One of the upsides to the end of an era is the chance for reflection. With that in mind, I’ve recently spent some time crystallising the things that I know & think about planning (and the difference between knowing and thinking!)
Without further ado, these are those things:
1 | work with people who know and respect the difference between an answer and an unknown
There’s nothing more infuriating as a strategist than asking a very clear question of a client or colleague and hearing it dodged with alarming agility. Obviously, it’s one of the skills of the job to prise that information out in all its glory. But when you find people that, like you, won’t settle for a half-answer, and have both the curiosity and rigour to push for clarity – don’t let them out of your sights.
2 | remember that advertising is a unique blend of science and art
Rory Sutherland’s Cannes presentation on “why your advertising needs more chaos” is a beautiful place to start when considering how we often need to embrace the unprovable (or unproven) to win big. There is a point at which the planning process turns from being led by facts to being led by creative instinct, and where that point is varies from project to project. The two components intertwine and often collide, making each other better in the process. Learning to embrace both at the same time is a constant test.
3 | plan responsible foundations, but build high ceilings
Anyone who’s ever heard mention of a “viral strategy” will identify with the sheer pain of being asked to market in a 21st century media landscape where theoretically you don’t need to spend money to reach your whole target market. Theoretically. They point to Kim K breaking the internet as evidence that an unknown, fledgling brand can do the same. The job in 2020 is to find the right balance between reliable return on investment (as far as that can truly exist, anyway) and the scope for what I call “potential”. Remember that even John Lewis’ total online views – even assuming they’re all “earned” through their WOM seeding tactics – accounts for less than 4% of all views when you factor in all the bought media. They do different jobs, of course – those WOM impressions will carry deeper attention & probably impact on recall and intent. But we know that strong reach and a degree of frequency are essential to success. So we must build responsibly first.
4 | give bad-sounding ideas the time of day
As our bullshit detectors improve over time, we start to take shortcuts, especially when our arrogance gets the better of us and we claim that instinct tells us an idea is a bad one. This is sometimes useful but sometimes incredibly damaging. When an idea sounds bad to you, there are two possibilities:
a) it’s actually not a bad idea, in which case you should be paying more attention than your silly brain is suggesting
b) it’s a bad idea, in which case it can teach you something about the problem you’re trying to solve
I remember Martin Beverley from Adam&Eve/DDB suggesting that the “exact wrong way” to tackle a problem can often be a good route into thinking more clearly about the problem. He’s right (he often is).
5 | question everything
There are certain books we’ve all at least pretended to read, and most of them are very good indeed. It pays dividends to read and to digest marketing and communications theory.
But the art/science blend stretches into theory as well, in a weird way. Enough data now exists to draw some hugely meaningful conclusions about effectiveness and priorities and the likes. But for a dozen little reasons, the data around advertising & marketing is never complete. It is rigorous, and robust, but the best minds in the industry disagree on the ultimate conclusions that can be drawn.
All of this is to say that planners must be willing to stick their necks out and ask questions that other, less curious, people would think of as stupid or obvious. And we have to accept that sometimes the answer will be the obvious one, and we will look a bit slow as a result to people who don’t know us that well. But one time in twenty (assuming your colleagues & partners have the patience!) that obvious question will uproot the whole tree, and the game will change as a result. That’s the invaluable bit of what we do. So question everything.