Is blogging killing planning?
Image courtesy of MrTruffle
There is a mood abroad, often fostered by non-blogging planners, that the emergence and popularity of planning blogs is killing the discipline.
I certainly feel that the community, like all communities, has begun to coalesce around specific ‘new marketing’ ideas that are in danger of becoming an orthodoxy every bit as dangerous as the antiquated ideas about brands and communications that it is seeking to replace. Specifically it encourages a view that the marketing landscape has already reached a kind of utopian future without offering any clues about how brands and the clients that own them should get there.
But is blogging really ‘killing’ planning?
This topic first came up in an email from Grey planning chief John Lowery, who raised his concerns about the potentially corrosive nature of blogging.
“One thing I noticed as I hyperleapt from one planning blog to another was an almost total lack of quantification of anything anyone said, at all. To that extent I thought perhaps one could make a case that blogging is killing planning, or at least planning as I know it. The publication of baseless pontification has, it seems, been democratised and offered up as a glamorous new role-model to a whole generation of ‘planners’ who wouldn’t know what a tracking study questionnaire (not to mention an awareness index) was if it bit them in their left hemisphere”.
And I have certianly heard a version of this arguement at Coffee Morning, particularly from planners like John Griffiths. His concern is specifically that the pannersphere looks like a brilliant training resource but it fails to discuss or encourage the development of core craft skills.
While I do have some sympathy with this view (most notably that the content of planning blogs tends to be around the more ‘out there’ thinking that we do in our day to day jobs), after nearly two years and just over 100 posts I can’t help thinking that blogging is the best thing that has happened to planners since Moleskine notebooks.
So in a spirit of ‘what has blogging ever done for us’ here are the reasons I think it is important for our discipline.
1. Community and networking
Blogging has created a planning community online (I call it the Plannersphere) that provides introductions and builds close ties within the discipline based primarily on the commodity we value most highly – how people think. And while this community is strongly represented in traditional planning industries and territories, where considerable mutual support already exists, it obviously works for those planners that work in places where our kind are rather thin on the ground. Whether they are in industries outside advertising or countries outside the planning hotspots. Indeed as a bunch of people who often shy away from traditional networking and schmoozing it has filled a very valuable need amongst planners.
2. Beta testing thinking
Every good planner thinks constantly about brands and communications, but unless this has direct and immediate relevance to their accounts it goes no further than an internal dialogue or idle banter with planning collegues.
The Plannersphere provides a place to crystallise and air thinking for others to build on or contest before it is aired more formally. But more than that it represents a group of people that are interested in your brand thinking no matter how rudimentary, people that encourage you and drive you on.
3. Collective intelligence
I reckon we are getting smarter as a result of the plannersphere. In nearly 20 years in the business I have never experienced as much intellectual stimulation and intense conversation as I have over the past 18 months – both because of thinking that exists on line and offline stimulus that it has led me to. New ideas, however ill formed at first, spread with ferocious speed at the moment making you aware of all sorts of thinking and giving you the ability to contribute to it. Transmedia Planning from Faris and Brand Enthusiasm from John being two clear and very recent examples.
4. Training and education
OK so the plannersphere isn’t hot on the craft skills, although it is interesting that Russell’s Account Planning School of the Web has gone back to basics more recently to try and respond to this criticism, but the plannersphere is incredibly successful at knowledge sharing. On a daily basis seriously good people are falling over themselves to give away their intellectual property or simply share a new campaign or brand they are interested in. It may not be providing the 3 Rs of planning but you’d be a fool if you were starting and you weren’t consumming your body weight in wisdom from selected planning blogs.
More than that, by showcasing thinking at its very best we can help to teach emerging planners the standards that are expected of great strategic thinking beyond the approach or expectations of their current environment.
5. Influence and profile
Planners rarely hug or hog the limelight – I guess we are just built differently to your average account handler or creative. I have often joked that it is only planners that blog in advertising because account people have nothing to say and creatives have better places to say it but maybe its more that blogging was built for us. Creatives have their work and by and large that speaks for itself, account handlers their client relationships and the revenue they sit on or win but planners never really had much of an outlet to show how good they were (although the APG and AAAAs Jay Chiat awards have helped). Blogging has given us planners a way to show we are good and create influence within our agencies, the broader community and potentally with our clients.
6. Effortless internationalism
After years on international business stubbornly failing to understand anything going on outside the M25 I love the way that blogging makes you instinctively international as a planner. You see work from around the world easily and without cost, you are read throughout the world (albeit shamefully the blogs I read in return are English language) and your comments come from people throughout the world. In an industry that has always had a ugly strand of national arrogance running through it (particularly in the UK) blogging and the tools we use to bring our blogs to life (like you tube and flickr) are pulling down national barriers in the communications business.
As far as I am concerned, the plannersphere has created a kind of intellectual soup for a global community of brand thinkers to feed off, contribute to and create value from. As such it is and has the power to significantly improve the quality of planners and planning in the brand advice business.
For my money blogging and planning are a marriage made in heaven.
(P.S.) Since I wrote this I have been pointed at Hugh’s thoughts about what makes a good blog. Seriously worth a read.
107 Replies to “Is blogging killing planning?”
Hear hear mate! I think you’re spot on.
If planning is only about AI scores and tracking studies, then frankly I don’t want any part of it.
If anything, it is the freedom to think out loud and then have a conversation about those ideas and let everyone pitch in, without being tied to the day to day quantification, that keeps the Plannersphere [yep I’ll steal that] stimulating.
You’ve omitted the element of cross-fertilisation that comes from blogging being completely open. Thus not all your plannersphere readers/commenters are (or indeed may never have been) planners and can challenge the internally received wisdom. They might also ask for justification of the relevance of things such as tracking questionnaire or awareness indices.
Furthermore, I’d add that there’s little danger of dumbing down because, from this outsider’s perspective, the blogs of the plannersphere are the most intellectually intimidating group that I read.
Excellent stuff. Being an AE, the comments about AEs having nothing to say made me chuckle. I especially like the effortless internationalism bit. I am always awed by this…
In almost four months of reading through the plannersphere I have learned lots and lots and lots of interesting stuff. I´m looking to have a career in planning and I have to say that since I started to read and publish my own blog that finally I´m on the right track to do it.
Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.
Richard I think I agree with you but I’d be a lot more concise: I’m dismayed that anyone believes that by sharing their thinking people become more stupid.
Don’t lots of smart people often have rambling, unquantified discussions as part of their discourse?
Isn’t it great if people are – heaven forfend – daring to have impure thoughts that they have them out loud where they can be challenged.
If planning is to survive, it needs to find new craft skills, not rely on the old.
Perhaps blogging is a skill that all planners should learn.
Really glad you’ve posted this.
It’s non bloggers who complain most about the plannersphere. Of course. But on the whole I don’t get their beef. No one’s forcing anyone to look. And I think it’s forgotten, perhaps, that blogs about tracking and quantification and accountability would be so dull they’d make us all poke our eyes out. And we can all find that in effectiveness papers anyway. Doesn’t mean we don’t understand it.
Every part of my involvement with the plannersphere has been massively enriching. I’ve always felt privileged to be able to access people’s thinking like this. Let alone discuss it with the people who wrote them and everyone else. It’s absolutely unique.
I once interviewed a planner from Grey who had taken 18 months to prove to a P&G team that fragrances were bought for other reasons than functional benefits. Is that the sort of thing he has in mind?
Isnt the main reason planners should blog is that if they didnt they simply wouldn’t ‘get’ where culture is and where it is going?
Baseless pontification is a bit strong. Most of the younger planners act as newswire services, gathering key stories and new developments and perhaps adding a few comments. As a branch of business thinking, planning relies on the breadth of cases and your stock of alternative strategies; what you think is even possible before you get the brief. In the old days all you really saw was your own agency reel and a few UK ads in campaign. I bet the marketing, brand and media general knowledge of the average planner is much higher today. And that’s important if (and only if) their mandate is innovation. If it is repeating the same old formulae then he’s right.
But the throwing down the gauntlet bit of what he said is potentially great fun and educational too. Anyone fancy hosting some old vs new school debates? (Maybe at the APG if blogging is the devil’s handiwork). I was trying to get mediacom with their book club thing to host a debate between me & Jeremy Bullmore (as we had books out the same month). I’d definitely have lost because he is very clever and more importantly very funny, but he doesnt use much data to support his arguments either.
As a wannabe planner, for me this debate is fascinating – I agree with all the idea generation comments, but I’ve got my own point of view on the whole thing.
Consider this: Before the internet (or indeed, blogs), I would have relied solely on Campaign or Marketing Week for my information, having no contact with the outside plannersphere, save perhaps for one or two who I met during work experience periods.
Yet, even though I’m not a planner, not only have I (hopefully) been able to contribute meaningfully to planning related debates, I’ve actually MET and discussed planning outside of the workplace with planners who are passionate about what they do.
Basically, before blogging, the closest I’d get to Planning Ddirectors or Darth Strategists is via Campaign. Now I get to meet them, and there’s NO substitute for the real thing.
