radical planner: to bring some robust, proven marketing thinking – thinking mind, not just opinions or anecdotes – to the table, in order to say “you need to do this stuff to meet your targets.”

        If anyone can’t be bothered to listen to clients that’s their own lookout. It’s getting clients to listen back that’s the problem. A reading list isn’t the answer, but it might be part of it…

  7. Robert

    I would have thought an industry that doesn’t value planning would challenge, hone and develop your skills far better than one that embraces the discipline with open arms. Don’t get me wrong, I know that when you have to fight for every inch, it can be tiring, demotivating and debilitating … but I’d also say you can’t feel success if you haven’t had to fight for it.

    I know that’s a pithy answer and I appreciate there are a many factors that determine whether you get to be as influential an ad agency planner as Martin describes … but by the same token a lot of it is down to the level of usefulness you offer your clients and colleagues and part of that isn’t about where you work, but how.

    • William Charnock

      Robert,
      I was not unsuccessful in agencies. Neither did I look for an embracing culture. I battled hard turning sime of the most planning resistant agencies in New York round to the value of planning. When I decided to join BBDO my Creative Director at the time, Steve Hayden, likened my new job, as the first ever BBDO NY planner to being like a “Christian missionary in Iraq”. I did great work there. Similarly moving to become the first Chief Strategy Officer ar R/GA was a move that surprised many. Digital Agencies at the time were seen as execution oriented production shop not strategic partners. We built a great team there and won significant industry recognition.

      No decent planner walks in comfortable terrain. We are not settlers. Which is why I agree so much with Martins call to arms. Much of the industry seems to me to have settled. Staying in comfortable terrain and not penetrating the new and unknown deeply enough. Getting out of the environment where they are surrounded by like minds and accepted wisdoms. Heston Blumenthal, the chef, describes in his book how he had to fundamentally question the prevailant conventions of French dominated cuisine in order to move forward. He found many unchallenged conventions that were no longer necessary or advantageous given new tools and technologies available but that had never been used in cooking before. I feel a bit like that. Sure there are amazing French meals to be eaten and so many great chefs who play by those conventions, and indeed I loved my time doing that and I did it rather well. But, there’s a whole new world of different techniques I’m learning and experimenting with that excites me. I don’t mean to diminish the convention. It still has great value. I’m just trying to open peoples eyes to some other possibilities, especially in the context of Martins rant and a call to arms.

      Enough from me. I’m off to make something.

      • Robert

        William, you seem to think I am directly attacking you, I’m not – I’m just saying that as much as your comment represents your personal experience, it does not mean it is representative of every planner out there.

        I acknowledge that the situation you described may be more common than most would like to admit, but when the right ingredients come together – which includes having a client who wants solutions, not advertising and has the authority to make it happen – sometimes everything Martin describes in his post is available to the lowly agency planner.

        And that is why I still stand by the view it’s not about where you do it, but how.

        You can disagree, that’s fine because this topic isn’t actually an argument, it’s just an expression of viewpoints.

  8. Pingback: The Marketing Mindfuck « Aston Reynolds | Copywriting | Marketing
  9. Joakim Vars Nilsen (@joakimnilsen)

    Thanks for your intelligent and beautiful rant. I also think the comments of “James” – I´ve experienced this first hand with clients time and time again – and “William” – my experience as an entrepreneur taught me the same – are spot on. These issues needs to be addressed for our ad business to really move on.

  10. Martin Weigel

    Thanks, Joakim. I think what your experience points to is that no-one has the monopoly on either expertise or ignorance. There are smart people in big, so-called ‘traditional agencies, and in so-called legacy businesses. Equally there are no-so-smart people in digital businesses and agencies. Environment does not ispo facto confer expertise. As Rob says, it’s not about where you do it, but how. And that’s the bit that interests me.

  11. Pingback: Quick thoughts on random things (11) | thought box
  12. Adrian Hoole

    I read the post and comments with real interest, thanks Martin for stirring it up. If you’re right (and I think you are) there an awful lot of chancers out there who’ve been getting away with this planning lark for far too long. But William hit the nail on the head, the problem isn’t ‘planning’, it’s ‘ad agencies. Ad agencies may have been radical when Stanley P cut through the crap, but they also had other advantages – like direct access to C Suite decision makers, uncluttered media channels and unsullied consumers that watched TV ads in their millions. Clients these days work in bloated marketing departments where risk isn’t rewarded. There are simply too many people involved in the process…..and that includes consumers. Its not surprising that ‘the planning process’ (shudder) reduces advertising to a lowest common denominator solution. So yes, let’s look beyond adland to see where the real planning action exists. Digital most definitely, but it’s also also been knocking around in direct marketing agencies for years, it explains why the sector has grown so massively and blended so perfectly into the digital landscape as it evolves before our very eyes. The domination of digital, direct interaction between brands and consumers has always demanded the type of planner who does nothing less than all those things you listed as a matter of course. They simply can’t get away with anything else and never have done. But they’re probably too busy doing it to shout about it and they know there’s more to life than a 60 second TV ad.

