First in our Perspectives series, DLKW Lowe's Charlie Snow tells us why planners need an image change.
Photograph by Lewis More O'Ferrall
In the business of Advertising, we don’t have much contact, planners and producers. Which is a shame. I’ve always secretly admired producers from afar. They’re the sexy ones, the Foreign Correspondents of our profession, right at the heart of the action, swanning around in their shiny, puffed up North Face jackets, sorting out the evening’s entertainment for their close friends, the stars. They do stuff, make stuff, produce stuff. They are the mothers.
And we’re the Planners. The people that prepare stuff, set up stuff, plan stuff - the fluffers of the industry. Or at least that’s the common perception.
As a little experiment (you could call it research), I asked our Production department and their Producer friends what they thought Planners did. The answers either made us out to be pretty dull and geeky...:
“Planners are thinky.”
“Planners are yawn.”
“The Planner’s work is based mainly on the critical analysis of research and focus groups, which are generally attended by people who are only there for the free sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes.”
“Planners read the graphs no one else can understand.”
Or, they made us out to be an incompetent nuisance:
“Planners take so long, there is never enough time for the production, which is really the only thing that matters.”
“Couldn’t planner (sic) piss up in the brewery.”
“Like the Grinch, they’re there to take the joy away.”
There was some ray of light, though:
“Planners are normally more interesting than Account people.”
Well, thank goodness for that.
I’m here to try and put the record straight, tell you what Planners do, and show you that we’re just as sexy as producers, if not sexier.
In Planning, as in any trade, there are some people who are good at it and some people who are bad at it. In my view, good planners do the following five things:
1. Have commercial nous.
Good planners know that we’re in the business of making ads not art. They make it their business to know how the client makes money, and they are very clear how the advertising will contribute towards building business.
Good planners know that advertising is there to sell things or get people to do things. Sure, we must do this in brilliantly creative and surprising ways, but it is the planner’s responsibility to define the purpose for this creativity.
This is the bit of the equation that requires planners to be ruthlessly logical and analytical.
A fantastic example of a planner applying commercial nous to a problem is on Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s wanted to grow revenue by £2.5bn over three years. The planner did the math, and worked out that this equated to an extra £1.14 for every individual shop that a Sainsbury’s shopper made. This thinking led to a new role for Sainsbury’s, encouraging people to ‘Try something new today’. Precision planning at its best.
In today’s world, what we are finding more and more, is that clients are not so much asking for communications ideas so much as broader business ideas - new product and service initiatives that can transform business – think Walkers ‘Do Us a Flavour’.
2. Love people.
On the softer side, the best planners also care about people, deeply - they obsess about what makes people tick, why they do things the way they do, how they can change their behaviour. It is this real understanding of people that reveals the magical ‘insight’ that can have a powerful influence on strategy. It is why anti-smoking messages to young women focus on how cigarettes can destroy their looks (the thing they care about above all else); it is why parents are told that their children will copy them if they cross the road when the little red man is flashing; it is what stimulated the Real Beauty campaign for Dove, because women were tiring of the perfect looking models.
In recent years, there have been many exciting developments in the world of neuroscience and behavioural economics on how the brain works and why people behave in certain ways. And contrary to what you might imagine, much of this learning proves that humans respond overwhelmingly on an emotional rather than rational level - meaning that the tone, the look and feel of the communications, carry far more power than rational messages. We all know this to be true, but now the science is proving it. And this is good news for all of us.
3. Think different.
Great planners also have the ability to think laterally. And this, for me, is the part of the job that makes it so stimulating. There are numerous examples of advertising ideas based on brilliant thinking: the AA being positioned as the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’; the idea that Honda used ‘Positive Hate’ to revolutionise the diesel engine; the idea that ‘Dirt is Good’ for Persil. The best planners provide inspiration for creative people to let their imagination run wild – they turn things on their head, they provide provocative thoughts that will get noticed. Bad planners constrain creativity, good planners unleash it.
4. Care like mad how it’s working.
Good planners should also take responsibility for how the advertising is working in market – always asking how things could be made better. These days, with the power of new technology and social media, you can tell almost immediately how people are responding, and what further opportunities can be exploited. It’s all about real-time effect, and the best planners are on it.
5. Keep it simple.
Above all, what the very best planners are able to do is make it all seem so simple. They take the reams of data and the bundles of marketing bumph, and don’t just regurgitate it in an indigestible way, but shine a clear light on it, make sense of it and insightfully edit, interpret and illuminate it.
The best planners make it all seem so easy and obvious. The worst make it all seem complicated and clever.
All these are very difficult principles to live up to. And it’s because they are so difficult that it’s such a wonderful discipline to be part of. It is a constant challenge, stretching you in all different directions, requiring you to be both Scientist and Artist.
I’m sure now that you’ll be desperate to get into Planning. Well, it’s got to be better than being a jumped up Cost Controller, which is all producers really are isn’t it?
Charlie Snow is Director of Strategy at DLKW Lowe. He was Convenor of Judges for the 2011 IPA Effectiveness Awards.