Maybe some planners are worried that by revealing what the Emperor wears…or blowing away the smoke from the mirrors, that it might expose that some planners do nothing more than re-hash their same song-and-dance routine, just with different vocabulary, and call it ‘consumer insights’.
I’m not calling anyone one out, but ever notice sometimes how much planner talk sounds the same sometimes? That fancy ‘new trend words’ are used that really have nothing to do with the target consumer? That sometimes its all style, no substance.
What I think blogging does is it forces planners (our) hand against our peers, defends the substance if you will. It potentially removes that ‘magical’ discipline we call planning, and forces thoughts and discussion into the light. Revealing who really gets ‘understanding the target consumer’ and who doesn’t.
And maybe, yes, I’ve had a few pints and obliviously my metaphors are running rampant. But blogging, exposing your ideas and thoughts to be scrutinized by your peers, separates the wheat from the shaft.
Personally I’m just grateful that I can point a few of the marketing elite (from developed economies) who are working in developing economies towards some planning Blogs and show that most research really is the the bottom of the barrel for the most insipid of marketing directors. Pepsi Thailand springs to mind.
If John Lowery thinks that “blogging is killing planning, or at least planning as I know it”, then perhaps it deserves to die. Perhaps the form of planning that perpetuates the traditional agency structure is, as we speak/write, going the way of the dinosaurs.
The innovation in thinking that is facilitated in good faith across the plannersphere is astounding. From the informal commenting on blogs through to more formalised submissions for Russell’s School of the Web, planners and interested agency types are benefiting in ways that will flow through to their (paid) work.
As far as I can see, the “marriage made in heaven” is exactly what many agencies fear. Blogging is like the secret life of planners … and one day your clients may just find out where all those good ideas really come from.
Congratulations. You’ve proved John Lowery’s basic premise.
Ha ha … as if it is was so easy ;)
Interesting post (and subsequent comments).
I sympathise with lots of contradictory views on this topic. But fundamentally I’m pro-blogging and think that it undboutedly helps both individual planners and the community as a whole. But it’s true that there’s of course a lot of non-scientific rambling out there too.
I guess a big downside for me is that it’s now possible to live purely inside the plannersphere. If I was a youngster trying to get into the game I could be tempted to spend 24 hours a day just reading great stuff written by brilliant planners both old and new. But we then end up with everyone fishing the same pool of thinking.
I know I’ve almost got sucked in a few times, then realised I need to break free and go and read some stuff about folk music, cookery or warts.
Basically the plannersphere is a force for good, but don’t forget there’s life outside it too :-)
Richard, you should also remember that not everybody that reads planner stuff, is a planner. It is actually intersting what you lot right you know.
I am not a planner.
the plannersphere is filled with the happy noises of new theories, coinages and ‘hey, what if’ ideas. This is the most fun bit of planning, especially when you’re young. It is also the most useless. The bulk of work, at least in successful agencies, and at senior levels, is rather more prosaic, though ultimately more satisfying. As someone says above, rather touchingly, ‘if planning is all about tracking studies…, then I don’t want any part of it’. Well, yes, that’s understandable. But you do kind of make John Lowery’s point in saying so.
I would like to apologise for my spelling etc. in the comment above. Too much coffee today. Sorry.
Winston – why is openly thinking about new stuff useless?
What can I say?
For someone who did sort of a career change and got into the plannnesphere just abbout 1.5 years ago, I learned about planning from the planneshpere, and EVERYTHING I know is from this vibrant, creative community.
The plannesphere is the new mentor.
Hmm… I must have missed the meeting where we all decided that planning was all about specialising in one particular skill. I’ve spent 15 years labouring under the misapprehension that a good planner is equally at home with TGI and tracking as they are with surfing the webgeist.
We commonly refer to our contribution to the advertising process as “the thinking.” There are maybe two or three geniuses who can pluck thinking out of nowhere – the rest of us rely on input. And in my experience, the more varied the input the better.
I think someone who is less keen on stirring up debate than John Lowery is (not that there’s anything wrong with stirring up debate mind you) might make a similar point less emphatically – I’ve worked with countless planners over the years who are very bright, who really get off on the buzz of disussing ideas. Nothing wrong with that, but the guys at the far end of this spectrum see planning grunt work as boring and simply don’t do it. And they always, always ultimately fail. Remember that Picasso could only do GOOD squiggles on canvas because he was already a great conventional artist.
Faris, no-one is arguing that planning is ONLY about AI scores and tracking studies, but these things are an essential part of planning. I don’t want to read a blog about them, but I do only want to work with planners who use those things as well as contributing to “the plannersphere”.
Blogs to my mind grease the wheels of intellectual debate and the trading of ideas. This is a process that has been actively encouraged in every good planning department I’ve ever worked in, even those run by Mr Lowery. It’s great that blogs allow it to happen on an inter-agency/global level. But if you think this can be some kind of “New Planning Paradigm” that consigns the boring stuff to the dustbin of history, you’ve got some very uncomfortable sweaty arsecrack moments ahead of you in client meetings.
Lovely post, well done, I agree.
What Asi said. Viva la Plannershere!
One thing that needs clarification (to me at least): what is the planner job description? from what i understand, it varies from country to country, city to city, agency to agency.
and with things evolving, how much of the traditional description will morph into interesting hybrids (a la Faris at Naked for instance?).
Blogs are just one stage of the current evolution that is happening within advertising. As with any change there will alway be resistence and rejection.
Forgetting the job title, the most important thing for anyone working in advertising is insight and these blogs (whilst not exclusive) provide insights into new thinking which is usually restricted or prohibited in the workplace for one reason or another.
For me it is refreshing to hear and see pov from non-advertising people.
Do you have to be well rounded to be a planner? I hope not. I thought we just had to to help brands do good stuff in whatever medium and in whatever aspect of their business.
Dear Richard et al,
I can’t say I’m especially surprised by the tsunami of righteous indignation that’s greeted my proposition that blogging’s killing planning; after all, most of the people who’ve piled in are inevitably bloggers themselves. Because of that, I think John Grant’s suggestion that the debate goes ‘public’ is a good one; although I’d contend that the APG isn’t a particularly public forum. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Venn diagram of planners who blog and planners who attend APG events, doesn’t feel like it has a great deal of space outside of the intersection.)
More surprising is the fact that some people have offered support for my point. Admittedly not necessarily everyone has done so intentionally. I was tempted to refer everyone to Asi’s comment, then offer up these three words – quod erat demonstrandum – and then conclude with full stop. That, however, would be a cheap shot, and we wouldn’t want to get involved in trading those, would we John. So instead I’ll start the defence of my argument with a question.
Is Dirt is Good good?
If the blogging plannerati are to be believed, DiG is more than good, it’s a paragon of modern marketing manners. It is, if I may quote from your post Richard, “a work of mild genius”. The only area of disquiet seems to be around the issue of whether or not the ads are actually of any merit.
Although this is not my main thrust, I must say this gap between strategy and execution concerns me rather a lot. Call me old-fashioned (actually you don’t need the encouragement do you) but I find it hard to get really, excited about a strategy until it’s manifested itself in the form of an outstanding execution. (As some one much cleverer than me – Gary Duckworth – once said, “there is an unhealthy tendency for planners to fetishize the brief. It becomes treated as something in its own right, an end in itself”.) PowerPoint documents, even when authored by Jim, hushed reverence goes here, Carroll, are not an end in themselves, at least not for advertising planners. If we thought they were, we might be inclined to get ourselves jobs in brand consultancies.
In any case, the question of the quality of the end-product is subjective and for the time being at least, I’m keen to avoid the subjective in favour of the facts.
So here are a few facts that the admirers of DiG may find rather inconvenient.
Persil’s market share is in serious decline. Volume has dropped from 26.6% to 21.8%, and value from 26.8% to 23.3%, over the last three years. Just in case you’re wondering, some brands are growing, so it’s not simply a case of a general drift in the direction of own-label.
What’s more the tracking study data don’t paint a particularly pretty a picture. Despite their considerable spend, my guess is the branded cut-through scores are somewhat shy of Unilever’s aspirations. (A P&G confidentiality agreement prevents me from revealing more.)
Has anyone taken the time to find out whether people are actually visiting the website? I’d be surprised if the number of unique visitors exceeds those to this blog.
But once again I’m getting all subjective on you, so let’s return to the facts.
This time qualitative facts. Facts that have been gleaned from the focus groups that I conduct on a regular basis, with normal people, some of whom even live outside of the M25.
When you ask these people about Persil and its advertising the responses are many and varied but very few of them suggest to me that the idea is a good one. If nothing else people baulk at the implicit logic – ‘Let your kids get dirty, ‘cos it’s good for their development, and we’ll sort out the mess.’ The reason they baulk? It’s a lie. Persil doesn’t sort out the mess. (If you don’t believe me pop round to my house, take some of my kids’ clothes home and see if you can get the stains out, with Persil, not hydrofluoric acid.)
