Better advice for young planners

“Good advice is almost certain to be ignored but that is no reason not to give it” Agatha Christie.

A while ago I posted some advice for young planners that I contributed to a Romanian advertising blog. It got a few mentions out there and a nice person from the US called Stacy asked if she could use it to send to client agenices in the US – she helps train planners in smaller agencies. And I got a bit self conscious since the advice I gave was rather thin. So I have updated it – a few more pointers and a lot more context. Of course you don’t need to be starting out to find it useful but I wouldn’t want to be that presumptuous.

1) See the world differently to everyone else
I think great planners are wired a bit wrong. What I mean is that they can be subjected to exactly the same stimulus as normal advertising people but come out with a totally different response. There is a lovely quote about scientific discovery that it is about “looking at the same things as everyone else and seeing something differently”. And that’s what we do at our best. When Stuart Smith at Wiedens sat listening to Honda’s chief engineer say he hated diesel engines it was because he was wired wrong that he saw a genius strategy for Honda Diesel in ‘positive hate’ rather than simply experiencing an agreeable talk from an engineering legend.
2)Try to be interesting first and right second
I think planners spend too much time trying to be right – to come up with the right answer regardless of whether it is interesting to them, the creative team or the consumer. I think it’s a much better plan to try and find the most interesting thing you could possibly say about the brand or category and then work out whether it is right or could be made right with a little tinkering. Markets are conversations and so brands need something to say that people find interesting. Above all fight cliché in any form.
3)Plan from within and then see if other people are like you
I plan from within by which I mean that the first thing I ever do is sit down and think about what I think about the brand or category. In particular I try to find a point of contact with the brand – maybe I use it already so why? Or maybe I don’t use it so why not? Or maybe I used to use it so what went wrong? This is the best source of genuine insight (though it doesn’t always work) rather than the superficial assumed insight that floats at the top of your brain and every other advertising person that walks the planet.
4)Read weird shit it always comes in handy
Planners need to draw from a massive pool of inspiration and the more eclectic the better. This pool allows you to make the weird connections that I talked about in point one and fashion the analogies I will talk about in point 5. By all means read the trendy business and planning tomes of the moment but do not do this at the expense of the weird shit. For one thing everyone will have read the business and planning stuff so there will be no competitive advantage for you in doing this. The weird shit on the other hand will be the source of your idiosyncrasy and the freshness of your strategies.
5)Speak in analogies – the more bizarre the better
Plato considered the metaphor the highest form of human intelligence, so do I. Now don’t get me wrong I am not advocating analogy advertising as a creative solution (it is usually terrible) merely that your prodigious use of analogy will help everyone around you understand where your head is at. It is evidence of your weird wiring. Just keep your analogies fresh, nothing upset the writer George Orwell more than ‘dead metaphor’.
6)Always know you had a better strategy
Just as creatives often see great ideas be rejected often to be replaced by lame and lacklustre work so will you. I will entertain the excuse that the client or the agency management or an unambitious creative team are the reason the thinking is a bit pedestrian but only if you have a work of minor strategic genius up your sleeve that they rejected. I post mine on adliterate in a category called ‘Strategy Safari’.
7)Collect strategic ideas
Generate brand thoughts and strategies constantly. For the business you work on, for the business you would like to work on and for the business you will never work on. This does two things, it keeps your ‘hand in’ during periods where you are making work rather than generating ideas and it builds up a stock of latent strategies that make you faster in creating an idea when a pitch or project for that brand or category finally comes into view. I also advocate creating a ‘book’ much like creatives do, of all your thinking. This will be invaluable when you want another job because it proves the way you think. Blogging it is even better.
8)Always think and communicate clearly – radical doesn’t mean complicated
There seems to be a conflict in the ‘plannersphere’ at the moment between those proponents of simple, but lets face it often dull, thinking and the advocates of complex, but they argue more interesting, thinking. I reject both camps – the more radical thinking is often very simple and easy to express like ‘pre-tuned by German engineers’ for Crispin Porter’s Golf GTI campaign or ‘the fourth emergency service’ for the UK’s leading breakdown company.
In anycase your first job as a planner is to master clarity, brevity and simplicity in your thinking, briefs and presentations. Only when you have mastered the craft should should you ‘pimp’ your thinking.
9)There is always a problem to solve – find itIn his latest book, ‘The Brand Innovation Manifesto’ John Grant points out that “Good ideas start with the realisation of a problem to solve but much mediocre brand marketing starts with the idea of ‘advertising a brand’ as if it were a business objective in its own right”.
Our business works best solving problems and there is always a problem if you look hard enough. Half the task is to isolate the right problem because if you do there is actually a chance that the solution you propose will work. Wrong problem, wrong solution – no results.
10)You are a salesperson first and foremost – everything else is just technique
Never forget that planners, like everyone in advertising, are salespeople. We specialise in the art of creative persuasion – everyone of us. And your job is to work out how to sell your client’s brand or service. Engagement, direct response, big production budgets, media placement, music, new media, humour, product demos, and frequency whatever – they are just techniques to sell and all of them have their place. Remember David Ogilvy’s mantra “We sell – or else”.

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5 Replies to “Better advice for young planners”

  1. Useful and Interesting. I really like the bit about training yourself to think clearly. I’m a novice planner and I’ve found that in my enthusiasm, I sometimes look at too many routes, ideas and segments – So I’m now taking the young planner’s advice: starting with ME and trying to Keep IT Simple! =)

  2. Hey, I came across your site through a link on another blog. I just wanted to say that this was a great list. I am going to print this out and keep it for future reference. Thanks!!

  3. Extremely useful!!! I plan to go back to it every once in a while, esp. since I am to start my journey as a planner….

  4. Genius.
    The more time I spend on the fringes of the advertising planning world the more I think I’m starting to believe that the fundamental skillset of great planners is actually relatively uncomplicated.
    It’s really easy ;-) you just have to be a briliant, interesting and challenging human being with an amazing capacity to express yourself. Oh yeah, and be completely ego-less, and be able to take shit from multiple directions simultaneously.

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