Planners and researchers have for too long regarded each other with
mutual disdain even though they have much in common. Paul Feldwick says
this has got to stop
The process of planning advertising, from strategy to evaluation, needs
the tools of market research.
It is our only window, however imperfect, on the reality of consumers
and markets and advertising effects. Without research planning is just a
matter of prejudice and whimsy masquerading as ‘insight’.
So why do some planners appear to value research so little? In its
origins, account planning sought to distance itself from earlier bad
research practices, to the extent that many planners say they are ‘not
researchers’. To them, the word ‘researcher’ can mean mechanical,
unimaginative, hostile to creativity.
There are researchers who live up to this negative view. As a
generalisation it’s grossly unfair. But the expectation reflects on
planners’ own values that can themselves be rather one-sided.
The values planners claim to admire, and which they demand more of from
researchers, are the i-words: imagination, insight, innovation. But they
often undervalue other equally important qualities that matter in good
research, such as rigour, persistence and objectivity.
And many planners (not, of course, all) are somewhat lacking in
quantitative skills. They shy away from and sometimes deride what they
don’t understand. Conversely, they are often incapable of criticising
research effectively when criticism is deserved.
Planners and researchers do different jobs and their priorities and
skills need not be identical. But today they overlap more than some
planners realise. After all, both groups ought to share an interest in
the same subjects - understanding consumers, managing brands, how
They need each other. Planners can put research into a broader context
and help it turn into action. Researchers can provide a wide range of
specialised expert skills that planners need to match - although they
should be able to understand what they are, and how, when and why to use
They can also learn from each other. Planners would benefit from a
greater knowledge of research technique, especially on the quantitative
side (most good planners are keen to find out more). Researchers could
do their job better if they understood more about the advertising
The relationship need not be all sweetness and light. There is room for
debate on the perennial questions of how ads are expected to work, how,
when and if research can evaluate creative work and the right way to
But planners and researchers could be arguing these issues with respect
and empirical research instead of at the level of personal innuendo.
The bad news is that researchers and planners have been drifting apart
for some time. The good news is this has been more through neglect than
design and there’s much goodwill on both sides.
We discovered this at a one-day workshop last November for researchers
and planners organised jointly by the Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising and the Market Research Society as part of an initiative to
bring agencies and market researchers closer together.
I chair an IPA working party which will continue this initiative. There
are various things we can organise or encourage - joint training
programmes, information exchange, awards, work secondment schemes. We
might even lure some planners back to the MRS conference.
But the real difference will come from planners revising their own self-
image so that market research becomes for them (as it once was) a valid
and relevant set of core skills with its practitioners seen as allies
more than as rivals.
Paul Feldwick is executive planning director of BMP DDB