Can any planners still plan?


Something has started to distress me about the future of planning and strategy in advertising agencies.

And that is whether there will be any one left that can actually do the job.

I mean the real job of being a planner, the job of imagining new futures of the brands that clients ask us to nurse, nurture, accelerate and amplify.

I have long argued that while there are many ways strategists add value to their agencies and the business of their clients, the greatest contribution that we make is taking those brands to new places in the lives and minds of their customers. It is our ability to help brands and businesses re-invent the future that makes us most useful.

And yet I am beginning to lose count of the number of planners I come across in my wanderings that don’t want to do that. That either are not interested at all or who have little idea that this is what they are supposed capable of doing.

These planners seem to want to do one thing and one thing alone, something that they call making things.

Now I’m not against making things at all. I love John Willshire’s mantra to ‘make things people want not make people want things’ as much as the next person and I milked the Nike Fuel Band case study in conference speeches right up to the moment it was canned. I love making things and the ability of agencies to help clients in service design, product innovation and what we might call ‘tangible marketing’ is a powerful new capability that many of us are thoroughly enjoying.

But it’s the fascination with making stuff to the exclusion of all else that has me profoundly worried about plannerkind. You can see the vice like grip the idea has over younger planners for whom making something cool, funky and inconsequential seems more fun than having an actual commercial effect.

Because making stuff without making meaning is, in a word, meaningless. And it is making meaning for brands and businesses that is our actual day job, everything else is tactics ladies and gentlemen!

Image courtesy of rawdonfox



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2 Replies to “Can any planners still plan?”

  1. This is great food for thought here. Many of the marketing groups I’m working with struggle with the “more with less” pattern. They are struggling to find the time to take it from the level of “making thing” to truly strategizing and branding. Things are simply moving to quickly to allow for the time and space truly elevating it to that level takes. I am hopeful that technology will help free up time to close that gap, but that remains to be seen.

    Thanks for your great site here! Happy Holidays!

  2. 100% per cent. the job of strategy is to work out what stuff to make. the job of planning is to inform that stuff to be effective.

    the obsession with making is mostly a veiled anti-intellectualism, very prevalent in USA, increasingly so in UK, that fears thought, and challenges it as overthinking.

    As my buddy Kevin Slavin once said, as I quote in my book, surely, if they are planners, they only thing they should be “making” is plans. Otherwise, call them something else.

    I’ve missed it here. I should visit more often.

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