The planning predicament

What do this year's APG Creative Strategy Awards tell us about the state of planning in this country, Craig Mawdsley and Adam Morgan wonder.

  • The 2013 APG Grand Prix winner: Puerto Ricos' Banco Popular

    The 2013 APG Grand Prix winner: Puerto Ricos' Banco Popular

  • Vodafone: introduced ‘micro credit recharge cards’ to Egypt

    Vodafone: introduced ‘micro credit recharge cards’ to Egypt

  • Sprite: cricket tournament targeted low-income workers in UAE

    Sprite: cricket tournament targeted low-income workers in UAE

  • British Airways: the Olympic sponsor urged people not to fly but to stay at home and cheer Team GB

    British Airways: the Olympic sponsor urged people not to fly but to stay at home and cheer Team GB

  • Cancer Research UK: gold

    Cancer Research UK: gold

  • Polident: launched a talent show that became a huge hit

    Polident: launched a talent show that became a huge hit

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A view from…

Craig Mawdsley

Chair, Account Planning Group;  joint chief strategy officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

The APG Creative Strategy Awards offer a moment to reflect on the state of planning. So what has the school of 2013 taught us?

Planning is London’s greatest gift to the global ad industry. For the first time ever, the APG Grand Prix has been awarded solely to a case study outside the UK. We are used to great multimarket planning from London or New York, but Banco Popular is entirely new. A local planner, a domestic brand. This should be cause for celebration, as it proves the export of planning, not just planners.

But have we forgotten to do it properly in London? The dearth of big brand thinking from London agencies was striking. Six APG golds were awarded, but only two to the UK. Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s British Airways case study won gold with a big idea, but it was for an Olympic sponsorship, not for the day-to-day business. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Cancer Research UK thinking changed a huge organisation’s vision and purpose, but it was for a charity, not a FTSE 100 business. Many London case studies were very tactical. Paper after paper spoke of apps, social media, YouTube and Twitter. The APG asked for new learning but, in our desire to show we can adapt to new channels, we have been divided and risk being conquered. We need to think and act big again.

We have become distracted by charity and public-sector planning. Many of the presentations we saw suggested that planners are searching for meaning outside of the day job. Creativity is reserved for the side project for a charity or government department. Are we bored by business? Have we lost our appetite for the challenges of proving commercial worth and opted instead for easier wins? We need to find meaning and inspiration in commerce – the gold-winning cases for Banco Popular in Puerto Rico, Sprite in the United Arab Emirates, Polident in Malaysia and Vodafone in Egypt show how.

There are blinding rays of light from the next generation. We saw young planners write and present with a flair that few on the judging panel could ever have demonstrated at their age. The enthusiasm of M&C Saatchi’s Thom Dinsdale for Siemens’ health-and-safety campaign was inspiring. Alice Fraser’s charm and steel in winning over tough BBC producers was humbling. If talents like this can be inspired by commerce, the future is bright.

But will planners be inspired by the strategic thinking in our export markets, or dive into the tactics demonstrated by papers from planning’s home? Do the best papers from abroad show us where we need to go, influencing not just communications but product and service delivery? Or are they where UK planning was five or ten years ago, and will eventually be driven downstream, as their market fragments into micro-specialisms? The answer is in our hands, but we need to act now.

Collaborate. We get driven downstream when planners in different agencies compete for ownership of the idea. We’re not going to reintegrate media, digital and direct, but we can act as if we are. We need to reject concerns about revenue and hierarchy and get around the table with planners at other agencies working on the same brand to do strategy properly. Planners tend to like one another – it’s not hard to do.

Commercialise. The IPA, the APG and D&AD need to keep celebrating commercial creativity. It’s more difficult, sometimes less beautiful, but much more valuable to us all. The next generation needs to dream of creating amazing work to build profit and shareholder value, and to feel that is a worthy purpose rather than being the thing that funds something worthy on the side.

Connect. The more planners meet together, learn together and engage with the world, the better it gets. We can accelerate our learning and change the discipline by remembering to engage in the real world and be inspired by one another. Face to face.

The APG is determined to use this moment. We will be reviewing everything about our awards and making some changes. It is our obligation to our members to provide the inspiration and framework to move planning forward and reclaim strategy for planners and ad agencies.

It’s change, clarity and direction to drive growth. It’s what planners do. It’s going to be great.

A view from…

Adam Morgan

Chair of judges, APG Creative Strategy Awards; founder, Eatbigfish

When my twin boys were very small, I asked them one morning over the breakfast table what the capital of America was. One answered Washington and the other Hollywood. One had known enough to offer me the truth, and the other had offered me a delicious reimagination; each in their own way valid. I kissed them both.

One of the pleasures I anticipated in chairing these awards was the opportunity to see how planning had evolved over my 14 years out of it. I wasn’t disappointed. We were indeed presented with wide variations in where and how planning had helped the creative process; we were offered an invigoratingly broad range of putative new roles for planning (planner as producer, as entrepreneur, as content creator and so on); we even came across a planning director who revealed that they had seven different kinds of planner in their department. And much of this obviously represented a very stimulating evolution, at least conceptually, from the conversations that were happening in planning when I was in it.

But perhaps the distinction that struck me most was that between what one might call (to play out the difference between my boys’ answers) Washington Planning and Hollywood Planning: the two ways in which the planners presenting approached the problems their brands and clients faced across these cases.

Washington Planning, if you like, lay in the disciplined uncovering of powerful truths within the current business model. Planners and cases of this school tended to formally state the business problem, take us on the journey of how they spent the time to get close to the brand history or consumer relationship, unearthing an insight that catalysed a creative thought, which then led to consumer reappraisal and measured business results. The emphasis here was on stepping into the problem, disciplined analysis, real understanding of the consumer, with a formal brief, a strategy preceding the idea, and both of these last two clearly separated.

Hollywood Planning, conversely, lay more in a bold reimagining – not just of the brand’s potential, but also the media or business model around it. The emphasis here lay in a stepping back from the original brief to question the entire relevance of previous approaches, with disciplined analysis and consumer understanding much less important to arriving at the answer than a bold rethinking and redefinition of the ambition. Here, there was a sense of a much greater fluidity between planners and creatives within the process, with formal briefs usually unnecessary. And they culminated in a solution where the idea and the strategy were, in effect, often the same thing. Results in these cases were often early and directional, whose results were often harder to measure, and with considerable potential that was hard to yet prove.

What was stimulating here was not simply the fact of these two planning approaches, but their coexistence. It was not that one was replacing the other – a young revolutionary guard reinventing everything, while a few martinets clung on to the planning of the past; they both were energetic and galvanising forces for growth within agencies and their clients. Which is the way it should be: the business world needs both, and the communications world needs a planning approach to be able to offer both. As, in fact, the communications business appears publicly schizophrenic about whether everything needs to change, or that in what really matters we should remain the same, it is refreshing to see a more deliberately plural and balanced approach being vigorously championed in these awards.

Which leads one to wonder whether it might become a key question when first discussing a new client brief: Is this a Washington or a Hollywood problem? And that, perhaps, if planning needs to understand better how to do both well more consistently, then it won’t be too long before we’ll see APG courses offering to develop each kind of planning capability.

We’re in a world, after all, where we need to excel at them both.

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