If the work is wrong, speak now or forever hold your peace


Cockfighting, like crap planning was a reprehensible practice I thought we had got rid of years ago.

I was talking to an eminent chap from the media world recently.

I was giving him my impression of media planners that was almost completely incorrect. He was giving me his impression of what we used to call account planners.

And I was rather shocked at what he said.

As far as he was concerned the problem with the planners he came across from the creative side of the fence was their myopic and ad-centric remit.
It seemed that him that these planners were locked into the old fashioned planning cycle of evaluation, brief writing, creative development and evaluation again.
In particular he accused them of seeming to have one primary purpose in his experience. To prove that the creative solution that had been presented to the client was the right one – whether it was good, bad or indifferent.
In other words the planners he met had abdicated their responsibility for ensuring that the work works and were paid to be the intellectual bitches of the creative director and a cadre of account people desperate to get work through at any cost.
In my shock I assured him that these sorts of shady practices had been consigned to the dustbin, as likely to take place as bear baiting, the ducking of witches and the evisceration of convicted criminals.
But there ain’t no smoke without fire plannerkind.
Our job is not to tow the agency line at any cost regardless of whether we believe in the line being drawn. Our job is not to do groups behind the client’s back in the desperate hope that they will throw a lifeline to un-bought work. Our job is to do nothing that will compromise the effectiveness of the work.
Account handlers get fired if the work doesn’t happen, creatives get fired if the work is no good and planners get fired (or should get fired) if the work doesn’t work. It is as simple as that.
Clearly if you have work that is staggeringly good, makes you unutterably excited and that you simply know (whether from your gut or your research) will get the tills ringing faster than the polar ice caps are melting then put every fibre of your being into getting it made and out in front of the people that matter. And give the craft disiplines the space and freedom to make the work magical.
If you think the work isn’t up to scratch at anystage of the process it is your professional duty to represent that point of view to the agency and the client alike. And to do something about it.
Whatever stage of production the work is in.
If you think the rough cut isn’t right, that there needs to be a price, that the work is poorly branded, that the grade is wrong, the photographer’s book is inappropriate for the audience or there needs to be a voice over rather than supers then it is down to you to sort it out.
By god you’d better be right of course.
But if you are right and you sit on your hands, the work doesn’t work, the account gets reviewed, and you lose the business, guess who should be getting their marching orders ahead of everyone else?
Of course I’m sure this never happens these days and planners out there are all building brilliant brand strategies, helping to create astonishing executional solutions and fine tuning the work to within an inch of its life.
But on the off chance the media guy was right.
Cut it out.
You are damaging your personal and professional credibility and the discipline of planning in your actions.

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30 Replies to “If the work is wrong, speak now or forever hold your peace”

  1. What’s interesting is that this reminds me of the conflict of interest happening on Wall Street back in the dot com days when the analyst’s role became putting out a good word for the clients of the investment banking division. Basically, rationalize why a piece a garbage stock with no revenue, customers or viable business model was a worthy a buy recommendation.

  2. Agree completely, but from the outside it strikes me that the creatives would expect a similar “right” to criticise your insights. Are you implicitly suggesting a complete revamping of the process towards a team approach in which every agency discipline is involved in every stage of the account?

  3. We all see loads of terrible work – all of which one presumes a planner worked on.
    Given creative agencies these days are essentially factories that produce TV ads, its hard to imagine a planner helping their career by pointing out to a client that the work being presented is schlock. The planners job is to sell the work – just like the suits and the producers.
    Increasingly planners are like architects who know all about Corbusier, Mies & Frank Gehry but spend their time designing ugly boxes. Planners read Russell, John Grant et al but then go back to working on the latest air freshener 30 second TVC.
    This is one reason why so many creative agencies are keen to get media people back in house – so they’ll OK the creative directors 2 minute opus or fat content heavy website rather than pointing out there is another way.
    Having gone back to the media side after a decade running digital creative agencies, I see that media isn’t perfect. But when it works well, comms planning from a media agency is much more productive than from a creative agency

  4. “Given creative agencies these days are essentially factories that produce TV ads”
    Simon, I’ve got to take issue with that.
    Some agencies are; but the best aren’t – they use media effectively, whilst considering all the options.
    Look at the work TBWA/Chiat/Day did for Rayban for example, the ‘Never Hide’ work. It’s a bloody clever campaign on both the Media and Creative planning sides.
    Look here:
    The company (Luxottica) who owns Rayban has posted seven straight rises in profit during the last 7 quarters, and first quarter profits are up 24%, curiously tying in with the Rayban brand and media campaign.
    And given the vast amounts of people wearing classic (Blues Brothers esque) Raybans on the street, I’d say the campaign is working – and that it’s a great example of the fusion between Media and Creative.
    Richard – one for the advocate?

  5. Yes there are some great campaigns about – but they are few and far between. Take a list of the UK top 20 agencies and tell me what great campaigns they have done this year.And tell me how many of those aren’t TV centric?

