Posts tagged ‘Planning’
You know those ‘day in the life; and ’24 hours with’ pieces that turn up in trade mags and the business section of the newspaper? They make working in AdLand sound very glamorous, but I’m afraid the life of this Planner is rather more mundane…
8.40 Arrive at work. Go to kitchen. Coffee pot is empty. Decide life is too short to wait for a new pot to filter so settle for Nescafe instead.
8.50 Read 47 new emails in inbox. Delete 44 of them.
9.05 Creative time booked for today. Decide to leave briefing until they’ve a) turned up and b) had a cup of tea.
9.30 Brief Creative.
10.00 Internal meeting. Hunt down other meeting participants in manner of herding ducks.
10.15 Found them! Go on hunt for empty meeting room.
10.30 10am meeting starts.
11.30 Read 20 new emails, delete 18. Brief in desk research. Chat about last night’s groups with the quallies. Decide amongst us that Leeds is the most over-researched city in the UK, closely followed by Milton Keynes.
12.00 Talk to New Business team about a hot new lead they have. Get sidetracked into talking about Lisa’s hot new necklace.
12.30 Lunchtime. Have missed the Sandwich Man and it’s monsooning outside so would need a snorkel to walk to the shops. Stick soup in microwave.
12.33 Stick soup back in mysteriously underpowered microwave.
12.35 Check hotmail, bloglines etc. Call blacksmith. Write blog post (check spellings).
1.10 Skim read Mintel report. Wonder who on earth writes the editorial bits which seem to specialise in stating the blumin obvious.
1.50 Take laptop up to boardroom ready for 2pm client meeting. We have chocolate biscuits. Excellent.
2.05 Clients are not here yet. Can’t do any work because laptop is in boardroom hooked up to projector. Sit at desk looking like computer-less work experience person.
2.20 Clients turn up. They have spent the last 20 minute trying to find a parking space.
2.25 Reach for chocolate biscuit to go with cup of tea. No-one else in meeting does likewise. Feel like immature greedy guts. Eat it anyway.
3.00 Client has decided to do complete 180 turnaround with npd launch strategy. This will obviously cause us no additional work whatsoever…
4.00 Meeting finishes. Write To Do Again list. Read 25 new emails, delete 23.
4.15 Go and see how Creative are getting on. Or not.
4.45 Get sucked into account team strategy discussion of the ‘too many cooks’ variety.
5.00 Dig out obscure facts & figures for the PR team to use in a press release. Remind them that a show of hands in the office does not equal ‘our survey said’ for PR purposes.
5.30 Move car as according to the tannoy I am Blocking Someone In. Delete more emails, tidy desk, check hotmail.
5.45 Try to leave. But someone is Blocking Me In.
With the economy making everyone increasingly risk averse, it seems to me that Jon Steel’s adage about clients using research not as a navigational tool but to protect themselves and their career from a fiery end is becoming increasingly apt.
With limited research budgets and risk averse clients it can be very tempting to use research to prove that there is nothing wrong with the campaign/ positioning/ strategy/ creative, rather than using it to discover what the right, unique, differentiating solution might be.
If research gives respondents a choice of A, B or C (and if significant time and money has been invested in bringing these solutions to this point), it is very tempting to go with the most popular of the three, or some combination, i.e. the one that has nothing wrong with it. At this stage it is getting a bit late to start again from scratch just because the right answer D has been identified and in any case the kind of research techniques that separate routes A, B and C apart will not necessarily identify option D at all.
A campaign scrambled together from gut feel, an out of date U&A study and a few Mintel reports and then declared by research to have nothing wrong with it has a chance of success. But the right one developed from real first hand insight with the real target audience has the potential to be far more effective.
To deliver this we’re talking about the (in some client’s eyes) soft and fluffy end of research. The ethnographic kind that often doesn’t have set objectives and deliverables and other tick boxes that budget holders can happily sign off. Which is just the kind of research that gets very hard to justify when times are tight.
The majority of clients who embrace research will always want to hold on to the rubber stamping go-with-this-one end of the research process and will be reluctant to release that budget to a more exploratory phase in search of a holy grail of ‘the right answer’. And in the current climate expecting extra research budget to enable both rubber stamping and a real exploration of the lives, hopes and fears of the target audience is unlikely.
In our search for the Golden Nugget of Insight, should we be encouraging our clients on investing a lot of money on finding the right solution, or more modest sums on identifying which solution isn’t wrong?
