The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


If You’re A Planner, You Might Relate To The Phrase: The Enemy Within.
September 1, 2009, 6:01 am
Filed under: Comment

So a while back, Marcus got upset when the very clever Guy Murphy suggested ‘speed’ was the most important strategy in advertising today.

Actually it might not of been that … to be honest, I can’t quite remember … but I definitely know it had something to do with ‘quick strategy’.

And Guy was right.

In these incredibly competitive times, being able to think/act/deliver quickly can be the difference not between first and second, but survival and failure.

I sometimes think we live in ‘dog years’ … at least interms of what many clients/bosses expect us to do/deliver in the timeframe they allow.

The thing is, Marcus was right too.

You see, to paraphrase an old Y&R tyre ad – speed is nothing without control – so if effectiveness and value are evaluated simply by the speed of response, then we can all find ourselves in situations that turn bad … very, very quickly.

Now, with the upmost respect to my friends and colleagues in the US and Europe, you don’t know what ‘speed’ is unless you’ve worked in Asia. Especially China.

Unlike some clients who place tight deadlines in a bid to either ‘assert their authority’ or ‘reduce costs’ – out here, companies develop, produce and distribute new products in such a short period that I swear they must be operating in some sort of massive ‘human microwave’.

Now the issue – from an ad planners perspective – is finding quantifiable and … to a certain degree … rigorous methodologies that will allows breadth and depth of information to be collated, evaluated & tested without losing pace with the overall speed of process.

Is it possible?

Absolutely.

Is it perfect?

Of course not – which is why I get especially pissed off when I hear companies go on about how important a particular project is and then give their agency 3 weeks to deliver.

However, whether I like it or not, the reality of life is you either find ways to make it work or you end up losing out.

As I said, the issue for me has always been about finding ways that can make things work WELL, not just get through the system … which is why we have spent years developing relationships, techniques and methodologies to help us collapse time without losing too much value interms of exploration, discovery and idea generation.

Yeah … yeah … I know, I’m sounding like a fucking smartarse [sorry about that] … the thing is, as much as I accept Guy’s view about the importance of ‘speed’, I also subscribe to Marcus’ perspective that unless you allow input and evaluation from other parties/sources, you stand a good chance that you’re going to end up fucking yourself.

And here’s the thing, this ‘speed’ situation is not something unique to adland or even adland in Asia.

I was talking to the head of R&D of a client of mine who was bitching and moaning about what he was expected to deliver and in what time frame … so it seems everyone is under pressure to deliver.

But believe it or not, this isn’t what this post is about.

Nope.

Hell. It’s not even about the fact that if we carry on embracing this ‘speed thrills’ pace, we could all – especially brands – end up in the shit …

No, it’s about the unfairness of planning in the overall advertising ‘process’.

The thing that is pissing me off at the moment, is that more and more planners are being given less and less time to do their thing.

I’m not talking about when a client gives the agency a stupid deadline, I’m talking about the general attitude many agencies have towards the role and value of planning.

How many of you out there have worked on a project where you have to go back to the client with concepts in 6 weeks and yet you are pushed by the creative/account service department to come back with something in a few days.

A few days!!!

What the fuck?

How on earth are you expected to develop an idea that is interesting, exciting, differentiated and energetic when you are given less time it takes Lindsey Lohen to snort a line of cocaine?

Mind you, that does help explain why so many of ads we see each day are complete and utter crap. 🙂

Look, I’m lucky because I’ve either worked with great guys who appreciate the value in what we all do, or I’ve been a complete bolshy bastard, but I appreciate not everyone is like that and as such, can end up in a situation where their talent doesn’t stand a chance to shine.

Putting aside the fact that interms of job satisfaction, this sort of attitude destroys planners resolve, I also think it has the power to destroy the fabric of the agency.

No … I am not subscribing to the ‘Planners Are The New Rock Stars’ bollocks … but I do believe part of our job is to create a platform where the creatives/agency can thrive and then them help sell it through … which is why I believe great creative work is sold before the client even sees it, and that’s why I think you need time to develop an idea that will enthuse and excite rather than just make them nod casually.

Yes, I know a great copywriter/art director can make average appear great … but having seen what they can do when you put something truly exciting in front of their eyes, then that should be the agenda for everyone in the agency and they should make sure the working environment encourages that outcome.

Look, I’m not claiming giving planners more time will guarantee this situation. Apart from the fact there’s a lot of people [and collaboration] that goes into making something great – the fact is there’s a lot of planners out there who are bloody awful.

Some are like that because of a lack of training … some, because their agency hired them in an attempt to extract some more cash from their clients [because they’ve sold the value of creativity down the river] … some, because they think they’re business guru’s [despite never actually having run a business] and some because they’re complete and utter wankers.

I also know there’s occasions where a planner isn’t really going to add much value … for a whole heap of reasons … however the good ones, and there’s a hell of a lot of them, can work with the wider team and really make a massive difference and I hate the fact that many agencies treat their planners like adlands ‘battery hens’ – expecting them to churn stuff out each day even though they’re fed shit, treated badly and kept away from mingling with the others.