  6. Simon, I won’t argue that for certain agencies are incredibly TV centric, and that a lot of those agencies can be found in the top 20.
    But there’s got to be a reason for that – namely, in my opinion, that they still view TV as a key medium for getting the overall brand message across. Which, in itself, isn’t right or wrong – it’s whatever is appropriate for the brand at the time.
    Ignoring the top 20 debate for a minute, I think the worm is turning. Look at the likes of Albion, Shop, W&K, Anomaly. All agencies which put a comms solution first, rather than an atypical ATL TV spot. Albion’s recent win of Ebay, W&K’s massive success, Shop and Anomaly’s growth point towards a changing landscape.
    Personally – I’m encouraged. The siloes you refer to, in my opinion, if they won’t die out, will be marginalised.
    And TV isn’t to be ignored in this new landscape, but used when the work requires it. Evidently, a lot of top 20 agencies/clients still believe it does.
    I’d be very reluctant to do a whistle stop, all media encompassing integrated campaign if I felt it trod lightly on all areas, rather than focusing on one medium effectively.
    There seems to be a tendancy in advertising to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater – if advertising isn’t dying, it’s not effective. So to answer this, I worry that a lot of agencies will think – ‘Let’s be as integrated as possible and try and avoid TV’.
    Which, in my view, is just as nonsensical as overly relying on the medium.
    In a nutshell – things are changing. Agencies are realising that communication has to be treated differently.
    And there will always be campaigns which miss the mark, and good, truly effective campaigns will always be few and far between – because advertising to an audience (with shifting desires, perceptions and opinions) is an alchemy.
    Often it can go horribly wrong; but some of the time you get gold.

  7. although I agree that creative agencies drive an agenda of making TV ads but I see they are trying to change this by getting media back to help them. I also believe and love to see that there are agencies out there truely changing this (good list of shops Will) I think we have missed one thing. We can argue media vs creative till the cows come home. But the truth is we all together have to help walk the client through this. They have only recently tried to break down their depts to allow for integration. Now a list of young media and account planners (Im guessing an ave of about 28-32 ish) are telling clients that are probably pushing 40 and have
    been in the game a bit that TV isnt the only option. ‘But its worked for me for years…. why should I listen to this young upstart’.
    I think we all have to work together to prove the viability and absolute need for our clients to move forward with the rate of change thats occuring. If we all dont change the line of our business models and move forward together. we are pretty much stuffed

  8. Goodness. Such hostility towards planners…
    “The planners job is to sell the work”
    I take a fair bit of umbrage at such a patronising and inaccurate characterisation of what the planning function is. I take double umbrage at a media person presuming to instruct planners on what they are there for. I could explain why you’re misguided. But I just can’t be bothered.
    “Its hard to imagine a planner helping their career by pointing out to a client that the work being presented is schlock”
    Well duh. Of course it is a struggle to imagine. Any planner who waits until the client meeting to intervene deserves a bullet in the neck.
    Me? I love media people. When they’re not patronising me

  9. Crap planning?
    I fear it happens all the time. Part of it is planners taking the path of least resistance or greatest political success, part of it the lack of skills to argue against the flow.
    We’ve all met planners who ‘don’t stack up’, they’ve been around great work, but fall apart when pressed on the contribution of planning in ‘getting the work out’.
    In my view it’s not about the ‘old media/new media’ argument, but about the dirth of really decent planners around.
    We’ve talked before about ‘planners getting laid by association’ and these, most likely, are the ‘this TV idea at all costs’ type of planner.
    I’d also value the planner who’ll fight and then fight again for an idea (TV or otherwise) that he believes to be right. The problem is there are so few out there like that.

  10. Reading it again, I’m aware of the contradiction above.
    What I meant, but didn’t have the craft skills to express (!) was that the planner shouldn’t be so easily swayed but prepared to argue his or her case be it with clients or with colleagues.

  11. “…Account handlers get fired if the work doesn’t happen, creatives get fired if the work is no good and planners get fired (or should get fired) if the work doesn’t work. It is as simple as that.”
    So, only a planners involvement will ensure it works?? Not to sure how literal you are being here and wouldn’t want to assume, but when something doesn’t work, the complete agency unit should be held accountable. Ditto in the reverse situation when accolades are dished out.
    Planners alone cannot ensure communications projects deliver clients the promised land and it’s pretty absurd to think like that. Planning is but one part of a complete process that has pretty equal weighting to other disciplines with the agency environment.
    I can think of effective communication campaigns that have worked with little/no planning. Yet I’m struggling to find a project that has worked with no creative direction/input (or account handling for that matter).
    Is this something you aspire to or have I missed the point?

  12. You never miss the point.
    It is simplistic but when all is said and done I look to the planner to be the guardian of effectiveness – to passionately care about whether something is going to work. That’s why we have planners. And if a campaign didn’t work the planner is, I’m afraid, the person I would hold accountable in the first instance.
    We have got to stop finding convenient places to hide as a discipline – creatives are accountable (in that their contribution is very public) and we need to be too.