  13. Pingback: Brilliant Reads: a brilliant announcement, radical planning and strength in weak signals - Brilliant Noise
  14. Shon Mogharabi (@ShonNotSean)

    I’ve only been a planner for three years, but I would have loved to see this at the beginning of my career. Back then, I felt like an outcast because I didn’t understand some of planning’s outdated and less than effective practices. I wondered why we didn’t speak to more real people, why we touted new media consumption behaviors without validating them first, and why most chose to ignore the fundamentals behind a client’s business and it’s competitors. I’ve finally found a place where I can actually do some “radical” planning – and will hopefully continue to find other great agencies that do the same. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Pingback: We Love the Internet 2014/18: The Bonus hamster nest edition | Curiously Persistent
  16. Brian Cooper

    Excellent article. I do think planning is in a crisis, and going back to its roots is a much needed rigorous discipline in advertising. And what better way then to get people to start asking the right questions. In the words of Voltaire, ‘I judge a man by his questions not his answers’.

  17. Kalyan Challapalli

    Strategic planning, behaviour change & consumer engagement in the new age: http://www.slideshare.net/ChallapalliKalyanRam/complete-consumer-engament-strategy

    My frustration is this simply: A planner loves influencing behaviour by all means possible, loves to know how, where & people behave. But both the agency structure and the digital agency structure are limited. While planning alone cannot influence change and make a difference, I often wonder whether planners should be stand alone with access to all the planes/worlds that captures people behaviour. The most frustrating thing is that an agency’s core output (limited by advertising / digital engagement) determines the role of planning in that organisation, rather than simply by influencing behaviour by whatever is most relevant.

    I do find that if you have your core planning principles in place, digital agencies today offer a better role for the planner. (Mind you not all the digital agencies – a few). Big agencies often cultivate the culture of communication planning only and yes they have forgotten digging int to the world that people live in.

    Planning in traditional agencies is definitely skewed to the big communication idea and focussed on cracking an idea that can be brought alive on the core media it operates on (I have found some digital agencies also limited by the same mental handicap). However in digital, consumer/people behaviour is more at the core. For every presentation/pitch I have worked on there are bunch of behavioural insights that had to be presented (along with data) – it does force you to see the consumer as a person and forces you to get an all round feel of that person (not just as a consumer).

    So for a planning-passionate who has not forgotten the basics of strategy & wants to really imagine what could be, well sorted out digital agencies are better than the silo ridden advertising agencies.

  18. Kalyan Challapalli

    Is strategic planning all about communication & engagement only is another question that I ask of myself. If you are behaviour riders or influencers, is there more to planning than just playing with different media and the engagement?

    Here’s a deck which could possibly spring-up a new business in the digital age – which has nothing to do with media/communication or engagement.

    http://www.slideshare.net/ChallapalliKalyanRam/stratalogues-teaching-the-teacher

    Dont get me wrong: I love communication, engagement, understanding & playing with different media and building a brand. My what if / what can be also includes coming up with business ideas based on people and factors that have influenced behaviour change. Then by all means we can build brands and craft consumer engagement (traditional/digital/otherwise).

    In today’s age where data can verify gut or gut can read in between the data lines – why should we as behaviour riders be having discussions only on which media and what the role of planning is in either main line or digital agencies?!.

    Isn’t it time we liberated planning from either of the silos? Maybe its not just about reclaiming planning’s radicalisation – maybe its about claiming a new radicalisation of planning. The discussion for planning has to move from what is and what was and move towards what can be!!

  19. Pingback: ADnjus | A sobering read for any planners out there by W+K’s planning director.
  20. miggon

    Reblogged this on Depth On Demand™ and commented:
    The purpose of “account planning” is to understand how people behave and what motivates their behavior. The premise of Depth On Demand is that these motivations and behaviors are diverse – some people go deep, while others just skim the clouds for tidbits of data and content. All in all, planning has become a “copy of a copy.” We need to embrace new models and toss old orthodoxies.