I’m not saying we should have more time than everyone else, but if you want good things to happen, it might be useful if you allocated a bit more time for us to explore because otherwise you can’t really blame us when you end up being told you have to work with bland bullshit.


22 Comments so far
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I should start by saying I feel fortunate that the situation you describe in this great post is not one I face at cynic but I have experienced it before and know first hand how debilitating it is for the planner, the creative team and ultimately, the client.

Talking about this issue is well overdue. Maybe it has not happened previously because the descent into Mcplanning has been so gradual that people haven’t realised how bad the situation has got, but I’ve heard of situations where planners are allocated a few hours out of a project lasting months to develop a strategy for a client who faces major issues in their business.

There’s still this belief in the industry that an ad can solve it all which is possibly why some agencies see a planners job as simply post rationalising whatever the creatives develop resulting in them being given such a short time to do things. There’ll always be an element of backward compatibility in the planning process because planners should allow creatives to create rather than be dictators but I firmly believe the full value of the planning discipline is seen at the start of the ‘process’ rather than the end and to fully achieve that, time needs to be provided even if you have an immediate idea you believe is the work of a genius.
Who to blame?

Maybe it’s the planners for not fighting their corner more but I think the real offenders are the agency heads because they have a responsibility to train their people to understand the value and importance of everyone elses roles, they set the standard for the process and delivery in the agency and they make the promises to the clients in reference to cost and expectations.
This is a great post and reaffirms why I think Andy and the guys are some of the best and most collaberative guys to work with. Cheers.

Comment by Pete

What are Rob and Pete going on about? Why would planners need more time, it’s not like making a coffee and fetching pizzas is difficult.

Planners are the new French, always complaining about something and making too big a deal out of it.

Comment by Billy Whizz

We only get you pizza so it clogs up your mouth from saying cliched drivel.

We’re doing your reputation a favor as well as our ears and brain. 🙂

Comment by Pete

I feel lucky if I get more than one day to write a brief.

I also feel lucky when a bird shits on the face of some key people in my agency.

Comment by Angus

Just skimmed through this post but it’s great and I agree with what Pete (1st comment) and Angus said.

Will read it again later and add my 2 cents then.

Comment by Bazza

I came across this blog via your twitter link.
I’m a planner in a large London agency and this post resonates with me big time.
It’s nice to know there’s still some agencies and people doing it properly because based on my 3 years experience, the job is more about creative spin doctoring than planning.
Your twitter link sums it up nicely, advertising is trying to kill off planning.
I’ll be coming back, keep raising the issues and get this post printed in campaign.

Comment by L.I.L.

Your comment wouldn’t have anything to do with Andy’s imminent return would it Pete? Ha.

Nah … in all seriousness, your comment is great and I think you raise quite a few issues that are ultimately going to make/break advertising, let alone planning.

And L.I.L. it’s great to have you on here and I do hope you come back. It’s sad your experience in London is so disheartening, however it is also important to remember that like most things in life, the ‘theory’ rarely manifests itself into the realities of the experience … and whilst I don’t know what you think planning is/should be, our recent questionnaire [which was not linked just to planners/planning] indicates there’s a hell of a lot of people out there who have such a purity view of life, that they are only ever going to be disappointed because life only works like that if you can dictate what everyone else does/thinks and as much as we may like to think otherwise, adland doesn’t – and never has – had that level of influence.

Does this mean we sometimes do things that we’re not really that keen on?

Yep.

However we subscribe to the George Clooney model for business/advertising/planning in so much that we will take on certain projects that really don’t fulfill us as much because their extremely high fees help pay for us to do the things are much more rewarding and interesting for the company.

We’re not the only ones who do this – just look at WK’s & Mother’s client roster and you will see a similar approach – but sadly too many people [and again, I am not saying you are one of these] want all the glory without any of the risk or responsibility.

I do believe planning should be the ignition for the entire creative process … however I also believe we have to be there all the way through rather than just at the beginning and at the end of the day, work WITH the creatives [and the wider team] to make/sell great things because the blame game just fucks us all over, even though I am whinging in this post that many planners are being set up to fail by the way their companies treat them – both interms of respect and environment to do their job.

Comment by Rob

What you say is all true, and to add to that I feel, most people have been corrupted by the mediocre ‘system’. They’ve just accepted the lazy current practises and become part of it and live in what I call ‘work delusion’.

Comment by bhaskar

Lovely analogy about planning and battery hens.

I’m a bit tired of the times where I co-write the client brief, answer my own question in my brief, and then evaluate with metrics which back up the original. No-one learns anything, no-one is allowed to rock the boat because folk’re too scared of losing their job, or it’s all become a little bit too convenient and easy not to.

‘Global’ work which box ticks and pleases no-one seems to be the major culprit.

Comment by Will

Nothing great happens if you follow the rules.

OK, that’s bollocks because some GREAT things happen – like never going to prison and having an arse like a clowns pocket – but you [hopefully] know what I’m getting at, and the fact is if you only give planners/creatiives a limited time to basically come up with something fresh and interesting, the odds of it happening [in a way that can be quantified and sold as “sound twisted logic” to the client] is minimal.