Maybe at the gates of your average Islington Montessori, stained clothes have connotations of broad-minded parenting and a trendy laissez faire outlook on life but I can assure you, that’s not the case outside Lower Darwen Primary School. In Darwen stains equal stigma; symbols of failure, of poverty, of a lack of pride, of letting your children down. These are deeply entrenched attitudes. Attitudes that are as much a function of circumstance as they are of freedom of choice. Attitudes that are way, way beyond the reach of an ephemeral brand marketing campaign; at least one that runs at a weight that allows Unilever to make a profit. (Incidentally, I think this is a global campaign. I wonder how it plays in Malawi?)
Indeed, the more I listen to normal people talking about DiG, the more I come to the conclusion that it was developed by a bunch of middle-class types, for whom a fortnightly trip to Gap to compensate for Persil’s failings is all part of the educational programme. “Look Josh and Emily, this is how a platinum Amex works.” And of course, the reason it feels like this is because it was developed, and then applauded, by exactly these people.
Perhaps then, in the light of the facts, we need a rethink on Dirt is Good. Perhaps Dirt is Good is bad. At the very least, it seems a little hasty to be electing DiG to a kind of planning hall of fame, with all the connotations of best practice learning that attend to such an esteemed award.
I hope that by now my point is becoming apparent, but just in case, this is it…
It’s not enough to have an opinion. Anyone can have an opinion. The difference between a planner and an enthusiastic amateur, is that the planner’s opinion is informed by fact. Fact, as Sir Winston above says, that is unearthed by rather more prosaic work than sitting in a coffee shop on D’Arblay Street shooting the breeze with a bunch of agreeable mates.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against drinking coffee. I’m not against chatting. I’m not against reading books by Chris Anderson, Henry Jenkins and Daniel Gilbert. I’m not against pinching their thinking and applying it to our world. Hell, I’m not even against planning blogs.
But I am against all of it, forever and a day, if it supplants the pursuit of fact. And that’s my worry, that it will.
Blogs are powerful tools, especially when authored by people as influential as you Richard. And as I’ve attempted to immerse myself in your world I’ve noticed a lot of people in the thrall of the role-model that planning bloggers present. You only need to read the comments above to see what I mean.
So here’s a challenge for anyone who shares my perspective. How do we ensure that blogging continues to deliver your intellectually nourishing soup, without starving us of the main course that is fact.
(Oh dear, that sounds a little The Day Today-esque, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)
I can see where he is coming from, but at the same time I disagree.
I have learnt so much, and met so many clever and fascinating people through blogging. Im learning things from people with varying views of planning, working for hundreds of clients in every type of media. I’m able to engage my ideas against some of the most respected planners around, and at the same time feel like my views are valid.
As someone who (before realising they wanted to be a planner) went for many account management jobs; it makes such a difference for people to engage you in your thoughts instead of sitting on a big chair judging whether you are good enough based on some madness from the Beginners Guide to Obnoxious Interview Questions.
I would probably say I’ve learnt more from 18 months of blogging than I did in 3 years of University. Ive certainly learnt more useful information.
Lots to think about.
I for one would love to read a weblog or two about the process by which Mr. Lowery and others unearth “the facts”. If that is the crux of it all, let’s have it. Would everyone else find that incredibly boring?
John L. (btw, I’m not indignant or feeling righteous. Quite happy. And fascinated).
I don’t think anyone suggested Dirt Is Good had performed well. Lots of people who admire the idea think it *could* have. What’s more, it doesn’t surprise me that the strategy didn’t go down well with people who aren’t used to developing creative communications. Try testing Just Do It without the weight of Nike’s executions.
I do understand that plannning-*as-you-know-it*-is-dying worries you. Is that really so much of a big concern? Why? I wonder too if the claim is not a little hysterical. Planning-as-you-know-it (as I understand you) was alive and kicking the last time I looked.
It struck me when I read your comment that anyone new to blogging usually tries to understand it before contributing. Its strengths and its shortcomings. And some of the accepted behaviour. One idea that’s popular is Orwell’s – of not using unnecessary Latin phrases or flowery language when plain words would do. Another is to keep things short and sweet (which is not to say long is bad. But it’s hardly ever right for this format). Another is to realise that this is a community of people who are expose their thoughts and ideas to all and sundry in the hope that something good might come of it. Which means that generally we’re civil to each other.
Perhaps the challenge you set people who share your perspective should be one that you answer by starting your own blog. Then you can prove to us all that the kind of quantification and pursuit of fact you talk about would be interesting in this format.
Right. I’m off to vote at the meat tournament. http://thecarnivoreproject.typepad.com/the_carnivore_project/2007/01/meat_bracket_ro.html
Like many planners, I started out as a qual researcher, and moved into planning largely due to an increasing frustration at being limited to “just the facts, ma’am”.
Now, I don’t think any planner (blogger or not) is going to argue that facts/data/research/information are wholly unimportant. Of course they are. But they should never the be-all and end-all (as Faris points out, if they were, we’d all be off doing something else).
Good planning should bring something else to the table, something that is often missing from the quantification. You call it intuition, thinking or philosophising (hell, you can even call it “baseless pontification” if you want) but I firmly believe that ‘making the leap’ is as (if not more) important as plotting the data-points.
Last night, Jon Steel quoted da Vinci -“it is by logic we prove but by intuition we discover”- and I can’t help but wonder if this is at the crux of this debate: Mr Lowery seems to want planning to be ‘the proof department’. However, most (new-school) planners see themselves as belonging to ‘the inspiration department’ helping creatives with fresh thinking and insight based on experience (and, yes, information).
This is what the plannersphere incubates and dessiminates -theories, ideas, thoughts and musings. It seems clear to me that any agency which hopes to thrive needs to place paramount importance on delivering inspired and inspiring ideas.
(Now, I’m sure we’d all like to hear from the rank-and-file planners at Grey… Are you provers or inspirers? For better or for worse?)
I think we have to beware planning ending up as research.
Planning is about incorporating facts along with the unknown, and as Beeker says, blogging involves writing in a way that is readable and accessible.
Facts are vital, but they always look backwards; planning is about judging what is going forward, based on what is behind AND what is at the sides…
I think one thing we can all agree on is that Jon Steel is a proper planner – I’d say the best (which he would hate). So jumping over to Beeker ideas http://beeker.typepad.com/beeker_ideas/ right now would be a good idea cos she has written up his talk to the APG last night and it is relly very good.
The weird thing is it both showcases someone who exemplifies the qualities JohnL admires and in blogging the event for those of us that didn’t make it proves to me the value of blogging to the planning community
The point of this and I guess many other blogs is to address the growing view and realisation that advertising agencies per se are not adding value to business. The speed in which traditional marketing spends are being cannibalised by new emerging media is surely an indictment of historical medium.
Coincidentally, it just so happens that a minority of people share this view and openly discuss ways to overcome this potential problem.
Blogs are simply facilitating these conversations in a convenient manner.
No different I guess from the millions of blogs that exist between consumers who debate the merits/failings of a brands product or service……
One of the inevitable downsides of online communities, like all communities for that reason, is that they can prove incredibly hostile to outsiders. At their very worst they act as an echo chamber for received opinion.
Steve Hayden, the other half of the creative duo who wrote the Apple “1984”, once said “the reason why incest is a taboo in any culture, is because it breeds idiots”.
For that reason, I would like to thank John for adding to the planning blogosphere’s gene pool.
John raises a vital point about the role of data and fact. One of the reasons that our industry faces such strong downward pricing pressure is we find it hard to show the results of our efforts.
We stand at a point where there is increasing seperation between the art and science of planning. John’s point about the importance of data and AI score’s, and some of the sneering that accompanied it reminded me of an insightful quote from CP Snow’s lecture series “The Two Cultures”:
“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity of scientists.
Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? ”
Truly great planners, like Jon Steel (who I am very lucky to work with – along with John Lowery) are able to do Shakespeare and the Second Law.
As a proof point – check out John Lowery’s blog http://almostnothing.typepad.com/
Vibrant outward looking communities need dissent to develop and re-generate. We should thank John. He is the Christopher Hitchens of planning.
what a joy it would be to hear you cracking your jokes about the mindlessness of account handlers and those crazy creative guys. could you post a few choice quips? “planners rarely hug or hog the limelight.” did you mean to say “really hug or hog the limelight?” i’m yet to come across an ‘account management death star’ (apart from maybe the second floor at 60 kingly street) where suits strut around like a bunch of online peacocks. as the posts above prove, the hilariously named ‘plannersphere’ is a prefect’s common room for sounding off, incessant bickering, petty point-scoring, and blowing smoke up each others arses. “oh how empty my life was before i had the opportunity to read the rants and ravings of such wonderfully brainy individuals. you are truly brilliant and inspire me on a daily basis. please can i have a job?” you need to get out more.
Your point about planners having to look both ways, Janus-like, and be aware of Shakespeare and the Second Law is spot on.
However, I would suggest that those who are aware of the more numerate practices that go on in advertising aren’t liable to blog in great detail (barring perhaps talking about the genius of Edward Tufte) because they spend large parts of their day consumed by it.
Blogging, for most, seems to either be an online diary or a chance to extol the virtues of something.
So perhaps then it’s inevitable that there’s a divide between virtual discussions of advertising and the real thing.
