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Planner's delight

We don't have a solution but we admire the problem

"Evolving from an ad-centric discipline to an idea-centric discipline."

My latest guest is Rob White from Zeus Jones.
From the Zeus Jones Credentials:
"Rob White. Was most recently President of Fallon. Rob’s background is strategy. Trained in London, he was one of the first strategic planners in the U.S., working at Chiat/Day Los Angeles for clients like Energizer (the bunny campaign) and Nissan. Rob joined Pat Fallon and his team, and built the planning discipline from scratch at the agency, ensured that this strategic planning practice was built into the core of the business, and played a key role in the rapid growth of the agency through the 90’s. Appointed president early in 1999, Rob focused on the evolution of the company on a number of fronts: a holistic approach to brand solutions, global solutions, media re-engineering and digital branding. "


This is a question that has been asked over and over, but I think needs constant answering. What is account planning?

For the purpose of definition, "account planning" is the discipline in a marketing or advertising agency responsible for bringing a consumer perspective to the table at all points in the process - from setting strategy to ideas to execution to tracking effects and figuring out the next cycle of work.

Where do you think planning is heading?

The trend, at least in mature planning markets like the UK and US, is for planners with good strategic skills to find other outlets for their work - at progressive clients like nike and apple, at consultancies like McKinsie, at media and media related companies (such as Naked or even the big guns like Universal) and in their own shops (Red Spider being the first of now many such examples). Account Planning, inside agencies, is evolving (and needs to evolve) from an ad-centric discipline to an idea-centric discipline.

How would planning be different if the web would have never been invented?
Planning is ultimately a marketing discipline, rather than an advertising one. Changes in marketing emphasis necessitates change in planning.

What makes Zeus Jones different from other planning agencies?

Zeus Jones is not really a planning agency. Most planning agencies are selling strategy or a strartegic process or both. We sell strategic ideas built on our "actions speak louder than words"
philosophy - we call this "marketing as a service". Strategy is bundled with ideas. We don't take on strategy- only assignments unless there is a reasonable opportunity to get involved in the ensuing actions stage.

Why do you think we should concentrate on designing interactions for a certain brand, instead of designing communications?
We believe actions speak louder than words. Communications is about words - telling people things. We believe if you create meaningful and valuable interactions with customers and prospects, you are more likely to see behavior changes (more loyalty, trial or whatever). Not only that, the right interactions get talked about, and word of mouth is the most powerful type of communications.

Please comment on this Steven Spielberg quote: “Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark?”

Steven's a smart man. Pleosc


"There’s never been a better time to be a planner"

My guest for today is Andrew Hovells - planner at Public since 2003, where he worked on brands like Morrisons, Northern Rock, DFS and Stanley Tools. You might know him as the Northern Planner.


What is the latest piece of thinking that you consider pure genius and why? And I'm not talking about advertising campaigns exclusively.

I’m going to be cheeky and pick two.
The first is ‘Heroes’. The comic book genre has been done to death –at least in comic book land. I think the premise of what would happen in the REAL WORLD if people got comic book powers is fresh, meaty and pure genius.
The second is the thinking behind Lurpak in the UK . Food culture in the UK is confusing. We’re supposed to be excellent cooks, buy ethically, be healthy and somehow fit this into busy lives. Lurpak helps is simplify the confusion by showing us that the secret is simple – quality of ingredients. This common sense voice allows them to talk about all sorts of things, like faddy diets. The secret to losing weight is just to eat a little bit less! Love it.

With all this blogging and all this information that keeps us "a step ahead" aren't we losing sight of what's important and relevant. How much is it just procrastination or intellectual masturbation as John Steel called it?

