Image courtesy of stoopidgerl.

Only planners would have spent the summer celebrating their 40th birthday. Unless I am very much mistaken, the creative fraternity aren’t given to marking Bernbach’s marriage between art directors and copywriters or account handlers to commemorating the launch of Microsoft Excel for Windows. But the Johnny-come-lately of the advertising community has always felt the need to prove its contribution and to celebrate its survival.

And indulgent as it may have seemed, this bout of navel gazing gives us a clue to why planning has survived so long. Like anyone wrestling with a mid-life crisis the greatest thing that we planners fear is losing the youthful exhuberance of the discipline and settling down with a pipe and slippers to a life of comfortable predictablility.
The truth is that becoming part of the agency furniture is not just the greatest testament to planning’s success over the past 40 years it is also its greatest threat. It is precisely the point at which planning is taken for granted that real planning dies and those around it lose the will to live. Planning that is ordered up by clients and dished out by agencies for the simple reason that it is now part of the process on both sides. And planning where the principle output is not better work but acres of powerpoint created purely to serve that process. This is not planning, it is no doubt handy, but it is not planning.
You see planning has survived and prospered for so long for one reason alone. Not because we are part of the furniture but because we are utterly dispensable and we are at our best when we know it.
Only a fool would suggest that you need planners to create powerful and effective work. Not only was our business famous for delivering immensely powerful and effective work long before planning arrived on the scene but it also authored some of the most admired strategic ideas of all time. From ‘We’re number two, we try harder’ for Avis to Stella’s ‘reassuringly expensive’, both safely in the can before planning was even a twinkle in the eyes of Pollitt and King.
The only reason that planning was created and continues to have value is because when it’s good it increases the likelihood of producing powerful and effective work. If it is doing this then it has a potent role in the agency and a right to be part of its future, if it isn’t then it is probably time to pension the planners off and spend your money on a few more Swedish creative teams.
So forgive us our mid-life crisis, it is simply because planning, unlike the other disciplines, is only useful if it is being useful.

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