And also, I suppose – the online ad community is mostly planners, who tend to be personable sorts and generally interested in lots of things; you just don’t get a great deal of dissent if people treat the medium as a learning tool first and foremost (barring arguing with some of Richard’s Advocate suggestions).
And Dougie – Richard does tend to write, at times, tongue in cheek. That’s the problem with writing certain things down.
Indeed, I’ve met many vibrant, strategically led account handlers as well as creatives. Having been to the coffee mornings, the ad folk certainly don’t sit around in D’Arblay street singing Kum By Ya and ranting how no-one understands them, nor do they always agree with the most senior person there. It’s certainly not all planners either – at the last one, I spoke to equal measures of creatives/film makers as I did planners.
The blogging community is a force for good, and I find inspiration from parts of it. Would I base my entire professional life around ‘what so and so said on X blog’? No. But nor would I remain closed off to it.
Can somebody point me to a blog or a resource that properly defines “planning” and “planner” in context of a traditional advertising firm? Thanks…
Try starting with the Account Planning Group
Oh I’m loving this!
I absolutely love that we can have conversations that escalate to include those who originate the thoughts in the first place and I’m really pleased to see John get involved and clarify his point. It’s one of the best things about blogging ;)
I entirely agree that facts are a crucial element to what we all do, despite Jon Steel arguing last night that magic doesn’t come from logic, as comforting a thought as that is.
Perhaps I put my point across too strongly, and research is no doubt a crucial part of understanding how things are moving, but I fear my fear of AI and tracking studies comes from a confusion as to their function and their value. As intermediate measures they can only show the intermediate effect of communication – they can never demonstrate their effectiveness, which is why I’m glad John chose to use market share to suppport his argument.
I guess I fear that increasingly tools like AI scores are too blunt to help plan communications in this complex world. But that doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t measure what we do, only that these measures need to keep up with the changing environment we all work in.
Image metrics only tell us a something and a very subjective something at that. They can only measure attitudes, which can only predict behavioural intentions, not actual behaviour.
Additionally, numerous studies have shown that responses tend to reflect previous purchase behaviour, rather than future behaviour. Whilst they may give an indication of predisposition, they also ignore what might be one of the most important drivers of behaviour – collective perceptions and other people’s behaviour.
Anyway John – welcome to the plannersphere! I look forward to more stimulating conversations.
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Thanks for the pointer to apg.org.uk – I downloaded and read their 2001 paper “What is an Account Planner”. Would you or anybody else familiar with this description say it applies to U.S. agencies as well?
I hope what Dougie said was as tongue in cheek as Richard can sometimes be… otherwise I think he just proved he has never understood any of the decent planning blogs.
I owe you an apology. I didn’t know you had a blog. I’ve had a good delve around, which I enjoyed. But I didn’t find the ‘main course of fact’.
Care to link it Beeker?
Would be a nice addition to the discussion. (unless its a fairly private blog of course)
Link was in Daivd Muir’s comment but here it is again. I think John was keeping it in the family – not any longer you are not.
This very post shows why blogging is good for planning. Any kind of thinking evolves and improves the more it’s debated.Blogging gives us a form of Darwinism, where ideas get exposed and develop thanks to all that input – or don’t make the cut.
It seems to me that this aspect of planners (and others) getting caught up in a good idea and not taking the time to check whether it really has worked happens both on and off blogging. Certainly well known bloggers can easily influence others so it’s a fair reminder from John to ensure they and we consider the reality and end result, but doesn’t mean that the whole community and idea generation aspect of planner blogging is worthless or dangerous.
It’s just a good reminder.
Nice blog John.
I love the seriousness of all of this. It’s like life or death. You have no idea how interesting, funny, important and silly you all are. Bloody brilliant. The plannersphere is like a good night out at the pub, lot’s of drink, great ideas (some of which are really embarrassing the morning after and some of which are not) and brilliant people that you happen to sit next too and are nice enough to bother to have a chat. I feel like the chap on the table next to you all, who has a vague idea of what you are all going on about but hasn’t drunk enough to join in. It’s lovely.
I’ve been following the discussion that’s been stirred up by the Blogging-Killing-Planning post with interest. It seems that the original objective of the debate has only partly been met, so I thought I’d make a few comments on the comments while there’s still some life left in the embers…
First, lest any of the planning fundamentalists out there are thinking of fire-bombing our offices, I want to address the issue of civility, or rather my apparent lack of it. If you read Richard’s original post carefully you’ll see that my first submission to this debate took the form of a private e-mail to Richard, itself stimulated by the Russell Davies interview. He then introduced my observations to your community via Adliterate, not I, although obviously I agreed to its publication. The tone of the responses that followed was, as I think someone said, on the sneering side of polite. In particular, John Grant fired a cheap shot at across my bows in his opening gambit. Which is fine by me, but I think if you give it, you’ve got to be able to take it.
Next the matter of ‘rules’. Apparently Latin and French phrases, even when they’re in common English usage are frowned upon when blogging – because Orwell said so. (I must say I find Orwell an unlikely hero for a planner; wasn’t he the guy who described our business as the rattling of a stick in a bucket of swill?) Also, it appears that someone’s decided that comments posted on blogs have to be short. Why? Who made these rules up? Rules that restrict people’s contributions would seem to me to be antithetical to spirit of the internet. Moreover, the idea that one is allowed only to communicate in 100-200 word bursts, fuels my fear of the pernicious effect of planning blogs. You’ve built your own conservatism into the community and it’s only been in existence for a couple of years.
Third, tracking studies, and the awareness index in particular. I specifically chose to reference the AI because Richard did in his interview. (He suggested using it as a novel way of vetting the ads that get to appear on TV.) I don’t think the AI is anything other than one of the myriad tools that are available to us, but a tool nevertheless. So Faris, I’m sure you’re fully au fait with the strengths and weaknesses of the AI, as identified in ‘How Valuable is the Awareness Index?’ (Feldwick et al, Admap, March 1991) but your response, at least initially, to my suggestion that many of this community aren’t, didn’t do much to undermine my killing contention. I wonder how many people reading your remarks thought “Yeah, bollocks to the AI, whatever it is”.
Fourth, there’s the observation that my blog is bereft of ‘main course fact’. I didn’t say I had the answer to planning’s blogging failings. I merely asked if anyone could help overcome my concerns. In any case, the target audience for my blog is people who work at Grey and if you ask them, they’ll tell you that I’m not interested in having a conversation about how Trans-Fatty Permission Planning 2.02 can transform the brand’s fortunes, until we’ve established a few basic facts. Thereafter, of course, it’s come-one-come-all with respect to the search for solutions.
Fifth, and now we’re returning to DiG, I don’t call asking people what they think of finished ads, that form part of a campaign that’s been running for several years, creative development research. I call it finding out what people think. And if the people in the target audience still don’t like it. I call that worrying.
Sixth, those people who’ve continued to laud the DiG campaign, despite my objective demonstration of its failings, are supporting the proposal that blogging’s killing planning. As David Muir pointed out, our industry is presently under considerable pricing pressure, championing failing strategies, or even those on which the jury remains hung, is every bit as irresponsible as some of the worst excesses of our creative colleagues. So, I’m sorry Richard, but the ‘mild genius’ epithet must surely remain in your locker until Persil’s share data starts to head northwards, or at least ‘til the intermediate measures suggest that’s on the horizon.
Last, I’ve failed. Judging by some of the comments, I’ve failed to make my point as clearly as I’d hoped and given that I’m in the communications business, that’s serious. So I’m going to have another quick go…
As I said, my concern about planning blogs is the model they present. Last time I tried to illustrate this by addressing a campaign’s effectiveness (or lack of it). This time I’ll turn to the other end of the ad development process.
Let’s take Richard’s ‘Pimp my Proposition’ post or Russell Davies’ ‘Maple Syrup Challenge’. On the one hand they can be seen as harmless fun, but on the other, the implication is, that if you can shoot accurately enough from the hip, you don’t need to bother finding out what the problems/opportunities are that face the brand/category before you start to unload.
And so to bread. I’ve no idea what would make a compelling proposition for bread, at least not without answering a few questions first. Are sales growing or falling? Who eats it? Who buys it? Are they different people? If so, targeting which of these groups represents the best means of increasing sales? Is it actually feasible to increase sales? Perhaps we should be trying to get people to trade up and buy more exotic and expensive bread. What are the barriers to this? Are they behavioural or attitudinal or practical? Humdrum stuff I know, but how can we possibly decide what the bread proposition might be if we don’t know who we’re talking to and what we hope they’ll think &/or do differently as a result of our intervention.
Another example: Richard tackles the car market in the same post and rustles up a smart and pithy proposition for Alfa, based on an article in magazine. But is the proposition right or even close to being so? I have no idea. I know that with your planning genealogy you’d never develop strategy by only flipping through the Sunday supplements Richard, but are you confident that the people reading your blog won’t? I think there’s sufficient evidence in the comments you receive to suggest that they might.
In 1974 Alan Hedges wrote the wonderful ‘Testing to Destruction’ and lamented the lack of attention to research and analysis at the front end of the process. Sadly I don’t think things have moved on that much in the intervening 32years. We planners are still too keen to jump to an answer without understanding what the problem is. (I know, I do it myself.) My fear is that blogging is exacerbating this tendency and in so doing it’s diminishing the planning discipline, which ultimately is to the detriment of us all.
I hope the coffee was good,
I disagree about the comment text limit. Its just that people tend to type whats in their head in short bursts of response. Every now and again you get someone who has a planned or stream of conciousness comment which runs for much longer.
I have never found any actual enforcement or even a hint of suggestion that comments should be short. But I get the point.
Again, I think that the good planners will always be able to stop and understand the problem (or at least go back and ensure their thoughts were right!), much like bad planners will never do so.
I think your posts are worrying about a real issue, but I hope that most of the planners I know from the blogging world are much too good to fall into the trap of missing any part of the role.
See Beeker the Enforcer, Jan 17, above.
Ah I see, thanks.
Fair point. Though I do think that Beeker is mainly talking about brevity of language rather than shortness of comment.
Is there a danger in this debate that we assume there has ever been one planning? In some ways the debate may be not between blogging impressionistic stuff and proper research validated stuff. It may be an older argument than that. I was trained first at JWT and then at BMP and they were so different its amazing ‘planning’ got away with being called the same thing. I think John L is talking about JWT-descended planning (the appliance of ‘science’) while many Bloggers are interested in the BMP version (midwide to creative ideas) plus new (media ) developments traditionally the province of the media planner.
The other thing we might be careful to avoid is associating good vs bad thinking with either camp. I have met plenty of brilliant people (and also plenty of the sort) on every side of these arguments.
I like the idea of the public debate still. Or the fact there is one here. Hasnt John L also now destroyed his premise that his version of good planning isnt represented in the -sphere.
Incidentally I think this was ironic:
> It’s not enough to have an opinion. Anyone can have an opinion. The difference between a planner and an enthusiastic amateur, is that the planner’s opinion is informed by fact. Fact, as Sir Winston above says, that is unearthed by rather more prosaic work than sitting in a coffee shop on D’Arblay Street shooting the breeze with a bunch of agreeable mates.
Presumably John hasnt read Winston O’Bogle’s blog or comments. He is the most opinionated person out here. I have a theory he is actually a satirical fiction created by someone like Russell – the plannerspehere’s Martin Lukes.
I disagreed with most of John L’s comment of course. It reads like he is swiping at something he doesnt understand, which is natural of course. Especially as it is taking over the minds of his department in a red under the bed fashion. But the notion that people in traditional ad agencies have a more secure grip on reality or ‘the facts’ is very funny.
Until now I have been content to simply initiate and moderate this debate.
But the gloves are off now Lowery.
Your objection is not to the plannersphere your objection is to the way planning is changing – for the good of client and agency businesses alike.
I will come to this but first I want to deal with your little quibbles with the Plannersphere.
You know I have my reservations about the community because it is creating orthodoxy in its rejection of orthodoxy. But for most of your recent tirade you are simply point scoring.
1) You will find the plannersphere a remarkably civil place – that’s the thing about online communities, the are civil because of their dependence on reciprocal altruism – but you have to contribute to the community not just lambast it if you want people to be civil to you.
2) Please don’t quote Orwell out of context. I don’t think for a moment that he was a big fan of advertising but that quote is about consumers more than our business. He is likening consumers to pigs and all advertisers have to do to get their attention is bash the sides of the swill bucket and they come running.
3) John Grant is actually one of the few planners online that obsesses about the business results that activity delivers – he is very critical of Honda, I suspect shares some of your views about Persil and you should hear him talk about the cataclysmic decline of Stella Artois – a brand you are reasonably familiar with.
4) I have no problem with long comments because they tend to add real substance to the debate. If other bloggers can’t cope because of rampant ADD that’s their problem. Long comments are always welcome here.
5) I have little affection for strategies that don’t work. And yes the fortunes of Persil has taken the shine of DiG for me. But I still love the thinking – that is allowed you know.
And that brings me to the real deal.
I’m just not sure I buy your approach to strategic thinking – in fact I think it is on its way out and that is what has riled you about the plannersphere – the planning and the planners not the online conversation.
It was the Granddaddy, Stephen King who remarked that “Facts only make sense in the light of an idea”.
You delve in the data trying to figure out whats is going on and I come up with ideas. The very ideas you pour scorn on.
Then I test them to destruction. Yeah maybe the Alfa idea (Couture in sheet steel) wouldn’t survive the light of scrutiny and if it didn’t that is fine by me. But at least the start point was interesting not some ghastly meander through strategic cliche.
You see the creators of the idea are now planners and not creatives. Or rather the creators of the idea are the creative generalists in an agency and not the creative craftspeople. These days planners have to have the idea not just frame the problem.
And where do we get those ideas? Sometimes, yes sometimes from the data, sometimes from the groups, sometimes from the client (Honda’s Positive Hate for instance) and sometimes from magazine articles dear boy. And sometimes, just sometimes I get them from my own pretty little head (that’s the thin slicing that Gladwell talks of by the way)
I love the idea of Dirt is Good, I wish I had created it. But if it doesn’t work it its off my Christmas card list (incidentally you should read Jon Steel’s observations about DiG and the work he did with JWT and M&B in Persil to resolve them). But I remain convinced that the path to a great idea is ‘interesting first, right second’.
And that will remain my professional mantra because that is the path I believe creative strategists like us need to travel to be of help to businesses in the future.
Is that not one of huge benefits of planning blogs, they allow both types of planners to discuss issues from both sides.
It feels like most of the planning blog world is the ‘BMP’ style; maybe this whole debate should be seen as a call for more ‘JWT’ style planners to make their voices heard.
On that final point Richard:
Right can fail if it is not interesting
Interesting can’t succeed if its not right
Orwell was kinder to us than Lenin who described advertisers (and their agencies by implication) as the maggots feeding on the rotting corpse of capitalism. He also had a pleasant line about kings being strangled by the entrails of the last priest. Now that is uncivil language. This, on the other hand, has been the best debate I’ve came across on any blog. Much more interesting than all that ‘what is an idea’ nonsense we (myself included) were wittering on about before xmas.
when I said ‘any blog’ I meant any planning blog. There are, of course, many interesting debates going on in the real world.
As someone currently outside the industry (boo hiss!), I find all those bad metaphors for advertisers quite amusing. The vast majority of ad people ive met (including people at most of the main agencies) have been nice genuine people.
Except one. One had horrible people..!
But Phil, doesn’t that say it all; interesting debates are going on… then someone puts in a different opinion, then we have an even more fascinating debate. Victory for blogs and planning I say!
Agree. In amongst all the unsubstantiated opinion which must be taken with a pinch of salt, there are occasional gems which tend to find their way into some presentation I’ll be working on. Like the TGI data on the decline in people thinking ads were as entertaining as the programmes or the DIG results above which directly contradict what some bod from P&G told me – I’ll maybe introduce him to his entrails when I meet him next.
Most of John Grant’s rather bad tempered little post above is devoted to quibbling with John Lowery (a man so patently JG’s intellectual superior that reading the exchange is like watching a gnat attacking an elephant) but in the midst of it he manages to take a swipe at me AND spell my name incorrectly. I feel compelled to point out, rather wearily, that as my blog is neither by a planner or about planning then it’s rather irrelevant to the debate. I’d also like to dispel any suggestion that Russell Davies writes it, or that he’d be capable of doing so. I mean, I know you guys all love him and I’m sure he’s a lovely chap but I have searched in vain for an original thought or interesting opinion on his blog and come up with nothing. No, he is not The Walrus. I am the Walrus.
Seeing as I’m being rude to everyone: John Lowery! If you believe that great planning is inseparable from great executions then for the sake of your own self-respect you must resign from the eponymous Grey immediately. Come on, do it. You’re a clever man and you know I’m right.
I dont often agree with you Sir Wincey, but damn it if you are one funny comment writer!
This could well be the most fun I’ve ever had on someone else’s blog.
Proof for the importance of this passionate debate Sweden’s primary advertising/marketing source Resumé has an article referring to the discussions. The article just refers to Richards and John’s opposite opinions, whereas the comments on the article get’s right back into discussion going on here. So for any of you capable of understanding all the Æ, Å, Ä, and Ö’s of the fine Swedish language, here is the article:
I don’t understand any Swedish. But my favourite bit is:
‘VAD FAAAN ÄR EN PLANNER????’
This is all quite brilliant. Isn’t it wonderful that even when we’re having a pop at each othern we manage to remain polite, just about?
“I don’t understand any Swedish. But my favourite bit is:
‘VAD FAAAN ÄR EN PLANNER????'”
Does it really matter? As long as the work get’s done and nobody gets killed does it really, really matter? It’s only advertising afterall.
I don’t think you will find many planners (bloggers or not) who would argue with the notion of figuring out the lay of the land before deciding on a strategy, direction etc. (all the questions you ask in your bread example). In fact Richard has recently written about the fact that big ideas come from big problems and/or that thinking differently about the problem often gets you to a more inetersting solution. But to do that, you have to develop hypotheses to the problem/answer as your going through that thought process rather than being deductive about the whole thing – how else do you get to the kinds of different answers.