  13. Richard, if effectiveness is borne of the combination of strategy and execution, I wonder if accountability for the work working really can be laid solely on anyone’s shoulders as you suggest.
    Creative after all can bugger up a decent strategy through inappropriate or bad executional expression. Media too can bugger up great strategy and excecution if the channel thinking and/or execution is poor.
    I wonder what the largest contributor to IN-effectiveness is. Bad strategy? Bad creative? Bad media? If it is true that we learn more from failure than success, perhaps we should have an IPA Ineffectiveness Award.
    Incidentally, you mention that you believe creatives to be accountable “in that their contribution is very public”. I’m not really sure what you mean….
    Maybe I’m being dim. What precisely, are creatives accountable for? If the only true and appropriate measure of work being ‘good’ is the effect is has, then are they not accountable for effectiveness as much as anyone?
    I’m with ‘mm’, it’s all a shared responsibility.

  14. planners – the thinking..
    creative – the talking..
    (account handlers provide the glue between all)
    both have equal connections with equal weighting in the comms development process; therefore any failure is a joint/team effort.
    Agree that everyone from planners to trafficing needs to be accountable for success/failure, but to isolate this into one discpline seems like a backward step. For me it gives the creatives a way out, and planners ownership of ideas – neither healthy scenarios.
    If this passion for effectiveness (whatever guise that may be) was shared across all agency disciplines/departments we might start to faciliate multi-discipline thinking/action/accountability. In a way unite different people with different views, thus resulting in a more robust strategy/plan/campaign.
    Who knows, it might remind employees at all levels, this is what we are paid to do, this is our specialism, this is our function.

  15. You have just voted for the abolition of planning.
    Why have it?
    We have it because there is one person in the team that never puts the expedient or the tempting above effectiveness regardless of how inconvenient this may be for agency or client.

  16. I would look it very simply and say that sometimes planning works but the rather obvious truth is that out there is much advertising that is bland, boring, is ineffective (however ‘ineffective’ is defined) and, at least this year, doesn’t even cut the mustard at Cannes. Hasn’t it always been true that about 10% of ads are good or great, around 40% are OK and the rest are drivel?
    Planning has always justified its existence by using the exception to prove the rule. (Or is it that they only get involved with the 10%?)

  17. “Planning has always justified its existence by using the exception to prove the rule. (Or is it that they only get involved with the 10%?)”
    Your words sent a bit of a chill down my spine.
    Because they’re so true.
    Made me think what a bunch of wankers planners must sound like so often.
    For every thrilling IPA/APG paper, are dozens of case studies in irrelevant, unremarkable rubbish.
    Perhaps Simon Andrews has got a point when he writes “Increasingly planners are like architects who know all about Corbusier, Mies & Frank Gehry but spend their time designing ugly boxes”

  18. Planners rarely get the opportunity to choose which ‘10% they get involved with’… although it might be the ‘10% they choose to be associated with’. And I’m not sure that Cannes is the best yardstick as probably only 10% have any genuine consumer involvement.
    Planners exist to make the work better; more relevant, more distinctive, more effective, more… whatever. If the work is better through their influence then their role doesn’t need justification.

  19. You’re right, Jemster. Often we don’t get to choose.
    But surely the issue is not whether planners get to CHOOSE if they work on the 10%…
    But rather, whether we’re working to TRANSFORM what we work on so that it is one of the 10%.
    Great planning isn’t about working on existing sucess stories.
    It’s about inventing new ones.

  20. Interesting viewpoints, but why drag cockfighting into the discussion in a negative context? Do you know anything about the sport yourself? Other than what you might, or might not have read at some RSPCA website.

  21. Celticfire is quite right. Nothing wrong with cockfighting. They love it. Not my cup of tea though. But plannerfighting… two pasty Cambridge graduates going at it with metal spurs on their loafers… that I’d pay to see.

  22. Speakiing as someone who did stand up and say that the work was crap, I can say from experience that it was not an easy thing to do nor did it have pleasant results in the short term. I received a call from my senior senior senior exec vp of the world account person saying what did I think I was doing, didn’t I realise I had a responsibility to my agency and this didn’t look very good for me going forward bla bla bla. 5 months of horribleness later where I had continued to work on the strategy and basically tricked the creatives into coming up with great completely new work, and all of sudden the client loves it, my senior senior account person thinks I am god’s gift to planning and everything is forgotten. Or is it?

  23. Max,
    Thankyou for contributing your personal experience. What you did was brave and clearly made for an extremely rough time – and who knows whether it is forgotten as you say. But it has got to be right to make a stand for effectiveness as a planner, otherwise what are we for – spend the money on some more creative teams.
    OK you might say that the shut up and trick the creatives into doing what you want would have been the best option all along but I for one can’t contemplate that kind of professional relationship.
    Either an agency wants planners or it doesn’t.
    Hope things stay good for you.

  24. Actually the funny thing is that in doing that, I got more respect from everyone including the senior people at the agency (of course also a reputation of being a right pain in the …) All I would say is that you have to be a certain type of person to do that. But maybe you have to be a certain type of person to be a planner.
    Also I wonder if there is a bigger topic here which is about what is “better” when it comes to the work. More interesting creatively, sells more boxes, makes the client look better (Ok last was only a joke). But that’s not only a bigger topic maybe but an old one. And I don’t know if anyone has personally solved it yet.

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