There’s never been a better time to be a planner. Thanks to blogging you can rub shoulders with all sorts of great thinkers, and work out some ideas of your own in public, and allow the feedback to refine it, or tell you your wasting your time for that matter. That has to be a good thing - so long as we all remember that planning isn’t about coffee mornings and clever blog posts. It’s about hard work, rigour and making hard choices. It’s about meeting the people your intend the work to be aimed at, it’s about evidence. It’s about rigour The explosion if information and choice has left many people in agencies confused, it’s up to planners to help them make sense of it all. I find that exciting.

We're always talking about maintaining our creative edge, but what should we do to keep our feet on the ground?

Make sure you’re always in touch with the real people beyond the walls of your agency. That means reading what they do, watching what they do and meeting them as often as possible. Some of that is making sure you watch – and ideally do – as much of the qual research as you can, but some of that is wandering around the kind of places they hang out and watching what they do, how they talk what they’re all wearing.
It’s easy to be seduced by a wonderful creative idea, and forget it will be totally uninteresting, or irrelevant to the people it’s aimed at.
Also, a friend of mine uses the phrase, “Stay close to the money”. He means spend as much time with the people who’s livelihoods depend on your strategy. When you have to present a TV campaign to a bunch of surly sales managers, who’s bonus depends of the success of your ideas, you’d be amazed how unimportant the size of the logo becomes.
The best thing that ever happened to me was having six months between agency jobs. I was bored, the money began to run out, so I spent some time in a call centre. 8 hours a day on the phone talking about plumbing and drainage insurance, in an office with many people who didn’t have a future beyond doing this kind of thing forever. Doses of reality like that are invaluable.

Many times it's not only clients who think a planner is just another useless expense, some agency leaders think they can always manage without the help of a planner. What's the best argument for having a planner in an agency?

That’s a good question. It’s fashionable to talk about making sense of the fragmenting media, making the work better etc – and all those things are true, and invaluable. But in my view, the biggest value a planner has is making life easier. No one wants endless rebriefs and redrafts. The more times the client has to rebrief you, the more frustrated they get – and eventually you get fired. They want the right work, first time. By bringing the consumer into the equation, planners allow everyone to work to the same agreed goal – what will work - and get there so much quicker. That helps the age old suits v creatives conflict too. From a client point of view, planners also help clients feel like campaigns are less risk thanks to this ‘proof’– and that’s invaluable since they’re putting their neck on the line. They have a board to answer to. In other words, planners help great work get through quicker. That benefits everyone.

What do you think makes a great planner?

A healthy interest in everything and no ego. I think planning as all about connections, between brands, markets and, most importantly, real culture. The more stuff you’ve read, the more chance you have of finding a connection that’s interesting.
And creatives have to fight for their ideas, suits have to fight creatives and clients. There’s no room for more egos in there – but a non-threatening sounding board goes down well.

What's the movie that any planner should watch? What should he learn from it?

Glengarry Glen Ross. A sobering film about the hard life of a sales man. It reminds you lucky you are to be in an interesting rewarding job. It also reminds you how tiny brands are people’s lives. All those people out there face all sorts of issues everyday that agency people sometimes forget. No one gives a stuff about ‘brands’ they’re getting on with the everyday grind of real life.


"What matters is doing. We need to be doing more."

Leland Maschmeyer, account planner at McKinney, is my second guest. Leland Maschmeyer is a winner of the Miami Ad School's "Pick of the Litter" distinction and the AAAA Jay Chiat Account Planning Gold Award for Audi's "Art of the Heist," as well as MIXX and Effie awards for Oasys Mobile's Pherotones campaign.
Many of you might know him from his blog "Whistle Through Your Comb", where you can find a lot of great material on planning and other interesting thoughts.


We always ask ourselves what is it that a planner does or should do, but what should a planner never do?

Good question.
Planners should never be complacent.
They could always be smarter, more informed, more interesting, more weird. The strategy could always be better. The work could always be better. The presentation could always be shorter. More entertaining. Better designed. Their blog could always be more interesting. The brief more pithy. The briefing more inspiring.
Once a planner becomes complacent they fail to question. They fail to push. They fail to search out. They fail to inspire. They fail to innovate.
Comfort breeds mediocrity and “uninterestingness.” A feeling of complacency is an early warning sign that the quality of your work is about to wane.

