Let’s Hear It For The Planner

A version of this post appeared on Mediatel’s Newsline on April 5th

Pity the poor communications planner, buffeted this way and that by the latest fads and the hottest trends, by variable research and more and more data, by clients who it seems want more and more for less and less, and by traders who ignore their beautifully crafted plans to buy whatever they fancy from anyone prepared to give them a deal.

Who on earth would want to do it? Well, me for a start – if I ever enjoyed any sort of reputation in agencies it was as a planner. I thought it was the best job in the agency, and I still do. Here’s why.

You get to involve yourself in, to understand and (let’s be honest) to interfere in the client’s business. If you’re good you’ll make a difference.

You can get as close as you choose to the creatives, certainly close enough to influence the output.

You’re encouraged to understand consumers, to watch how they behave, and see how those behaviours interact with the vast array of available communication channels.

You learn what works, what doesn’t, and you get to apply that learning the next time around.

If you talk to clients it’s generally the planner that gets the plaudits; the brickbats, if there are any are these days reserved for the traders, and the digital specialists far too many of whom are simply too distant from the business of making their advertisers successful.

Earlier this month Josh Chasin, Chief Research Officer of Comscore wrote this in the US trade title Mediapost:

“Ultimately, we are still in the advertising business, where success derives from putting messages in front of people that influence and compel them to buy stuff. As savvy as we get about the math and the zeroes and ones, it is important we don’t lose sight of the human, holistic side of the equation.”

That success comes from great planning.

Mediatel held an event this week to ask: has planning lost its mojo? It’s not a stupid question – there are many reasons to suggest that today it’s all about the algorithms, the automation, the trades.

But all of these things are tactics, a means to an end. Sure they’re important and relevant but never forget that 50% off the wrong thing doesn’t automatically make it the right thing.

Planning is all about pulling together multiple strands into a coherent strategy, and then seeing that strategy translate into something effective.

Planners are curious; they like nothing more than asking around, reading points of view, being challenged, finding new inspiration from wherever their curiosity takes them.

Planners understand that ads come from somewhere, that they are crafted and that ensuring they are seen by and acted on by those at whom they’re aimed is in itself a craft.

Do we really think we can automate everything, to let machines decide what goes where and when?

Do we really believe that we would be in the mess we’re in with adblockers if every ad was crafted even a little like the PG Tips example?

Planners are the media agencies’ salvation. You can automate all but the most senior and best traders out of a job, you can use data to guide and fine tune what we say and to whom, all of that is fine but there’s a very big difference between ‘guiding and fine tuning’ and creating.

Really good planners create. All power, and all mojo to them say I.

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