Posts filed under ‘Planning’
It might as well be titled ‘Nearly Everything You Think You Know About Marketing Is Wrong’. It certainly doesn’t hold back from asserting that when it comes to marketing theory, we’ve all got the wrong end of the stick. To be fair, there’s some great sense-checks in there about target audience, reminding us that a small proportion of your brand’s customers will be proper brand loyalists, or will fit your carefully constructed demographic and attitudinal profile, the rest might well be buying shampoo/cola/crisps with very little consideration and even less loyalty.
But that’s my problem with the book – it works best for FMCG brands operating in a hypothetical, academic, textbook marketplace. Quite how the ‘laws’ in the book would work with my recruiting-volunteers-for-clinical-trials client from last year I’m not sure…
So I’d prefer to go with a title like ‘Some Of The Stuff You Assume About Marketing Certain Products In Particular Markets Should Maybe Be Re-evaluated’. But it’s still worth a read, especially if you have to write an effectiveness paper in the near future.
I’ve experienced the Magic Fairy Dust problem quite a few times, particularly as a freelance. You get asked to work on a project, but quickly realise that there’s no actual role for you and no real problem for you to solve – they just want some Magic Fairy Dust sprinkling on the whole thing and have come to believe that Planners possess pitch-winning, client-retaining special powers that will somehow make everything better. No pressure then.
The broader problem seems to me to be that with an Account Planner’s role being so unhelpfully titled, open to so many interpretations and properly understood by so few, it’s very hard for someone who doesn’t work regularly with Planners to understand exactly how and where we might add value. Particularly when there’s nothing to work from (research, market intelligence, competitor review, anything) and no time or budget with which to go insight hunting.
In an emergency I can post-rationalise a strategy into the finished creative if I have to or write a pitch doc in 3 hours flat but I can’t magic up slides out of nothing – real-life example: agency: “we need some more pitch slides”, me: “about what?, the client has specified the target audience, key messages, proposition, strapline and look and feel in the brief, this is practically an artwork job”, agency: “just slides, with Planning on them!”.
I’ve said before that one of the biggest challenges Planning professionals face is educating the half of our industry that doesn’t employ Planners about what we do and why we do it. Mind you, I’ve met a few agency bosses who actually do employ Planners and are still a bit hazy about what they do all day…
The lovely Andreea from LSU asked me to come down and share my thoughts with everyone on practical day-to-day stuff like building client relationships. So I did the whole talk-with-Q&A thing (without powerpoint!).
doing my thing – if I look a bit knackered, it’s because I was up at 4 to catch the London train (pic by @LSUsocial)
I think I got as much out of the day as the proper delegates did – who would turn down the opportunity to hear from effectiveness guru Andy Nairn (who managed to explain Econometrics in less than 30secs with only a flipchart), to soak up Russell Davies’ thoughts on Working with Creatives and Presentation Skills, to get the inside track on the insight process behind the new (and local to me) Trinity Leeds development from Canvas8’s Nick Morris and listen to top Planning headhunter Nick Grime’s thoughts on Career Paths for Planners.
There are plans for another 1up already in the pipeline and I’d highly recommend it for anyone in their first few years of a strategy, planning or insight career. LSU also talked about the potential for a session aimed at more senior planners and I’m already working out how to wangle a ticket for it :)
Aaaaand, as if cracking the decades-old problem of appropriate training for Planners wasn’t enough, LSU have also just published a Strategist’s Handbook, full of handy hints and charts to get your thinking started – you can buy yours here.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled ‘why I won’t be renewing my APG membership’, which basically complained that the APG wasn’t very good value for money for Planners working outside London.
I’ve had to change the title. Sarah Newman, Director of the APG got in touch, acknowledged that the APG’s London focus had annoyed some Planners outside London (obviously including me) and offered lots of suggestions of ways to improve the situation. Which I seem to have got roped into making happen.
So If you’re a UK Planner who works outside London (agency, freelance or client-side), please drop me a note to gemma (at) gemmateeddotcodotuk and I’ll add you to the list of Outside London Planners who we’re hoping to tailor the APG’s offering for.
The other day I agreed with someone close to me that if I didn’t know who I really was and have a strong sense of self after the ups and downs of the last seven years (family and personal illness, workplace bullying, redundancy and so on) I never would.
I certainly seem to have a lot more gumption than I had in 2005. I’m much more sure about exactly what kind of work I’m good at and enjoy, what I consider to be an acceptable work/life balance, what I believe (and don’t believe) in, what I want out of life and I’m (almost) past caring what other people think about me.
I think to be a really good Planner you need to understand yourself before you can understand others. It helps to have lived a bit – not necessarily to have travelled the world, simply to have experienced the ups and downs of life.
So I’d suggest that the best Planners have not only clocked up their 10,000 hours of experience, they’ve had a life well lived too. Perspective, empathy and life experience are all key to understanding what might make other people tick.
“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you? New world, new rules.”
“I have charts and graphs to back me up…so f*** off”
I’ve been working on an integrated pitch where I had to brief in the entire pitch team on my ‘thinking so far’ a couple of days prior to creative briefing.