I think that things are really changing. Even the planning job is getting more and more specialized (ap, cp, ip). Where do you think planning is heading?

More planners will break away from ad agencies to start their own agencies.
But don’t think they’ll start yet another ad agency. Planners will usher in new types of marketing agencies with innovative structures, philosophies, processes and outputs. Zeus Jones (a “Service Marketing” philosophy), the Paragraph Project (an “urban planning” approach) and OIA (a “Ronin Planning” philosophy) are a few examples.
Here are a several reasons why will happen on an even larger scale in the near future:

1. Planning is bigger than advertising. Always has been. This is why you see large companies - i.e. Coke, Nike – and small companies – i.e. Method – pulling planners in house and design agencies – i.e. Brian Collin’s Brand Innovation Group – pulling them in as well.
2. The planning community is overflowing with great ideas and thinking that deal with many issues marketers and ad agencies face today.
3. A new generation of planner is emerging that is tired of just thinking. This new crop wants to do.
4. Unfortunately, ads agencies are set up where planners think and creatives do. As much as the industry bangs on about creative not being a department, it is.
5. Because many of the solutions/ideas planners bring to the table have nothing to do with advertising, they fall of deaf ears or are put on the back burner.

Agencies are built to execute ads. No matter how much they bang on about being solution neutral, they aren’t. They make money off of ads. So they only care about ads. Non-ad solutions are treated as ornaments to the “more important” ad campaign.
In the end, many planners feel constricted because they find their thinking incompatible with the ad agencies they work for.
Pressure is building. Eventually the plannersphere’s membrane will burst.

You wrote several posts on your blog about the most interesting thoughts from the last two years of plannersphere discussion. What do you think is the most powerful or most revolutionary idea that emerged in the plannersphere?

Our industry is built to generate hits. But we don’t. We can’t. Failure – in any area of life – is more prevalent and certain than success.
Unfortunately, we haven’t built our agency business models to deal with this inescapable fact of life. We operate like we are immune to it. So we waste time with excessive and often unnecessary research, copy testing and arguments over whether this or that will work. In the end, none of it matters. What matters is doing. We need to be doing more.
On another note, the failure to accept failure and build business models that absorb it forces clients and agencies to gravitate ideas and efforts toward what has worked before. This minimizes innovation and increases repetition.
Unfortunately, this is a false sense of security. Replication doesn’t guarantee success as the conditions for the previously successful campaign were different that current ones.
If we had business models that accounted for the frequency of failure, maybe people would spend more time innovating and less time C.Y.A. (Covering Your Ass).
It’s not a far off idea either. There is a lot to learn from entrepreneurial greenhouses like Y Combinator, Curious Office Partners, Obvious, Tech Stars and Hit Forge who incubate and execute lots of little ideas. Each idea starts out with a small bit of financing, is executed and, once it proves itself in the market, receives more financing/support. There is no better test for success than the market. This means that all the time and money wasted worrying about and researching whether a new idea will succeed is unnecessary; you simply try it out.
This offers up an interesting paradox: the agencies who thrive in the future will be those who do not just outsucceed other agencies but outfail them as well. They will grow not in spite of failure but because of it.
I’m not the person to do this. I’m not smart enough. But I hope some smart person figures out how to design an agency model built not around “the one big idea” but “the many small ideas.”

This might sound weird, but do you think a blind planner could in some cases do a better job?

That is a weird question, but I get the spirit of it. What you’re asking is, “Is a planner who takes in information about the world differently from most people, a better planner?”
It may make him a more interesting planner as the things he notices and the way he interprets them may be unique, but interestingness is only a third of what constitutes a good planner.
There are also two other talents planners must have to be “good:”

1. They need to have skill in articulating the abstract.
As much as some planners like to claim planning is about numbers and calculation, our discipline is no more scientific than the creatives’ job. We interpret the world in new ways. So we have to find ways to capture that often intuitive, abstract, personal interpretation in a form other people can understand and act on. Easier said than done, of course.