So much of what gets made today isn’t about being brilliant and motivating, it’s about ‘fitting in with expectations’ … and I suppose that’s one of the problems with the planning industry, because at it’s heart, it is about finding out how to make brands ‘fit in’ rather than ‘stand out’ which is possibly why so many creatives think we’re such a waste of space.

And in a lot of cases, they’re bloody right.

But our industry doesn’t have the monopoly on that, just an equal share, ha!

Comment by Rob

waht if you rented out your planners and creatives to an client.

Have them actually be present at the client for couple of days a week every week as long as you are working for them? Like inhouse consiglierie?

This could possibly break down barriers and allow for speedy assesments and a better sale of ideas as you now know the ins and outs and the political process of the client better? Working from client office or your own should not make all that difference.

Not perfect, but could work..

And time that Billy gets a blog of his own. I was gonna say Pete as well, but that above made comment made me think and that hurts..

Comment by niko

Pete had a blog – I’ll chase him on whether he still has it, it was good, a trillion times better than this bollocks, but then that’s not hard.

As for Billy? It takes all his effort to put his shoes on so expecting a blog is maybe a step too far.

As for your idea?

Maybe … it certainly would help people appreciate the pressures and issues that go on in both businesses which may help tolerance if nothing else.

But for me, many of the issues that I describe in this post come more from a lack of appreciation in how great communication is produced [as well as a low level of ‘standard’] than anything else and sadly I’m referring more to people in the agency than the clients.

Of course they are not blamelessin some cases, but how many people really know what goes on in the department next door?

Maybe getting them to understand how the whole thing works may start changing opinions? It certainly worked for me – but then my first job title was ‘sponge’ and not because I wore a lot of yellow. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Isn’t agreeing to do a rushed job the planning equivalent of price discounting? Does anyone have the nerve to say if you want us to do the job, then you have to give us the time to do it right and you have to have the nerve to tell your boss that?

Comment by John

There are people and agencies that adopt the stance you highlight John, sadly not as many as there should/could be – which is why this attitude is still so prevalent across adland.

Whilst not true to all – independent agencies tend to be better than the big networks in fighting for quality – mainly because they are not subjected to the ‘global contracts’ that have been negotiated by some faceless guy in HQ who has guaranteed all sorts of delivery expectations both because they don’t understand the intricacies of the business nor appreciate the value of quality, just the quantifiable elements of the process and running the business.

Comment by Rob

That’s a good dive in the day 2 day planner’s work and as well a brilliant illustration of the John Steel famous paragrah in his book “anatomy of…” related to the difference between “effectiveness” (doing the right thing) and “efficiency” (doing something in the right way).

Comment by yannk

what rhymes with planner?

spanner.

coincidence? dont fucking think so.

im with dodds that planners should fight for the time they need to make magic happen mainly because i dont want to be the only fucking schmuk who has to put up with his planners tantrums when they say they are days away from a fucking einstein standard breakthrough and i will rob the world of genius if i dont allow them one more pissing week.
maybe id be more inclined to believe them if they werent working on shake and fucking vac.

if an agency has good planners but consistently gives them days to do what they do when theres weeks available, then the company doesnt really believe in planning and the fuckers should take their talent somewhere where its valued. if they dont, theyre part of the fucking problem and should stop their fucking whining like researchers who see shit reports but only complain to themselves even though their industry is becoming as trusted as michael jacksons fucking quack.

its not about ego, its about pride and self fucking respect.

hello fuckfaces. im semi back.

Comment by andy@cynic

It has always surprised me to be asked to come up with a proposition for creatives to use before any research has been done, it gets to a point where you’re just plucking shit from thin air. Then later on, while the creatives are working away, having to post rationalize what you just did.

I was quite pleased to come across this line when reading Sherlock Holmes, “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suite facts”

Comment by Jacob

i think billy can help you jacob.

whenever my uncouth fucker manages to get one of his ‘ladies’ back to his love palace he always starts the adventures with the phrase ‘its not what youve got, its how you use it’ and i think he might be right (i wouldnt really know because im fucking astoundingly proficient in all areas) because data only tells you whats happened not why so if youre a planner with fuckloads of experience in 1 area and not succumbed to losing touch with the wider world you should be able to contribute some food for thought upfront, though giving a final proposition to work on is taking the piss.

fuck me, ive just used billy as a planning analogy, poor fucker will never get some anymore.

Comment by andy@cynic

one final thing. it might be good if planners reminded themselves theyre in advertising, not csi.

if campbell can do that after spending fuckloads of time and superfuckloads of our money working closely with a real csi type bastard then the rest of you should be able to manage it.

unlike sherlock holmes view on crime, adland always has more than one possible solution, even if many of them are crap.

Comment by andy@cynic

Power, not speed in the tyre ad. But yes.

Full comment at lunch.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I liken this approach to planning as if you just bought a Ferrari Enzo, fitted it with the best tyres money can buy, and then expect it to run on oil that hasn’t been turned into petrol yet.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

[…] perspectives you can base your ideas on if you are only willing to look for them. Well, that and being given enough time to explore, experiment and discover. Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. […]

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