PERSPECTIVE: Planning principles should be protected from the interlopers

In his book It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be, Paul Arden (self-endorsed creative genius) points out that in order to justify their generous salaries, creatives try very hard to have clever ideas. And clever ideas are actually rather rare.

"In their need to prove their worth, creative people often produce work which on the surface appears clever but has little substance." Quite a few examples spring effortlessly to mind. Arden's advice is to spend less time on a quick-fix creative solution, and more time finding out what the problem is that the creative work is intended to address.

Which is arguably where the role of the account planner comes in. As Red Spider's Charlie Robertson points out in "The Planning Principle" (page 16), planning is a percentages game of improving the odds of getting better (creative) solutions, more often, more consistently and more quickly.

Which, given the accountability epidemic infecting all aspects of the marketing services industry, should make planning more vital than ever.

But for some agencies it's becoming either an expensive luxury or a potential menu-option that can be used to squeeze more money from client purses. Meanwhile, the gamut of marketing services companies nibbling at the strategic pie are starting to claim the planning territory. From media agencies to PR companies and direct marketing specialists, offering strategic advice founded on consumer insight is a sensible and lucrative addition to their services.

The account planning label was originally conceived (by Tony Stead at a J. Walter Thompson awayday in 1968, since you ask) by lumping together the titles media planner and account executive. And there have been hybrids of the media and account planning functions over the years. But where does all this leave the future of planning?

Marrying an understanding of media with an understanding of consumer behaviour seems ever more vital as media consumption continues to fragment and the demand for media-neutral planning endures. Remember, too, that 80 per cent of this business' talent sits with 20 per cent of the money.

A shift of that talent to media companies has been predicted; it's not impossible to imagine planning leading the charge.

It's probably not a vision to trouble many creatives. Arden says media people's decisions usually err towards the safe and the dull; Tim Delaney was recently quoted in Campaign saying "the truth is (media agencies) know very little about communication, whether they like it or not. They also know little about strategy." But for agencies concerned that their lifeblood creative product has "substance" - for which read "sells products and services" - then the principles of planning must be nurtured before they're stolen wholesale.

- Caroline Marshall is on holiday.

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