So last week I started writing the ‘show your workings’ stuff onto sheets of A4 and adding in good charts from research the client provided and so on. I ended up with this (mostly covered up for client confidentiality):
It turns out that the amount of information you can get on a sheet of A4 using marker pens is exactly the same amount of information that comfortably fits on a powerpoint slide. Basically I’d drafted the pitch presentation. In handy shuffle-the-slides round format.
Why didn’t I think of this before? I’m definitely doing this for all future pitches.
The latest issue of Admap arrived yesterday, courtesy of the APG. The cover (and the six Admap Prize award-winning essays inside) focused on Planning 3.0.
As an Account Planner, this should have been a must-read. Instead I’ve just retrieved it from the recycling bin (where I chucked it after a quick flick through) in order to take the pic above.
Taking or writing about Planning is tricky. It’s such a play-to-your-strengths, individual thing and almost every Planner does it slightly differently. And as any Planner who has had to explain what they do for a living to someone outside the industry knows, it’s challenging to sum up in a few sentences.
But I really think there’s no need to go all academic or introspective. Planners are there to help make communications more effective. And to do that, agencies and their clients need to like, respect and understand us. Spending thousands of words speculating on the future of our role while using terms like symbiotic mutualisms probably isn’t going to further that cause.
I’ve written lots of posts with tips for wannabe Planners (here, here and here), but it struck me that I’ve never posted anything aimed at Junior Planners who are already in their first Planning post.
If you want to get ahead, you need to get noticed. And these days being good at your specific Roles and Responsibilities probably isn’t enough. So Junior Planners who’d like to be Senior Planners one day might find the following advice helpful:
Share, learn and network
Get on twitter, start a blog, make some new Planning friends – and remember to share as you learn.
Also check out Junior Strategy which has loads of indirect mentor type videos from ‘a variety of insiders in strategic roles, from client side to agency side, from communications to product design’.
Be a hoarder
Every time you see, read or hear something interesting, squirrel it away. Use bookmarking services, tumblrs, RSS readers, PC folders and even old fashion lever arch files to save anything that inspires, interests or excites you – as well as any data to find that relates to any brand or market segment your agency is ever likely to work on. Then come the Last Minute Pitch or Small Budget Project enjoy your position as Oracle of all Knowledge and Wisdom.
Learn how to be helpful
Learn how to mount creative, film and edit a basic video, host an online community, book omnibus research, find a decent viewing facility and get your boss on the next flight to Honolulu. Your agency might have dedicated specialists to take care of all of this but you’ll brief them better if you know roughly how to do it – and when it’s the Friday evening before a 9am Monday pitch you’ll be the one who saves the day by getting on and fixing the problem in their absence.
Equally you should know how to fix a paper jam in the photocopier, where the spare printer ink lives, who is in charge of petty cash, what time the sandwich man comes and when all the team birthdays are. In short, be a brilliant PA. It’s not about wanting to take over the PA role or stay as a junior forever, it’s just that well informed, helpful, organised, makes-everything-run-smoothly people are the ones that are valued, remembered – and more likely to be supported when they ask for training and development.
You’re a junior. So it’s unlikely that you’ll be sorting out the agency’s biggest client’s 5 year strategic plan any time soon. You may well spend your days wading through Mintel reports and doing vox pops. All the less glamorous stuff is not only vital to the Planning process but also brilliant training. If you can persuade a complete stranger to stop in the street and talk to you on video about their shampoo for five minutes then life will hold few challenges :) And nobody wants a whiner on their team.
Get to know Reception, Production, Traffic and IT as well as all the account handling and creative teams. Agency support staff can make your life heaven or hell and a smile and a quick chat can work wonders. Internal meetings tip: when in doubt, bring biscuits.
But all that is no use if you don’t contribute something to the actual Planning process. Even if it’s not a project you’re working on directly, do you have a friend who loves that brand, have you read a really interesting article about that business or are you going into town on Saturday and happy to mystery shop some competitor brands?
But don’t just share information – add your own insight to it, “I’ve read this interesting article about Brand X and it struck me that….” “When I was going round the store I noticed that…”
Big-up Brand You
And if it IS your own project, make sure you put your own stamp on your work. By all means stick to the ‘global planning system’ if your agency has one, but find a fresh way of interpreting a piece of data or illustrating an insight. There isn’t a ‘right’ way to do Planning, you have to develop your own style.
And finally, don’t forget to take time to Plan your own career. The best piece of career advice I ever had was from an account handler who told me back in 2000 to start building a portfolio of my work. Twelve years later I’ve reached Volume Seven – and every time I’ve needed to make an agency move (or later to illustrate my experience as a freelance) I’ve had case studies to back me up. Respect client confidentiality and any NDAs you may have signed, but keep adding to your Greatest Hits file – and keep it at home in case you ever have to make a swift exit from an agency…
I had a very disconcerting conversation with a Partner in a (what counts for medium sized up here) agency recently.
This person knew that they needed some Planning, but didn’t really know what Account Planning was or what a Planner does. It was a bit of a wake-up call when I had to explain the difference between Media Planners and Account Planners to them…
This isn’t the first time that senior, experienced AdMen have been rather vague about what I do and how I do it. I’m starting to think that the APG (or even the IPA) needs a pdf on their website called ‘What is Planning, Do You Need Some and Can You Justify the Investment?’
It would certainly have saved me a lot of wasted time in meetings over the last two years.