The recession has been tough for the media industry but it has also led to more creativity. With budgets tighter and clients clamouring for greater return on investment, media agencies have had to get smarter to squeeze every last drop of effectiveness out of a client's spend.
Richard Desforges, the media director at PHD and an attendee of last year's Plannertarium, says: "TV planning is probably at its most innovative and exciting for years. As other technologies allow us to do more live ads, event ads and consecutive ad content, there are lots of interesting things that are happening in the standard spot that people didn't see a few years ago."
On top of playing with the ad opportunities going out on live TV, there are also those presented by catch-up TV and video-on- demand. "Combining linear TV with how people consume catch-up TV is part of the challenge but there are also really interesting ways in which you work those two things together," he adds.
Before joining PHD, Desforges worked at Warner Bros and now works on Warner Bros across all its businesses - theatrical, home video and games releases.
"Trailers for films are our most powerful assets so TV is important for us. But with VoD on platforms such as Sky Box Office, we can deliver a 60-second ad which is quite cost-prohibitive on traditional airtime. When we deliver it online on 4OD, people can click through to see the full trailer, so that's really powerful for us," he explains.
At last year's Plannertarium, Desforges says he learnt that there's always a new way of approaching a problem. "While what we've done in the past can be very successful and we shouldn't ignore that, you need to try new things. If you follow the 80/20 rule, we need to make sure that there's always something within your budget that is trying something new to make sure you're continually learning for the future," he explains.
So are clients willing to try new things even when budgets are under such pressure? "It splits two ways. Some clients have become very risk-averse and hold their budgets back later and need much more reassurance about every penny they spend, interrogating things in excruciating detail. It is understandable, but it can limit your creativity if you have to prove the success of what you're going to do because you need the example of someone having done it before. On the other side, there are some advertisers saying: we need to get a bigger bang for our buck, we need to do something that challenges what we've done previously to really get cut-through," Desforges says.
Attending The Plannertarium, Desforges believes, has brought an effect within the agency for everyone. While two planners went from PHD, they presented back their thoughts to the whole planning team which sparked lively debate. In fact, there is direct evidence of a change in mindset.
"There are little things we've done since, such as we've got Warner Bros using the Orange Zone on Channel 4, an advertising break specifically for film advertisers. Warners has traditionally not wanted to share advertising space with other film advertisers but the research showed the effectiveness of that break and the recall people have compared with a standard break, so we managed to convince the company to advertise in it," he says.
As well as sparking greater creativity with the TV platform, Desforges found talking to people from different backgrounds and hearing a range of standpoints very useful.
"Other agencies have different perspectives, constraints and challenges and it's really interesting to find out about that. I've only ever worked at PHD, so I found hearing about the other options very interesting. It's collaborative and people are open-minded and share; it was a really open forum," he says.
And while Desforges is realistic about how creative TV planners can be, he does see some long-term implications of the event.
He says: "We're still going to buy a lot of standard spot airtime, and it's probably going to be that way for a long time, but on every brief now we try to take some time out and think if there are any opportunities to do something a bit more engaging that might have more cut-through and make our TV work harder."
THREE REASONS TO APPLY FOR THE PLANNERTARIUM
1. To take a step back from the daily grind and challenge the way you do things.
2. To get the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people from the industry that you wouldn't have met otherwise.
3. They put on a lovely spread.
Inspiring speakers, the brightest agency stars, five-star luxury - just a few of the things you might experience at The Plannertarium on 15 July this year. Stay at home, however, and you'll miss out. To apply for a place, log on to www.channel4sales.com/theplannertarium and, once there, answer a few easy questions. The deadline's Friday 14 May 2010. To get you in the mood, read Channel 4's new Planet Blog at www.mediaweek.co.uk/planetblog.