will planners become extinct if they are indistinct?

30May07

What was intended as a swift reply to a post on John Griffith’s blog http://paab.typepad.com/furtherandfaster/ has turned into a lunchtime post here I’m afraid.

The wandering conversation links in turn to Rory Sutherland’s blog (this link may not work as Campaign Magazine isn’t entirely open access) www.brandrepublic.com/Campaign/blogs/showpost/56617672-5872-4f97-b212-d709ca251a83/

I believe Rory Sutherland is correct when saying in his blog that planners are less guarded in sharing their thoughts compared to account handlers and creatives.

While this makes planners the social networkers of the agency world, it hopefully also helps the best thinking to rise to the top. It does however mean that the discipline is trend conscious in its promotion of thinking, tools and methodologies. But I don’t believe this is a problem, it merely means we operate at the pop end of the market.

I believe that a shared pool of the best knowledge and methods raises the average quality of the group, but risks possibly making planning and planners less distinctive or original.

Not a problem you may think? Unless you are perhaps trying to differentiate your agency brand by claiming you offer distinctive or unique skills in planning?

When you hire an agency, the agency talks about departments while the client sees the work of creative and planning individuals – individuals produce the ideas. You pay for origination and the process of production and management to make the idea happen.

The planning bill is based on the work of the individual. But what if clients were prepared to pay, or pay more, for access to unique and proven planning tools, as well as unique planners? Will planners become extinct if they are indistinct? Probably not, but it may make it more difficult for agencies to charge more for their services if they aren’t differentiated. Proven, optimised and original methods support a different approach a brand may own.

I believe proprietary planning tools are vital for differentiating agency brands and ensuring there is value locked into the agency business, even when an individual planner leaves.

It’s surprising then perhaps that so many methods, rules and insights are shared? If the best work within the discipline is openly promoted for replication, how do clients differentiate the agency or value the planning service appropriately?

I don’t believe planners will all end up creating a uniform, vanilla flavoured, approach to planning. As I compare planners to architects rather than accountants. We use the same basic rules to create something, but the individuals work produces very different results, with the most talented producing incredible results. In this case, the shared rules and ideas we work to improve the average efficacy for all, but the individual still adds the spark that makes the difference.

Agencies need to retain talented planners and own proprietary planning tools. I believe its distinctive intellectual property that will support the long-term health of the agency brand while individuals come and go. Just make sure the new talent are allowed to build on and evolve the planning IP before they leave in turn. No tool or bespoke planning method is guaranteed to remain valuable forever, but it’s best to build upon the best foundations available.

Planners won’t become extinct, but they will migrate. They simply don’t need to take all of their brilliance with them on departure. So is the real question then will agencies become extinct if their planners are indistinct?

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2 Responses to “will planners become extinct if they are indistinct?”

  1. Haven’t got time for more than a short response but here goes: first if JWT and BMP had got all proprietary about planning 40 years ago then it wouldn’t exist in its current form – which would be a shame I think! Secondly check out the Julian Saunders edited APG book of the product of 5 years of media agencies developing proprietary planning techniques and trying to copyright them and you’ll rarely see such derivative drivel – these were half baked ideas that would have been so much stronger if they had been tested in public. The trouble with proprietary techniques is that only a few clients and prospects get to use them – and they will never be sure if they’re any good because they won’t have come across them elsewhere. In summary I think planning tools are currency. If people nick my stuff that’s a compliment – specially if they keep using it because that means it works and not just for me. But all this sharing at the pop end of the ideas market creates its own problems – the equivalent of boy/girl bands – lots of imitation and rehashing – and a few svengalis sitting behind it all!!!

  2. 2 brandtao

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I agree that many media agencies have clustered around a couple of key media planning tools (would you like more TGI or Nielsen data?). But this is partly due to the operational limitations of the media channels open to them. The media companies aren’t innovators in research, they adapt established methods and adopt to change very slowly. Try obtaining distinctive insights on listeners from a radio station, or details on viewer programme palettes from a TV channel that don’t revolve around archaic 16-34-type segments.

    I do believe groups with the resources of WPP, Omnicom or Publicis will be able to create robust, differentiated and proven consumer targeting, segmentation and touch point tools easily. And if they combined the brains of all the planners in their group stables, they could equally create a distinctive, effective and proven set of planning tools with international case studies that smaller shops couldn’t easily compete with.

    However, I believe that genius can be found in an inspired individual as often as a zoo of planners (is that the correct collective?). So I do believe one person may create planning tools that are distinctive and valuable. However the clients with the larger budgets still generally appear to adopt the better established international networks than independents.

    So while planning variety is great and enjoyable. Difference in thought and function may build better brands in my book, especially when applied to the thinking tools used by planners. Another Millward Brown chart anyone?


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