Taking a subjective approach to figuring out the answers, what you call shooting from the hip, then seeing if we can lead consumers there seems a better way to apply lateral thinking to issues than expecting research to give us the objective answers. Most research and data looks backwards – shouldn’t we be trying to lean forwards?
The same point applies to new models of planning or business. The blogosphere is the perfect place to debate/figure out how we might think. The application or testing comes in our day jobs. We don’t have the resources or means to beta test or get academia to do the work for us – why not do it here?
Winston O’Boogie wrote:
> a man so patently JG’s intellectual superior that reading the exchange is like watching a gnat attacking an elephant
I told you he was opinionated ;)
It seems we got off to a bad start because I was upset by John’s original quoted comment about young planners today and blogging which I found condescending ( eg words like ‘pontification’). And clearly he didnt enjoy my ‘cheap shot’ – analysis paralysis at Grey – anecdote, although it was arguably introducing a fact into the debate (and was anyway long before his tenure there). But like he says, we are also grown ups & there is room for spiky debate. On my side I am sorry for any offence caused (and please lets not turn a fascinating debate into a ruck) although it sounds like very little was taken.
I’ve reread John Lowery’s posts and actually I suspect we agree on most points raised in this thread as Richard said.
Here’s a sample of his comment:
>And so to bread. I’ve no idea what would make a compelling proposition for bread, at least not without answering a few questions first. Are sales growing or falling? Who eats it? Who buys it? Are they different people? If so, targeting which of these groups represents the best means of increasing sales? Is it actually feasible to increase sales? Perhaps we should be trying to get people to trade up and buy more exotic and expensive bread. What are the barriers to this? Are they behavioural or attitudinal or practical? Humdrum stuff I know, but how can we possibly decide what the bread proposition might be if we don’t know who we’re talking to and what we hope they’ll think &/or do differently as a result of our intervention.
Here’s something I posted last week on developing new brands:
>The first step is to understand the intended target audience… By agreeing roughly who you need to appeal to (which is often dictated by the physical nature and uses of the product) it is possible to focus on those cultural territories which stand more chance of being relevant. Next it is important to analyse how the existing market works. What cultural territories are typically already taken? Which product types are gaining in share and importance? Which needs are met, and indeed which needs are not met? What factors affect current customer decisions? What is the role of the brand within the (often complicated) retail situation? What changes just happened, which the market is struggling to catch up with?
I suspect we have different models of brand marketing, different estimations of the importance of advertising in the mix, different examples we like to quote, and for all I know different hairstyles. We seem to disagree about whether blogging is a good thing. But I dont think we disagree about the importance of (sometimes tedious) working through haystacks of market information to find one needle of insight you can base a strategy on.
What a glorious jumble of facts and ideas.
And isn’t that what all of this is about – facts and ideas?
John is frustrated that, in the fun everyone is having talking about ideas, the facts are being ignored.
Others here are worried about the opposite – that in the diligent search for facts, ideas can get sidelined.
But most of us agree on one thing – that you need facts AND ideas. Good!
Where we disagree is on what order you should think about them…Facts then ideas, or ideas then facts?
And this is where, John, I think you’re being disengenious, unfair or both.
Too often, deliberately or otherwise, you confuse a good point…
A) we need facts and ideas
With a bad one…
B) people should think in this order.
Why should we think in this order? Leonardo didn’t think in this order. Einstein didn’t think in this order. If it’s good enough for them, I’ll think in any order I like, thank you very much. And so should you.
A is a good point – it’s reasoned, it’s well argued, and it’s a welcome contribution.
But B? that’s just your opinion, your prejudice, your bias.
It’s an idea, not backed up by fact…strangely, the very think you started by railing against.
Ahaan.. ok my 2 cents, prolly been said by diff ppl in diff ways but here goes:
Blogging is good for planning cause it allows you to exchange diverse views + talk to lots of different ppl – simplistic POV.
I actually read a bunch of blogs before I even think about research or a brief or a prez just to get a wider perspective
As a young planner, it’s given me the chance to learn from, debate with, talk to – lots more ppl than I would’ve had the chance to in a conventional manner.
Given me access to info and insights
Danger – only if we take ourselves far too seriously! How can planners not communicate, talk or debate or have passionate points of view on everything – surely this is intrinsic to our nature. And this debate pretty much proves that.
I used to be a quant researcher – lots of AI and terciles and tracking tools and pre testing models. Didn’t always enjoy it but am glad I did that cause it taught me how to analyse data, work my way thru facts without discounting them (and if necessary play with the pre test pass mark) Learnt that its important to be aware of the danger of using a research tool badly. And how to get value outta things that planners are taught to traditionally disregard.
Research – both organised and non trad can help churn ideas.. and it’s worked for me on a coupla brands…
But lots of time, I’ve had ideas from conversations, youtube randomness etc too – seeing more, stimulating my mind more. And to me, thats what the plannersphere does – triggers off a chain of events inside my head every now and then that allow me to do a better job of what I do. And keeping in mind, I’m a young planner.. new to India (well home, but new as in work) where planning is nascent and we don’t have a Russell or a Richard or an APG or any of that – it’s just another bonus. how can it kill planning? the premise of planning for me is exploration of views and ideas and beings and cultures and things that people do differently. And using that to develop an insight that makes sense in light of your brand’s unique issues.
blogging is just another way helping me do that. so unless it becomes the ONLY way, or an exclusive domain or some kinda online recycle bin – me, I’m all for the plannersphere!
I’m off to design a t shirt for planners who do blog now… ha!
This ongoing brilliant debate is proof enough that blogging is good for planning. :)
At first I thought the idea of blogging killing planning was absurd. Theoretically there’s a danger that if we spend all our time on blogs we might deservedly find ourselves without a job, or that all this self-congratulating intellectualising could leave us too far removed from the real world to be of any real use. As Dougie suggests, maybe we should get out more. I think we’re safe however from these extremes. So surely blogging killing Planning is a preposterous proposition that allows us to indulge in plenty of intellectual posturing, which we evidently enjoy, but is no more a threat to planning that reading too many books or going to a planning meeting for a bit of catch-up.
That’s what I thought, until I read this unfolding debate.
Ignoring the joyful academic point scoring, such as what Wilde did or did not say, (is that how kids at posh schools have scraps?), there is something here which does represent a real threat. And that’s the suggestion that we can skip the fact-finding part of developing sound strategy and instead jump straight to coming up with interesting ideas wherever they may come from. I’ll explain why this concerns me later.
First though, I should lay my cards on the table, as requested by Jason Lonsdale, here is a rank-and-file Planner at Grey. And to answer your question, proving or inspiring? It has to be both. I don’t believe you’re any good as a planner unless you can do both.
Now before I get to the issue, I think there’s plenty we all agree on, or at least hope we do. Firstly, do we all agree that we should use information from a wide range of sources to inform our strategies and ideas? Everything from tracking studies to factory visits to Heat magazine. Being able to use and analyse data from all these sources is core to our role and if you think you can skip it you’ll spend a lot of time explaining why sales didn’t go up when you had a gut feel they would.
Secondly, can we all agree that the Planner has to be creative to develop interesting strategies? Our role is to help make more effective and more engaging communications, and dry briefs don’t do this. So we can’t stop with some facts, we also have to use our creative skills to find an interesting answer. I’ve been asked before, am I creative strategist or a analytical one, which is similar to Jason’s question, and I don’t like the way the question infers you have to be one or other. As I say, to be any good you’re going to have use both sides of your brain, we need creative solutions based on strategy that is factually sound. Again, I think in reality we’d all agree with this.
So to the issue: my concern is about the order we do things in, in particular the suggestion that in the new world of planning we can skip the boring fact finding bit and instead jump straight to the fun bit, the coming up with ideas, as with Richard’s mantra ‘Interesting first, right second’. Richard writes:
“You delve in the data trying to figure out whats is going on and I come up with ideas. The very ideas you pour scorn on. Then I test them to destruction.”
So rather than develop a sound strategy based on analysis that we can confidently stand-up and say will solve the problem, we can skip all that and just come up with interesting ideas and test whether they work or not. Presumably we’ll have to keep coming up with ideas and testing them until we find one that works. Isn’t this taking quite a random approach to problem solving that potentially wastes everyone’s time?
And why will this kill planning? Because creatives are brilliant at coming up with random ideas, they don’t need us to do it for them. Richard suggests that they don’t, that it’s the planners that do, but I see creatives coming up with ideas all the time, they’re very good at it. So, seeing as we’re skipping the analysis and strategy development part of the process and jumping straight to ideas, we might as well take planning out of the process: account management can give the brief straight to the creatives; they can come up with random but interesting ideas using a scatter gun approach, and then we can test them to see which, if any, work. There’ll be no planning, we can either become the researchers at the end of the process or, if we’re good enough at ideas, we can realise our dreams and go from being creative strategists to joining the creative department. This isn’t a new world of planning, it’s the old world of advertising where planning didn’t exist.