2. They need to be good salesmen.
Planners must take their slant on the world package it and sell people on it. Getting people to believe in your idea is one of the hardest things to do in all of planning because all it is an interpretation. Like a belly button, everyone has one, but you, as a planner, have to prove that your view is right the one for the situation. You can be the most interesting person in the world, but until you make people believe in the power of your idea, they will never fall inline behind your strategies and you will never be all that effective as a planner.

Craftsmanship and salesmanship are just as – if not sometimes more – important as interestingness.

What's the most common expression that marketers or advertising people use that you hate the most?

I actually wrote a post about this a while back. These vapid meaningless words bandied about meetings truly frustrated me to no end. They are like cotton candy: at first you think you can chew on it, but once you try, you find there is little substance behind it.
“Marketing-ese” words are red flags: they tend to be crutches for people who have no clue what they are doing or talking about. If you press the person to clarify what they mean, they end up talking in circles or out of both sides of their mouth.
So to pick one that drives me the most nuts is tough. I guess it’d be a toss up between “Luxurious” and “Conversation.” As in, “We need to let consumers know how luxurious our product is” and “It’s about creating conversations with the consumer.” Those words are so overplayed and misused they’re meaning has been diluted.
They sound good, but ultimately worthless is aligning people around understanding, objective and action.

What do you think is the book that everyone in advertising should read, that is not actually about advertising. And why?

Great question. There are just so many.
But forced to pick, I would say Story by Robert McKee. It’s a book about writing screenplays. More importantly, it deconstructs a story to tell you what makes great stories and how to build them. I’ve used that book as a resource more times than I can count.
If you can tell a good story, you are not only more interesting, but you become a better craftsman and a better salesman. It should be required reading for all planners.


"I don't like people who studied as planners since they were 18"

Today I'm posting the first out of a series of interviews, with planners from all over the world, that I hope you'll find interesting and helpful.
My first guest is Karim Mélaouah, whome I'd really like to thank for the openness the he showed and for taking the time to answer my questions.

Karim Mélaouah is the Strategic Planning Director for In Adv Italy. Before joining In Adv he worked as a planner in agencies like Leo Burnett Italy or Bates Italy for Philip Morris, McDonald's, Kellog's, Pfizer, Lucky Strike and other local clients.


Do you think planning in the rest of Europe is in any way different from planning in an agency from Great Britain or the US?

Well, yes, in terms of experience: planning started in UK in the 60's and so there's 30-40 years of knowledge more than in the rest of Europe/World and clients are also more used to what a planner is. Here in Italy you always have to explain what a planner does and the fact that we are not "media planners". (They often confuse the two roles.)

I think that things are really changing. Where do you think planning is heading?

I think that in the last decade loads of things have changed for our job, we are no more considered as "suits" (sitting on the account management side of the table) but as "creative thinkers" and also thanks to the plannersphere we have increased our links all around the world and increased the awareness of our role.

Stephen King once said that he's surprised that no-one had since 40 years ago come up with a better idea than planning. Do you think that's true?
What do you think the next best thing could be?

The next thing is the agency without account, the brand management agency. And in terms of planning's role the next thing will probably be a mix of strategy and media planning. They already call this "context planning".

What do you think is the most powerful or most revolutionary idea that emerged in the plannersphere discussions in the last couple of years?

The plannersphere is a great idea per se, I don't see big revolutions... I see day by day improvement. From my point of view the greatest day I had as a planner in the last 9 months has been the "Interesting 2007" day, 8 hours of ideas, stimuli, laughs, without mentioning words such as brand target, objectives...

By being a Planning Director I guess you also sometimes recruit planners. What kind of qualities do you look for when hiring a planner?