  21. Pingback: The many voices of Planning. « Sawdust
  22. Helen Davies

    Martin, excellent and engaging reading, thankyou. I am one of the many who remember the agency days 20+ years ago when planning and strategy came out of the account teams, the account teams who spoke to Clients, wrote proposals, came up with campaign ideas, did their own research, often wrote their own copy, briefed the creative and rationalised it to their Clients. Those were the days! They were a great grounding in the business and account handlers were well rounded and often radical as a result. For me, ROI and effectiveness are essentials not to be forgotten. Planning has to be based on real insight and a translation of insight into “what this means” whether that be for the communication message, creative or overall campaign direction. I have spent many years combining market research with shopper planning so that we can achieve that translation of insight to make sure it is relevant. From my experience planners are reticent nowadays about questioning a Client brief – does the Client really want to achieve what the brief asks for, often there is a more fundamental underlying objective which some smart questioning can unearth and therefore enable the planning of a far more effective campaign. Often, as some of the previous comments reference, the Client is unable to supply the insight and data asked for – here the planner can make a real difference by rooting out data held in other areas of the Client business or even by putting their foot down and insiting that the insight gap needs to be filled. I’m not suggesting research for research’s sake but i do strongly advocate planning that is built on a broad and deep understanding of the Client and competitors, their sales environment and the nature and behaviour of the shopper/consumer. I shall follow this thread with interest, thanks again.

  23. Pingback: Baudrillard, one of the first planners? | Planosophy
  24. Planosophy

    Hi Martin,

    Stunning, inspirational post.
    I have tweeted you regarding this article and my blogged response to it. I am currently taking my first steps with your advice and am writing about Philosophy as a means of finding Planning’s ‘radical’ roots. I agree – human behaviour and, nay, dare I say ‘cosmic’ truths will never change, they are merely amplified by modern technology, social media ect.
    I find it quite interesting that I had also connected the events in Paris of May 1968 with the birth of planning as a discipline. I connected the two via Debord and Baudrillard on my blog.
    http://wp.me/p4AHR6-2

    I sincerely hope that you have the chance to read it and to post it about if you like it.

    Viola

  25. Shann Biglione

    Last year I made the decision to switch to media agency side and move to China, to head their digital strategy department. I cannot express how tough it sometimes was to learn both universes at the same time, but I don’t regret it for a second.
    I don’t love media, and every single brief I receive translates into creative solutions in my mind, so frustration is a daily problem. Plus I don’t have a single creative to work with – I miss this so much, it’s a damnation for my soul.
    But there is one thing I love here, it’s the relentless focus on the client’s business and how we can try to grow it. One of the first things I was told when I joined was to read Byron Sharp (changed my entire perspective on what my job is). That would have never happened in most creative agencies I’ve seen before – as a matter of fact none of the ones I recommended it to have bothered (I think they’re scared of what they might find). I now have access to a lot of databases to test theories and research – although rarely perfect, it’s a great start. Overall, a big portion of my job is to analyze the market potential for a product, try to tear apart silly consumer segmentations, and understand what need(s) we are here to fulfill. Albeit very numbers driven, this is often refreshing, and something that I see too little of in creative circles.
    This somehow makes me doubt that I will return to “creative”. I hope so, but I have seen too much wastage of talent and effort on meaningless projects and buzzwords. But when I read you, I regain faith that it is possible. That people can make an effort to understand how we can truly do great work (not just work they think is cool). I envy you for working in an office (and client?) that apparently values this above all else. I am lucky to work for smart and dedicate people who believe in me (they put a guy who knew nothing about China, traditional media AND media buy in charge of their whole strategy department, the fools!), but still, working agency side is increasingly frustrating. Sometimes the answers are so simple and obvious, and yet we have to go through so much bullshit and fear to do something different from last year, it’s exhausting.
    Anyhow, this was a long rant, the short story is thanks for being so passionate and sharing it eloquently. Being smart is something many people can achieve, but taking the time to inspire others without any other agenda than making things better is the rarest of qualities.

  26. Jesper Nørgaard

    That was a very good read. Thank you so much for posting this – I very much enjoyed it! Especially, the part on basic knowledge on business. I strongly agree that every planner (and advertiser in general) should have some kind of knowledge on how business work. How can one possibly help a client with a problem, if one doesn’t know the business model etc.? Spot on!

    The part on evaluation is great. If one doesn’t evaluate or track a campaign it seems like a half solution, if you know what I mean. Finish the job – and get new insights from it.

    I have worked in marketing for a few years, and I have experienced a strong pressure from executives – everything has to be done in a rush and the deadline was yesterday. That is not a good environment for radical planning – one is simply not given the right amount of time to dig deep, which I believe is a huge(!!) mistake.

    Martin, may I send you a brief e-mail?

  27. Pingback: Reclaiming Research’s Radicalism | Brian Juicer Blog
  28. Gordon McLean

    The Last Game was posted yesterday and already more than 13m people have watched it. Nike’s media agency will have crafted a brilliant strategy to make this shine. And Nike will no doubt be measuring effect from start to finish.