Which is an issue, because I like my job, particularly the part where I come up with ideas, but to keep it I’ve got to come up with strategies that work so as not waste everyone’s time. And to do that, I need to do the analysis first.
Investment in new research technologies has increased dramatically over the past decade.
Alarmingly, the quality of advertising in the past decade has decreased dramatically.
That’s what I think of research and analysis.
Fascinating – 76 comments – is this a record Richard? Hugely entertaining too – almost comical – but then a gaggle/skein/rope/overhead – of planners often is.
I believe that great planning is about synthesis rather than analysis -the ability to recombine many different sources of stimulus and reassemble them in surprising new combinations. James Webb Young wrote about this in the 40s and recently Steel mentioned it in his new book.
Webb’s view – that I concur with wholeheartedly incidently – is that Ideas are the product of the constant enrichment of your store of general and specific knowledge. I see that both qual and quant has a role to play – as does film, literature, music, architecture, anthropology, logistics, design, philosophy, semiotics, ethnography, journalism – in fact the list is endless. The key to effectiveness – as opposed to merely efficiency (the endless amount of media rather than brand equity measurement tools…yawn) – is the study and development of ‘Actionable Human Insights’ that lead to future sustainable cashflows.
Advertising that doesnt work – i.e. satisfy the above definition IMHO is rather unhelpful.
I have been looking back recently at Ogilvy, Lois (especially Lois – check ‘What’s The Big Idea’ – genius), Krone and Gossage – and what strikes me is that we seem to have lost a certain respect for our clients and their businesses. If your not selling with your communications – what exactly are you doing that will provide future sustainable cashflows?
Is Richard right to encourage ideas based thinking then write a proposition to fit the idea then test it? Of course – providing the tools used for testing are accurate (not the focus group – ever) and providing he has done the synthesising process well enough (see above).
Is it right to do hours of rigourous data analysis and eliminate as much doubt as possible (JL)? Of course. Both are perfectly acceptable approaches and thankfully we have a blog culture where these ideas can be shared.
Is blogging killing planning? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her front?
Meanwhile back at the intellectualising and posturing… :)
John Lowery & several supporters argues for basing assertions on fact and against empty opinionated notions.
His proposition is that blogging is killing planning.
On what factual basis does he make that claim?
– is planning dying?
– based on what measures?
– agreed by who as a measure of ‘good planning’?
– what is causing the decline? (eg I imagine crises of confidence in advertising agencies might also have an effect?)
– have these changes occured within the last 9 months? (which is probably the average planner-blogger exposure)
– can he rule out other factors? (for instance is he simply more exposed to young planners’ thinking by blogs)
– and other explanations? (eg there has been a temporary setback in planning due to confusion caused by meeting a more diverse set of ideas and opinions, but tthe longterm prognosis is good based on eg cognitive studies in education)
I’m assuming of course that planning isnt dying. So nothing can be killing it. But I’d like to hear some evidence either way.
Evidentally Planning is certainly not killing Blogging… ;)
Not a criticism as such, but just a point that most of the comments supporting JL’s statements have come from other Grey staff.
Is there something they know we dont, or is it a case of they have all learnt/found the same thing?
I read the discussion/debate and wonder what this discussion/debate is really about? Is it really about planners who blog and the ‘plannersphere’ or is it about the definition of what planning is/what planning is evolving to?
(I wouldn’t be a good planner if I didn’t want to peel back the layers of the onion now would I?)
It doesn’t seem like a New School vs. Old School debate…but more evolutionary growing pains discussion.
Yes, I think this is a New School versus Old School debate – the blogging bit is really rather irrelevant.
And I suppose you could level the accusation that the debate is simply raking over old turf (ohh there’s a dead metaphor Orwell would have hated). But I think we need to have this out.
And maybe this looks like planners having a pointless and unedifying strop with each other. But, as the architects of brand strategy and the given revenue potential of really good ideas, I think this debate is absolutely relevant to anyone trying to make a creative contribution to business success.
Are we experiencing Plannicide? There’s certainly some evidence that planning isn’t the healthiest of beasts at the moment.
The evidence for decline lies in increased difficulties agencies have in defending the cost of planning in procurement discussions. Why pay for us when they can get all we offer elsewhere?
Planning is a wonderful hybrid of brand and business insight, consumer understanding and creative thinking. It is this hybrid nature that is being picked apart, our ailment is akin to being nibbled to death by ducks.
Media strategists are often great at the data and evaluation, sometimes also on the creative thinking but weaker on the brand stuff; qualitative agencies good at the consumer bit but not so respected by their clients in other areas and brand consultants often suffering from their inability to produce a creative product beyond Powerpoint.
But they don’t get it all, they get bits that are rarely greater than the sum of its parts. Those of our clients we have who have initially refused to pay for planning inevitably need it at some point – if for no other reason than needing someone to pull it all together.
The only solution to the duck nibbling is to ensure that in everything we do we are as rigorously professional as both John G and John L are in their work. Whether it is fact first or inspiration first is irrelevant, a question of personal style and agency culture more than anything but we must do both and everything else if our value is to be recognised.
And the survival of planning as a rigorous discipline is important for more than just ad agencies. Media and digital agencies will need this planning themselves and brand consultants, well they have to come from somewhere too.
Spot on, Phil.
Don’t disagree that planning is looking a bit poorly at times and prone to what Merry B called “gonzo” planning (at times at least). Or, that the prognosis is in some ways dreary (outside the 2 Gents, you, Richard etc, of course).
But maybe blogging (whatever we think that is) is nothing to do with this phenomenon….(not sure I spotted a causal link in all of the posts…)
But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway here’s a thought.
One of the few times I met Stephen King (at some APG do) he seemed a bit non-plussed that Planning was still more or less as he and Stanley had envisaged it all those years ago and “disappointed that no-one had come up with a better idea in all that time”.
IOW Planning was just a codified version of a particular response to a particular set of conditions and time and place in adland. They did great stuff (and poor stuff) stuff before planning, like we do now.
The real question is not about planning but about what our business needs, who’s going to do it and how…
(and yes, both Johns may be right but there will also be other answers).
Hey just seen this on logic and emotion – maybe agile creativity for us is at the intersection of facts and ideas.
Didn’t Orwell call advertising, “the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket”? I bet he’d have made a fantastic copywriter.
Having been a copywriter myself for six years and a planner for the last six months, I know which I prefer. The excellent debate here merely confirms it for me ;)
This is all VERY interesting.
In conclusion, I think we all need to remember that without advertising there would be no planning (if you think about it, it makes sense).
George Orwell never wrote a blog, so he can keep his opinions to himself (he’ll have to because he’s dead – I checked on the internet).
My guide on how to write a great blog is GREAT for planners like us and the rest of them too:
Get back to work you f***ers
Sorry I’ve not been able to recommit myself to the fray, Mrs Lowery gave birth to our third daughter (at least that’s what my research tells me) over the weekend and things have been a bit hectic since.
I have another slightly different pov on this debate to come when I get a chance to piece it together, but in the meantime I leave you with a question…
When Richard corrected my interpretation of Orwell, proposing that he was not portraying the advertising industry as the rattlers of swill-sticks, rather that he was likening consumers to pigs, why did no one protest? (Not to Orwell, thanks Olidee, to Richard.) Personally I always thought of consumers as people.
So I came across this fantastic blog stream about whether blogging is undermining planning, “killing the discipline” as it were. And I immediately agreed with the AdLiterate, that in fact blogging is the best thing that’s ever happened to planning. I agree with the key benefits of blogging: community/networking, beta testing ideas, collective intelligence, etc.
I do feel the pain of planners like John Lowery who bemoan the fact that relying on blogosphere babble keeps planning newbies from learning core planning tools and skills – providing them a “pass” on the craft, as it were. I think it’s critical to realize that blogging is a nice new skill to add – but not a replacement for more classic skills.
As a planning head I have 2 takeaways on that topic, one good and one bad: 1. people like me who have those skills are increasingly valuable; and 2. finding those people is getting more and more difficult.
I was trying to think of something heart warming to add but as I’m not a father myself it felt a bit weird, so I’ll stick to the basics.
I can’t believe you lot have let Lowery off the hook just because he has had a baby. Where does it say that there should be a cessation of hostilities during paternity leave?
Congrats on the birth of your child John.
Anyway, to get back to the Orwell quote, I’d go along with Richard’s interpretation. Read ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’, 1984 or Coming up for Air – Orwell had a pretty dim view of humanity at times.
The former has some wonderful critiques of the business, especially as the central character is a former copywriter.
Let us not forget that mass-market advertising was a fairly new device, and levels of trust were complicit with the success of the ads.
Aw Rich – you can’t have a scrap when someone produces a baby.
Once he gets back we’ll have to see if the rumours about him leaving Grey are true…
Based on the volume of comments that are in violent agreement, would it not be fair to say that John Lowery has done the plannersphere (it’s very sticky that word) a favour, and correctly raised the flag for more discussion on the application of up front analytical rigour?