Curiosity about anything (as Russell says "anything can be interesting") and someone who reads a lot, watches a lot of movies, uses the public transport, but also an ex account manager (or junior account) is ok because he knows that our job is also about deadlines, clients.
I don't like people who studied as planners since they were 18.

What's the book that you think anyone working as a planner should read? And why?

Having worked in the Bates network I'd probably say "Reality in advertising" by Rosser Reeves. Load of people laughed at him and his USP theory, but this is the basis of any positioning theory, and I prefer to start with a rational book, there's always time to appreciate stuff like "Punk Marketing" later. (I have just bought this book, but haven't read it yet...)

What's the most important advice that you'd give to a junior planner?

Have an interest and show true passion.


On balls

Some time ago, at the Idea Forum and at first on his blog, Russell Davies presented us with two short movies that make a great point about how we expect advertising to work and how it actually does.
The first one was showing the way we expect consumers to just stand there waiting to catch the tennis balls (messages) that we're going to lob at them.

But that doesn't really happen, the consumers aren't sitting there waiting to have messages lobbed at them.

"That's what the advertising process normally looks like. Our stuff is just bouncing off the back of people's heads."

Then at the Idea Forum, I think, a famous romanian creative director said something on the lines of "Then you'd better use a bowling ball"
I found it really funny and... very true. Many of the brands that can afford it are just screaming louder and louder creating the clutter. They are just banging people on their heads with their messages.

But wouldn't it be easier if you'd attract their attention by just being interesting?
By making your balls (messages :P) interesting?

The Hacking of Modern Marketing

Leland of "Whistle Through Your Comb" presents us with a very iteresting collection of thoughts from the last two years of plannersphere discussion: "the need for complexity, less talking more doing, urban spam, Russell’s “Tyranny of the Big Idea,” weakness of the message-centric marketing, service marketing, eradication of brand onions, eradication of the word “consumer,” rules, outdated agency business and operation models, image vs innovation, instability, generosity, doing good, etc."

You can download the 14 blog posts in a pdf format from here.

So you know

I have (at least) two blogs that I think you should check out, one is called "Quotes for planners" and the other "Bullet Points".

My first animation

...that I've created using a very simple tool: Fuzzwich.com that I've found via Iain Tait.

PS: That joke of mine is funny to ME. :P

Web 2.0 rap

Via Punk Planner

I want to be a client :P

Adam Crowe just posted an interesting thought about the work of planners in agencies.

Here's the best part:
"In agency land there’s no point striving for measurement because it’s simply not coupled with leverage. So what if you made a fantastically creative campaign. Getting paid any extra? No! So what if sales went up. Getting paid any extra? No! So what if you love the product. Do you get to be involved in the next design iteration? No! So what if you won the client, did they agree to keep you on for the next year? No!

It’s pointless going round in these endless effectivenes loops. You wanna be effective? Then go become a client!"


Todd Cunningham interview

An interesting interview with MTV's Senior Vice President of Strategy and Planning, Todd Cunningham.

PS: I can't seem to get del.icio.us to automatically post daily links on the blog, so I've installed a linkroll on the sidebar. It's not quite the same thing but it's the next best option.


Outdoor ads banned in Sao Paolo

Might be old news but overhere (in Romania) it's a topic that comes back again and again.

Brain Candy

A recent post from Diana reminded me of an old but still great article from Malcolm Gladwell called "Brain Candy: Is pop culture dumbing us down or smartening us up?".
You should check it out.

Despre "Te destresezi la maxim"

Mesajul campaniei Nutline imi pare gresit din doua motive: asocierea cu destresarea si schimbarea targetului. Cred ca prin incercarea de a scapa de asocierea cu "manelarii si suporterii", Nutline cam da cioara (ahem) din mana pentru vrabia de pe gard. Nu cred ca era nevoie ca semintele sa incerce sa schimbe perceptia pe care o au si, chiar daca e destul de evident ca Nutline isi are concurenta nu in categoria de seminte ci in cea de snackuri (popcorn, alune sau chiar chipsuri), sa devina inlocuitorul acestora.

