It is not often that planning really gets talked about or debated in the press, so it was rather heartening to see that there was some column inches devoted to a discipline that I love more than my own mother (not really Mum – just kidding there).
And so, with steaming hot burrito in one hand and a copy of Campaign in the other I settled in for what I thought was going to be a satisfying lunchtime read about planning in crisis but which actually turned out to be the opposite and actually about something else entirely.
Campaigns esteemed editor Claire Beale did a nice little intro about meeting an unnamed CEO who treated his agency in exactly the same way as the other FTSE Top 249 CEO’s do i.e. if his marketing department is happy then the agency must be doing an OK job. Fair point.
She goes on to say that perhaps planning is the key to unlocking a greater level of engagement in the boardroom but, so far agencies and planners themselves have failed to convince senior clients that they can add value by unlocking fresh insights into their target consumers and how best to serve them. Fair point.
Oh yes, and we all want to be treated as business partners rather than commodities once more. Ok – but haven’t we been saying this for years though? And aren’t we conflating a discussion about planning with a general malaise within our own industry?
1) We haven’t been any good at convincing clients about our value.
2) We don’t deliver the same kind of business value that McKinsey’s and the boys in management consultancy do because we aren’t engaged to spend their money understanding their numbers and making suggestions about how to run their business better.
Where we do add value:
We are engaged to make products more appealing than the competition by creating intangible value through advertising. Really good planners are really good at making advertising that touches the emotional nerve endings of human beings so that they have a higher propensity to choose one brand over another. Not much value-chain analysis or forward facing oil price hedging strategies required there but something McKinsey simply cannot do.
And so, I eagerly turn to Richard’s piece. Always love a bit of Mr. H’s wisdom and razor sharp contrarian attitude. But instead of creating a nice bit of intellectual tension to aid my post burrito indigestion – he and the additional writers Bridget, Sarah and Andy end up with a floppy strategic solution: add more planners – some specialists and some generalists. Really?
So, if I have got this correct the solution to an agency model raped by procurement and in need of getting greater access to the boardroom is to add headcount in the planning department. Genius. And all because clients are crying out for more planning allegedly. So where’s the crisis? And I thought this was going to be insightful and interesting. Burp.
I agree we are not seen as business partners – but that’s because we don’t sell business solutions – we sell advertising ideas – some of which solve business issues – but very rarely.
So, planning isn’t in crisis but perhaps the industries perception of itself certainly is.
So what would I do from a planning perspective to be able to charge more and get access to the boardroom?
Well 3 things actually:
1) Make account management great again:
Heads of planning departments should help train senior account management to be more strategic by asking better questions around business – not advertising – issues and to understand how a client makes and loses money. If they don’t know the share price on any given day – or how it’s calculated – teach them or fire them.
2) Walk the walk:
Opportunistically write a 3 year brand plan for your biggest client for the Marketing Director to give to the CEO in McKinsey style (including the use of Calibri and smart chart graphics) weaving macro and micro economic forecasts in together with communications opportunities. Demonstrate how leveraging creative thinking will deliver tangible shareholder value. If you can’t then that’s the reason your not invited to take tea in the oak paneled room. Remember to leave out the brand onion but do put in growth figures based on financial forecasts. Buffett = good – Draper = bad.
3) Get involved
Insist on quarterly strategic brand planning sessions with clients based purely around the numbers. Avoid talking about creativity or ads. Talk about opportunities and business growth. Have separate brand clinics weekly to talk about the work.
Up for it?
If your top planners can’t do any of the above – or don’t like doing it – then don’t complain about being kept waiting in reception while the big decisions are being made upstairs. Every planner (digital/comms/connections/account/brand) worth his/her money should be able to do these things with varying degrees of experience. If they only want to talk to consumers and write creative briefs that's fine – just ensure that they are able to demonstrate the effectiveness of that insight applied creatively in monetary terms. If they can’t – teach them or fire them.
Finally, this isn’t about planning (sadly) it’s about being relevant. And there is nothing more acutely painful than not being relevant. Hopefully one day we will have a proper debate about planning. Until then...