Is it possible that the polarisation of the debate emerges from trying to compare Grey advertising with say United London’s outlook on what is important for planning? Don’t they generally have different priorities? From Asia it appears like trying to compare why statistics mean more in say larger populations like China where the yet to be filled, three gorges dam project is predicted to fractionally tilt the axis of this planets rotation when it fills up: http://preview.tinyurl.com/2vdtra and say a sexy proposition such as Richard’s “Couture in Sheet Steel”. One is about shifting a lot of inexpensive FMCG across many countries and the other about cranking up the style attributes of what ostensibly is a small car brand.
Numbers drive volume-brands’ decision-making-processes and all too often they do it excessively. It follows that the advertising is invariably dull at best and the height of mediocrity at worst….but not always, so my question is how can statistical rigour be implemented to support any creative reengineering. Does any of this matter in the world of Tivo? Are we rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Can I change the topic one more time? ;)
It’s all good stuff and as long as The Superbowl remains the world’s favourite airtime advertising analysis event. What happens if the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony suddenly changes who is the big Kahuna in TV spots?
As a parting shot before may I highlight that the Podcast link I’ve provided, of Dr. Moira Gunn interviewing UC Business school professor Peter Navarro is essential for marketers and those who pay attention to figures, particularly peasant to consumer demographics. It references the unsustainable development that is happening before our eyes and to which our clients and the marketing communications industry is contributing to unconditionally. Isn’t there a real communications problem here that as John Grant neatly summarises, both facts and ideas can probably solve? Take some time out to listen if you can. You can T-cut the car at the same time this weekend if you like!
I feel a bit humbled by the presence of far more experienced planners then myself, but I’d like to add my five cents anyway.
It is an ‘old school versus new school debate’ and the fact that John L sees the threat of the new school materialised in planning blogs puts him firmly on the ‘old school’ side of things.
The question is if the old school was really that different? I’ve had lengthy discussions with veteran trade journalists who complained that most planners today are too analytical (researchers, psyhologists, economists, …). As opposed to the ‘good old days’, where planners tended to be recruited among senior creatives and creative directors who grew into the job because they wanted to do something else and where remotely interested in the facts and research side as well. (this might be a really local situation, but I found it significant).
I’ve had quite a big run-up in research (both during my studies as during internships and early jobs) and that was the reason I landed my first agency job. Which was also the reason the aforementioned journalist was quite sceptical about me.
The research background worked well in the beginning, but I didn’t really grow and I certainly wasn’t the great source of inspiration for creatives a planner should be. I always had ‘the facts’ and I could base my strategy on solid research data, but I didn’t really let it go and often used it as a safety cord in briefing discussions and idea development.
It wasn’t until I started writing more (and dared to ‘shoot from the hip’ from time to time), which turned into blogging later, that I developed my ‘idea’ capabilities. A process which was a lot more arduous than learning how to deal with data, different kinds of research and, god forbid, tracking studies.
I believe the facts-part is something that can easily be learned (and should be learned for that matter).
But the curiousness, the open mind, the audacity to come up with ideas, the willingness to take responsibility when they don’t work, the courage to speak to clients about ideas and not just about numbers,…. doesn’t come in book or course-form. It takes a lot of courage and work and I’ve got the impression that some ‘old school’ planners are condemning it because they’re scared shitless and don’t know where to start.
I believe that planners who stick to ‘facts’ and don’t move on will find themselves turned into brand consultants or researchers overnight. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think they really have a place in the agencies of tomorrow.
The value of research has been criticised further up this thread but that’s an important part of the discussion as well. What will remain valuable will be very specialised and specific, and thus far cheaper to outsource.
In a way it make me angry when people demonise and dismiss research. In every area of life that matters we respect research because it tells us whether a drug actually works or whether crime is rising or falling.
What we do must be subject to the proof provided by research either at the outset or in evaluation – or at best both.
I guess much of our distaste for research comes out of our experience of what this really means in marketing. So often the ‘research’ concerned is not real data on consumer behaviour but ‘mock’ data on claimed behaviour and consumer opinion hastily gathered and irresponsibly delivered.
The proponents of rigour have my admiration and respect but they better be sure the research they cling onto is itself robust.
Can someone please call the APG or the IPA and see if they are interested in publishing a book of these comments?
I think you guys have reached the effective limit of the internet medium.
I might have a slightly skewed vision on things since most of the research budgets that are allocated in Belgium are far too small because of the size of the market. Unfortunately, a lot of marketers still prefer bad research to no research, start basing your strategies on that.
On the other hand: I know quite a few people who are busy with new and interesting research concepts which tell me more than classic tracking studies. In the past year I’ve seen incredible stuff with video diaries for example, and the web makes it possible to do this on a much larger scale, which made it quantifiable in the end. I had the data to base my strategy on, and a lot of interesting stuff to show to and inspire creatives.
We should stimulate a ‘researchsphere’, and get all the good market researchers out there to start blogging… see what happens there.
This self referential post is the 100th.
I think the moral of the story here is that neither research or creative thought are replacable as planning tools. Its just a case of where you are on the spectrum as to which is your first port of call.
Research FactOriginal Idea
All I have to say is that if I ever throw a party—I’m inviting lots of planners. That way I know there will never be a lull in the conversation. :)
Dave O’Hanlon emailed me with this comment:
“I think different working cultures draw the line between what the planner does and what the creatives do in different places and that determines how you add value as a planner and what amounts to doing a good job.
“I suspect that on this continuum Grey is at one end (creatives do ideas, planners don’t) while freelance folks like Mr Grant are at the other and are certainly expected to come up with ideas. Other cultures will lie at various points in between.”
By the way I have reopened comments if you want to make a contribution to the debate
As a creative director, I’ve learned more about your species and gained more respect for planners in the last few months of tracking some fabulous blogs than I have in the balance of my years in advertising.
Good planners, with a creative flair, make this an exciting business to be in. In fact, perhaps blogging is a way for them to emerge from behind the piles of research and data as the real thinkers in the business.
Blogging isn’t killing planning, advertising agencies are.
As the lines between communications channels blur so do the lines between sales, service, HR and delivery. The uncovering of insights that drives solutions not just across channels but across business becomes even more important.
In an older, simpler world, agencies often operated in this way. Mr Kipling is probably the best known example. Over the years however fragmentation of media and agencies and the fact that TV’s first place on the marketing plan has been replaced by search has meant that they are no longer the first port of call, rarely sit at the top table and have limited impact on business bar broadcast communications.
In the current structure classic agency planning just can’t do the job. Incidentally neither can brand, media, data, digital, communications, process and change management planners, especially when they are tied to a particular channel or discipline solution.
Until agencies change their structures, remuneration and skills and consequently their remit planners will continue to operate with one, if not both hands behind their backs.
Teams of multi-discipline “T” shaped planners, with core skills but an understanding of others, no vested interest in channel delivery, with remuneration tied to the performance of the solution would be a start.
Sorry for joining this late.
Last time I saw Richard he chided me for not having ever posted particularly after he had namechecked me for indulging in a bit of bahhumbuggery on the perils of hiring planners on the strength of their blogging.
Last year someone trying to get that elusive first planning job mailed me a presentation about the future of communications – it was brilliant – it effortlessly namechecked half a dozen seminal works published since 2000, it incorporated bits of futurism which used to be impossible to get hold of unless you had access to the information dept of a top 20 agency. It made interesting and lateral leaps of imagination – or appeared to. Actually none of the thinking was original but had been synthesised briliantly and persuasively argued. When the author was still trying to get his first job. Even before the arrival of the web graduate trainees have been prone to do this but since then the performance curve of the wannabes is off the map.
What are we to make of this? Well at one level it is a fantastic display of hive mind a collective intelligence which the internet amplifies. And how many of us are really original thinkers – advertising doesn’t automatically reward original thinking – in fact I could argue it does the opposite.
Nor am I against faking it – I would love there to be a contest in the spirit of the TV series where a school leaver is taken off the street and put in front of a client or a bevy of planning directors with a couple of 3 year old planners to see if they could spot the fake. In fact I would recommend that we attempt this at the next APG creative planning awards – it wouldn’t hurt to prepare a dummy casestudy or two and try to smuggle a couple of fakes under the radar to see if we could coach them through the final presentation to see if they got rumbled. And it might stop us taking ourselves QUITE so seriously.
So blogging doesn’t teach us how to write creative briefs? Well the planning school of the web could fix that one. Actually we could quite effectively teach basic skills which would give a junior planner a basic facility from day 1.
What gives me pause is that none of this displays critical thinking. And that is what the planner is required to do – to be willing to challenge account handling complacency and creative apathy – and win them over to – the raw materials for this may not be readily available in the latest wunderposting. Great work doesn’t emerge from consensual thinking – and it doesn’t emerge straight away. There are plenty of twists and turns and false trails. Someone has to walk through them or put up the no go signs.
What concerns me is that we might have replaced ed a face to face apprenticeship process with something which looks much more sophisticated and is much cheaper to replicate – but which has no bearing on the reality of getting good work out of the door by cajoling a whole account team. Is blogging the equivalent of posting critical reviews till someone can get a job as a critic without every having been to the theatre?
Can I get a copy of the presentation John?
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