We are officially in recession, the economy is nose diving and there’s no question that clients have got less money to spend. Unless you happen to work in Digital (where every agency I know is still turning work away because they’re too busy), it’s looking a bit bleak.
I’ve already written about how as Planners we need to demonstrate our own effectiveness, both externally and internally, but maybe it’s becoming more about redefining the role of Planning itself in light of the new realities.
I’m getting quite evangelical about a greater role for Planning at the NPD stage (and fortunately my agency agrees with me) and from a purely practical point of view, involving Planning at this early stage can make the NPD research work harder and reduce the need for costly additional research and retro fit planning further down the line at the comms stage.
The value of Planning can also be defined in terms of the agency’s bottom line. Good planning advice and involvement upfront in campaign development (advising that those three briefs are actually two, tightening up propositions, giving the account director ammunition to deflect the client’s madder ideas, even on accounts which don’t have a regular Planner assigned to them), results in less creative resource being required, which saves agencies money.
So think about it, how are you saving your clients and your agency money?
I’m starting to wonder if Account Planning’s role is really about advertising (or even communications) anymore.
Gareth Kay’s brilliant post (and presentation) on why Planning Needs Some Planning raised some very interesting thoughts on why brands need to have a social mission, not a commercial proposition and what I found most inspiring was:
Working within the framework of a regional, integrated agency the opportunities for long term involvement in a client’s high profile, above the line communications are a bit limited anyway. But increasingly I’m getting involved in exciting NPD at an early stage, working on positionings and target audience identification alongside the Research team, often long before the comms campaign gets considered.
Maybe the modern Planner’s role as Researcher, Cultural Guide and Insight Generator makes us well suited to add value at this early stage – ensuring that when a communications campaign is put into place, all the groundwork is there to ensure that it will resonate with the target audience.
A friend was asking me today if I’d ever thought about going freelance. I said that unless forced to by redundancy I thought it would be a bit foolish to try and build up a freelance client base in a recession where agencies are increasingly instigating ‘no freelancers’ rules in a bid to keep costs down.
So let’s suppose you’re a Planner working outside London, Miami, New York et al where the majority of Planning jobs are and you don’t want to up roots and move. Your employment prospects this side of 2010 aren’t that great.
What transferable skills do Planners have? Preferably ones that apply to recession proof industries? I’m just throwing this out there, I know most of us could become qual researchers (albeit probably at a more junior level), brand managers, or even account handlers at a pinch for the very organised ones, but what about outside marketing?
Any of you who have already made the jump to working for yourself might like this Sir Freelancelot complete with laptop which you can buy as a t-shirt from here.
Noisy Decent Graphics is hosting a series of expert guest posts on how design agencies should deal with the recession.
While I’m not pretending to have a similar solution for Planners, there are clearly some major challenges we are already having to navigate our way round:
- any data more than a week old is now questionable in view of the speed of financial change going on and it’s impact on attitudes and behaviour. So TGI, last year’s U&A and the qual from September need to be treated with caution
- but there isn’t a lot of spare cash sloshing about to spend on fresh insight
- and we’re going to have to work harder than ever to justify both the value we add to the agency and the Planning fees we charge to clients
Which might mean that any Planner with a good understanding of basic psychology is going to be most adaptable to the new status quo. (OK, all Planners should ideally already possess this, but let’s be realistic.) In the absence of reliable data, understanding the impact of mental processes on behaviour has got to be a good place to start from.
Time to dig out the old text books then.
I’ve be running into a lot of wannabe Planners recently and without wanting to sound too harsh, here are a few home truths you need to hear before you decide on Planning as a career path. Please take them in the spirit of kindly advice that they were meant!
1) Yes, the number of trained Planners currently exceeds the number of Planning jobs to be filled, BUT a) there is a recession on the way and Planners have always been a Luxury Item in agencies and b) the number of wannabe Planners vastly outnumbers the number of agencies currently prepared to take on graduates and train them up. So to be honest, your employment prospects are not great.
2) Reality check time. Junior Planners photocopy, get sent to the supermarket to buy ten different brands of tinned tomatoes and spend a lot of their time wading through 150 page Mintel reports and wrestling with TGI and TNS data on uncooperative excel spreadsheets. Life as a Junior Planner is probably even less fun than working as a Junior Account Handler – it’s not a fast track that bypasses photocopying and typing up contact reports.
3) Which brings me on to Skills. It would help vastly if you were numerate, a good communicator, a creative thinker and really interested in people and trends and stuff like that. A Media Studies degree does not necessarily demonstrate that to me.