Ideea campaniei presupune schimbarea unor perceptii si chiar creea unor noi ocazii de consum, pentru ca in acest moment semintele NU sunt consumate pentru destresare. Mult mai usor si mai eficient ar fi fost o incercare de crestere a consumului la targetul deja existent decat incercarea de a crea noi ocazii de consum care astfel sa fie adoptate de niste potentiali consumatori.

Eu nu vad semintele ca pe o solutie la stres. Chiar daca nu trebuie considerat ca executiile ofera solutii mot-a-mot, nu cred totusi ca atunci cand esti stresat la birou vei lua o punga de Nutline (pentru ca apoi risti sa te certi cu seful si din cauza asta :P ) sau ca in trafic vei incepe sa spargi seminte in loc sa fumezi o tigara sau sa dai cu pumnii in ceva. Poate ca intr-o oarecare masura la meci mananci seminte din cauza tensiunii, dar nu a stresului.

Chiar daca e lider, Nutline ar trebui sa se pozitioneze ceva mai clar. Pentru ca incercand sa se pozitioneze destul de general "pentru destresare" (si totusi gresit, pentru ca astfel ignora multe momente de consum) pentru a prinde cat mai mult din piata (tragand sa ia si din cei care consuma snackuri si din samantari) si astfel jinduind dupa vrabie, poate veni un competitor care sa comunice doar putin mai nisat (de ex: semintele pentru meci) punand in pericol o bucata buna din targetul de care acum incearca sa se dezica.

Pentru ca ocaziile de consum cat si tipurile de consumatori sunt foarte variate trebuie gasit un numitor comun care sa fie ceva mai direct.

Nu cred ca-i un insight in toata puterea cuvantului, insa este o observatie simpla si relevanta: "E aiurea si simti ca ceva lipseste daca nu ai seminte la film sau la meci." Si, chiar daca nu in aceasi masura, sentimenul e regasit si in alte ocazii de consum: in fata blocului, in parc sau mai stiu eu unde, cand parca "era bine daca aveai ceva de rontait". Pentru ca indiferent care e motivul pentru care le consumi stii ca e nasol atunci cand nu le ai si meciul sau filmul deja au inceput sau deja ai trecut de chioscul de la colt sau de ultimul chiosc din civilizatie inainte sa ajungi la padure sau in parc.

De cele mai multe ori e mai simplu, mai eficient si mai relevant pentru consumator sa faci ceva sa il ajuti decat sa incerci asocieri de atribute, schimbari de valori sau alte miscari cu pretentii. Cu siguranta ca in cele din urma ca rezultat al diferitelor actiuni Nutline va obtine o pozitionare. Poate ar fi mai ok sa incerci intai sa fii relevant cu mesajul potrivit in fiecare punct de contact. Ma gandesc la transmedia planning...

Asa ca in virtutea observatiei de mai sus, nevoii de a fii de ajutor si posibilitatii de a creste consumul fara a incerca noi targeturi sau ocazii de consum poate ca Nutline ar trebui sa ajute consumatorul sa nu mai uite sa ia seminte. As simple as that.

Ce ar putea schimba in mixul de marketing?

Pai, ar putea, asa cum s-a intamplat cu popcornul prin 1912 cand intai se vindea in chioscuri in fata cinemtografelor inainte ca acestia sa-si dea seama ca pot sa vanda ei chiar in cinema, sa faca buticuri mici in fata stadioanelor asigurandu-se astfel ca nu pierd clienti in fata la tanti cu saculetul de seminte si cu tubuletul de medicamente.

De asemenea s-ar putea incerca a se vine Nutline la centrele de inchiriere de DVD-uri sau asezarea unor standuri in hypermarketuri langa sectiunea cu filme.



Via ccpstuff

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