How many planners does it take to change a light bulb?

When I was a planner in an ad agency I was told my job was three things:

  • To provide the creatives with an insight that they could build an idea on (the intellectual bit).
  • To make sure that the view of the consumer was present at all times throughout the process of making and managing the work with the agency and client teams (the process bit).
  • To sell the creative, to re-sell it and help keep the client on track and, more often than you might think, to post-rationalise what some hot shot creative director wanted to do despite the client or creative brief (the show pony bit).

But times have changed and recently we went out to our community of over 100 planners and asked them what they thought planning did these days. They are a brave bunch to have left established careers in mainstream creative agencies, and as we span in to new types of work, they are our firm’s intellectual glue.

Here’s what some of them think planning is now:

  • It enables us to make decisions which are deeply rooted in human truth to not only drive coverage, but to change minds and behavior for our clients.
  • Planning sits at the point where business need, creativity and research and insight meet – and by bringing those three elements together, we make our ideas and solutions easy to buy.
  • The sole aim of planning is to enhance an agency’s ability to create, understanding creative solutions for brands that will be effective in the marketplace.
  • Strategic thinking in the context of communications marketing is through an understanding of the four “C”s –The Company, The Culture, The Category and The Consumer.
  • At the heart of planning lies an insight. Insight is the fundamental truth that captures an element of a consumer that has hitherto gone unacknowledged.
  • Putting the consumer at the heart of the brand’s strategy.
  • Bringing a holistic view of a brand on its competition, target audience, business challenge and its own point of view to uncover human insight.
  • Our primary job function is to be a proxy for the people who aren’t in the room — the receivers and audiences. We articulate a client’s real challenge and its root cause.

And here’s what they think planning is at Edelman as opposed to an old school traditional ad agency:

  • Planning from an earned perspective is different. As a planning team at Edelman, we need to go beyond just the consumer. We need to understand what motivates different influencers: Cultural, Reputational and Media influencers.
  • The ultimate difference is scalability. Planners need to think in terms of ideas that are relevant to all stakeholders, not just consumers, and social by design so you can generate new stories around the idea every day.
  • Planning needs to adapt for an earned environment – the question is not just, “How do we change our audience’s mind,” but also, “How do we embed that change in culture so people want to engage and participate.”
  • What makes planning different at Edelman is that rather than briefing for the idea alone, we brief for the interaction itself. Our ideas are earned centric and social by design. They acknowledge our clients’ need for sustenance in market, to cultivate audiences by earning their way into the public discourse, and inspire stories that change shape and keep pace with culture.

When you are developing a new model, re-invention of the old ways and methods is the norm. It is hard work though, and nowhere more than in the planning function.

The answer to the question in the title of this post is of course five: one to change the light bulb, the other four to stand around arguing whether he/she is taking the right approach.

For more agency light bulb jokes, please see here.

Image by Oliver Thompson.

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