When meeting prospective Planners, I always try to find out if their brains are wired the right way to be a great Planner – are they interested in what makes people tick, problem solving, investigation and communication? Do they appreciate the link between brand comms and the bottom line? And perhaps most importantly, have they got a good gut instinct for this line of work?
Without years of experience or training, junior Planners often have to rely on their gut as to what IS an interesting insight and what is just data. Back in 1999 when I was a junior Planner there was hardly any data to play with anyway – no google analytics (in fact no google as we know it today), no data science, no social metrics, no decent epos numbers and primary research cost a fortune. So a lot of the time, you were working on gut instinct and trying to craft a story strong enough to convince the client to go with your gut.
Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it – not only do you have a mental (and also in my case a lever arch file) toolkit of charts, approaches and workshop exercises, but you have been on the job long enough to instinctively hone in on the most interesting data and the approach most likely to develop it into a creative springboard. While there’s a danger here that you approach a problem in exactly the same way you did last time with similar or worse results, hopefully the result instead is faster and tighter work.
With data coming out of our ears, it could be easy for Planners today to see their primary role as a data filter, but I had an experience a few months ago that made me realise just how important the old school Planning skills still are.
A client on the other side of the world had bought the ‘master’ franchise for their country of a hot North American brand that hadn’t taken off overseas in the way the US brand owners had hoped. So a brand new ‘other side of the world’ brand positioning, identity and relaunch campaign was needed asap – and I really mean asap, I was given less than two days to complete the Planning work. Even pitches don’t move that fast. I’d never set foot in that country, had no data to work from and the only insight I could get hold of was from watching YouTube videos and stalking consumer forums. So I went with my gut, sense-checked it against the rest of the team’s gut (one of whom had actually experienced the brand, in that country), then powerpointed the hell out of it.
The client loved it, the US brand owners loved it, the on-the-ground franchisees loved it – and I loved working on it. I’d forgotten how thrilling and satisfying planning on the fly can be. So however much data I have to play with, it was a valuable reminder that Planners need to trust their gut instinct – which means they really do need to have a good connection with their gut to start with.