I read this great post from Ben Kay over the weekend about the awesome documentary about backing singers 20 Feet from Stardom (which if you haven’t seen yet, you should). His agency-relevant take on it was that like many backing or background singers never becoming famous in their own right because they have the voice but not necessarily the star quality, most agency staff will never break away and start up their own agency because they aren’t inclined to step off that cliff.
But my agency-relevant take on 20 feet from Stardom is simply this – Planners are the backing singers. We’re there to help make the work better by ensuring a richness of insight that leads to connection and engagement. We’re not supposed to be superstars with our photos on the front page of Campaign or winning high profile awards.
Think about the really ‘big’ Planners from the last 20 years – Jon Steel, Russell Davies, Merry Baskin and so on. None of them are/were really what you’d call high profile outside the planning community. And particularly thinking about Russell who I know a little, he’s the most shy adman I’ve ever met, but a backing singer at the very top of his game (and now busy using his talents to support the incredibly impressive work the Government Digital Service is doing).
In my much, much, smaller pond and at a much lower level I’ve never won an award, never been written about in Campaign (unless you count them occasionally publishing my blog posts) and very few agency people outside Yorkshire have heard of me. But I’m kept nicely busy through word of mouth. Because I’m a good backing singer.