    I was struck by the fact that not a single planner was credited amongst c. 250 people on this beautiful piece of work from your mothership in Portland.
    http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/ad-day-nikes-5-minute-animated-world-cup-film-has-humans-everywhere-cheering-158212

    And I guess this is your point Martin.

    Though still on the books in most large agencies, it increasingly looks more like a feature of advertising’s past than a fundamental of its present. A beautifully written piece as ever, but I fear your four fundamentals will not be enough to bring it back in from the cold.

    Planning will be knowledgeable about the fundamental principles of marketing and communications.
    We should expect this of most people in large agencies and client companies.

    Planning will be knowledgeable about how ordinary people live.
    Most large client insight departments spend a lot more time, energy and money understanding the lives of their customers than any agency planner could given typical staffing levels, authority, budgets and workloads.

    Planning will have a good working knowledge of people’s media behaviours.
    Media companies have an expert knowledge of people’s media behaviours.

    Planning will be able to actually evaluate the effectiveness of the ideas it helps develop.
    Most large clients have this capability.

    A fitful night ahead thinking about this.

    And I’ll be tuning into your Cannes presentation on the 19th.
    Just try not to point at planning’s nakedness too loudly, especially around any network chiefs or clients. Most of us can’t make quite as good a living discussing the redundancy of our profession.

    On a serious note, a great thought provoking post on a subject that needs some clear headed consideration.

    • Martin Weigel

      Hi Gordon,

      “Though still on the books in most large agencies, [planning] increasingly looks more like a feature of advertising’s past than a fundamental of its present.”

      I’m not sure if I agree. Emasculated, domesticated, dumbed-down planning is a feature of emasculated, domesticated, dumbed-down agencies that would rather have planning ease the path to unremarkable work, than ask the real questions that unlock creative innovation that’s properly fit for purpose.

      “Planning will be knowledgeable about the fundamental principles of marketing and communications. We should expect this of most people in large agencies and client companies.”

      Indeed we should be expecting it. But I rather wonder if we are actively demanding it.

      “Planning will be knowledgeable about how ordinary people live. Most large client insight departments spend a lot more time, energy and money understanding the lives of their customers than any agency planner could given typical staffing levels, authority, budgets and workloads.”

      I don’t doubt the energy and investment on the part of client companies. Though there are of course plenty of companies in which that investment goes towards ‘validating’ the blindingly obvious and to archaic research approaches that yield little of value. The opportunity here is to help guide such companies to getting more out of their investment.

      Equally, there are plenty of good companies developing a deep and nuanced understanding of their customers. The opportunity here is self-evident. Talk to your client more often.

      “Planning will have a good working knowledge of people’s media behaviours. Media companies have an expert knowledge of people’s media behaviours.”

      Agreed. But in an age in which ‘media’ is increasingly an intrinsic part of an idea, rather than simply a delivery mechanism, the existence of that expertise does not let planning off the hook.

      And given the existence of that expertise, planning needs perhaps to spend more time with these people.

      “Planning will be able to actually evaluate the effectiveness of the ideas it helps develop. Most large clients have this capability.”

      The existence of that capability does not excuse planning from taking no interest in the matter. Good agencies and planners take ownership of their work and its effects in the outside world.

      I’m an optimist. So while I don’t doubt that this is hard work, I do believe that all is possible.

      Anyway, thanks for the provocations. I trust you got some sleep and look forward to more discussion on the 19th!

      M

      P.S. I don’t and can’t speak for the agency. But I can tell you that there are brilliant planning minds working on and contributing massively to the Nike business. Minds that can probably cope with not being name-checked

  29. Rob Mortimer

    Late to this, but excellent piece.
    The APG here in Aus discussed radical thinking recently, and that certainly comes back to what you talk about here.

    It is amazing really that anyone could think about planning without truly understanding how the people they want to reach actually live, and likewise the way they consume media is such an important part of everything we do now – if you don’t know where they are, how on earth can you expect to influence them?

    It feels to me like most planners do know all of this, but pushing that back up to an agency level seems to be the difficulty. I stand by my mantra when it comes to justifying real, smart planning though – if it’s good enough for John Webster, it’s good enough for anyone.

  30. Pingback: What planning is for | Alex Steer
  31. Ajven

    Martin, thanks a lot for your post and thoughts. I am pleased that more and more IPA and APG offer a look back to see their “roots”. Not so long ago I was at a meeting of APG UK, where discussed this question. Certainly we have much to learn from King and Pollitt and we should not forget them.

    I translated the text of your post on russian, so that more people in Russia could learn from your thoughts. Thank you very much!

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