4) So you need to start learning all over again. Read Truth, Lies, and Advertising, Perfect Pitch, How to Plan Advertising and Pollitt on Planning for starters. Then try Blink, Freakonomics, Eating the Big Fish and The Long Tail. If you struggled with Stats at school or uni go on a refresher course. Get work experience in a market research agency (because you might as well start by understanding the difference between qual and quant) and an ad agency (because you’ll need to know how one works).
4) Learn how to be Interesting. Russell Davies has written tons about this. Start windsurfing or tap dancing or decide to visit every seaside pier still standing in Britain. Take a photo every day. Be interested in other people. Strike up conversations, eavesdrop in cafes, think about why people have arrived at certain opinions.
5) When you can demonstrate that you understand what Planners actually do, the skill set you will need and that you appreciate what you would need to learn in order to be effective in the role, THEN start approaching agencies asking about graduate Planning roles. I promise at least I will listen a lot more attentively.
update, 20/01/11 – I’ve just stumbled across a video I did to support the (new at the time) Diploma in Creative and Media for 14-19 year olds. There’s lots of tips for wannabe Planners on there (even if they seem to have called me an Account Manager for some reason), so it might be worth a look.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Brand Love recently. Not quite in a Lovemarks relationship/performance expectation way, but in a (perhaps more British?) understated, mostly unacknowledged way.
Take my relationship with BMW. I drive a little One Series. Do I really need it? No. Was I probably always destined to own it? Yes. Just after I was born my Dad bought a BMW on the recommendation of a friend who said that his Beemer was quiet on motorways. Five cars and thirty odd years later and he’s still got one – and so has his mate. As a child I even had a BMW car seat, an enormous thing in matching black upholstery fabric that seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth (in that I can’t find any pics on the internet to share with you).
As a brand, BMW to me means security, strength, family, comfort, safety and a sense of belonging – not perhaps the brand values you might usually attribute to ‘the ultimate driving machine’. Since its also an easy and fun car to live with, I think this might be a new generation of BMW ownership off to a flying start, perhaps despite rather than because of the BMW marketing team’s best efforts.
There must be lots of people knocking about with slightly off kilter brand associations & random Brand Love. I suppose the best way to harness this is the good old internet, where niche marketing sits best. Incidentally, I did visit BMW’s website looking for some old pics but there were none to be found. How about an online museum BMW marketing guys? Lets share the love.
pic from here, GNU license applies
Watching the videos from JWT’s ‘Planning Begins at 40’ event, I was particularly struck by Jon Steel’s speech – and crucially his delivery – which made it clear that he fears that Planning has lost its place, is suffering from an erosion of rigour and unless we spend all our time ‘wading through Nielsen reports and talking to beer drinkers in Leeds’ (his words, not mine), we have missed the mark.
I’m all for Planning ‘to help clients once more to set the right objectives…not just for communications, but for brands and for businesses’ as he puts it, but I think there’s also a role for us at a more basic day to day level in helping to clarify, consolidate and communicate great ideas and great work in a way which our clients are comfortable with and with which they can present onwards and upwards. Our ability to summarise and simplify campaign thinking (sometimes into just one chart) adds instant value. It might a be a quick fix and is not exactly top level strategic advice, but no-one in an agency has a more appropriate skill set and overview to do it than the Planner(s).
Just like there are lots of different kinds of Creatives and lots of different ways in which they contribute to building brands (the POS specialist vs. the ‘we only work on TV’ teams, juniors vs. heavyweights, in agencies large and small), I believe that there are roles for all kinds of Planners and within their very varied roles there is the opportunity to contribute to both the most fundamental top level strategic decisions and to add real value to day to day work by virtue of having both an overview of the client/market/consumer and crucially, thinking time. Maybe the second way is what John Grant would call ‘Fast Strategy’, but with X number of clients and Y number of Planners in an agency, the sums do sometimes add up.
Jon Steel also seemed to be very dismissive of the interest among blogging Planner’s in being ‘Interesting’, which I think is one of the most valuable things a Planner can offer as part of their toolkit. He’s written some brilliant books and his track record in Planning speaks for itself, but on this occasion I have to politely disagree with at least some of what he said.
By way of light relief (although perhaps a tad poignant given the soundtrack), I found this little gem in ex-Poulters creative team Mick and Gaz’s portfolio. It’s a call for entries for the 2008 Chip Shop Awards, which is a bit like Cannes, except that the awards categories are more honest, including ‘Best Work for a Client You Have but Haven’t a Hope of Running’…