A view from Sue Unerman

Are planners 'printist'?

James Wildman, CRO of Trinity Mirror, says they are.

He writes that research has uncovered prejudice in agencies: "Printism can be defined as: "The preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience of the print medium; bias, partiality, unreasoned dislike, hostility or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, print – accelerated by those closest to it being too afraid to properly defend it for fear of being tarred with the career-stunting ‘dinosaur’ label."

Is "printism" a fair accusation? As Newsworks hold their first ever summit on effectiveness next month, it is a good time to look at the situation.

The essence of good planning is consumer insight and evidence. 

From the day you start out as a planner your role is to overcome your personal biases and think about the target market in a neutral way.

If every planner worked on the basis that what they like amounts to the plan they would be briefing Buzzfeed to come up with ten cats that most represent the brand values, or YouTube on funny brand pandas.

There’s two basic approaches that are essential for any planner.  Evidence and empathy.

For any great plan you need both.

Evidence about what worked and what didn’t work to drive long term and short term success often relies on quantitative data analysed objectively.  The better the data, the better the correlation between media spend and the brand objectives.  Media research data varies dramatically by medium.  The size of the panel, the methodology (passive v active), the specificity of the data.  TV is reported minute by minute, but print is averaged out over a longer period.  Then there’s big data, online data.  Where size does not always help us to explain what is actually going on. 

We’re in a world where the potential to correlate data in real time to drive more accurate targeting and return on investment is being fulfilled in ways that analytical planners have been dreaming of for decades.  In that environment any medium that has less precise data will be less dominant.  I deplore the idea that any medium should be in or out of fashion, but if you expect to be considered "of the moment", you had better look to your industry research capabilities.  If anyone you’re competing with has a turbo charged hybrid engine and you’re sitting in the side car of a scooter you might want to think again.

Empathy doesn’t come easily to any planner starting out.  We all enter the workforce with our personal prejudices about media consumption.  I can remember the inimitable Peter Barrett complaining to me once that selling Good Housekeeping to 20-something planners (who had never opened a copy) was so much harder than the job his colleagues had selling Cosmopolitan with its Sex Tips cover lines. 

Do planners read newsbrands?  Of course they do.  Many may well have a greater personal affinity with social media than with the classic content creators, but great content, great editors and great journalists still cut through.

Personal affinity doesn’t create a great plan.  Understanding the audience does.  Thinking about the plan in the office isn’t always enough.  Hanging out in a supermarket or shopping centre has much more power.  Talking to consumers and taking the audience journey, away from where you work, is essential.

Good planners aren’t printist, any more than they are any media-ist.  They are pro-evidence and pro-empathy.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom