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.

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