Close-Up: Live Issue - Is blogging killing the art of planning?

Have planning skills been undermined by the proliferation of planning blogs, James Hamilton asks.

The outgoing Grey London planning director, John Lowery, is not a man famed for pulling his punches. So when the IPA decided to debate Lowery's current bete noire - the cult of the planning blog - the crowd was expecting something spicy.

And Lowery didn't disappoint. Although the final vote was a walkover for the consultant John Grant, the debate highlights a wider argument in the industry concerning the evolving nature of the discipline.

Lowery's argument first aired on the planning blog, curated by Richard Huntington, the United London planning director.

"There's a tremendous amount of sloppy thinking on these blogs passing itself off as account planning," Lowery says, admitting that there will be a few people struck off his Christmas card list this year following the debate. "Furthermore, among the acres of opinion, the consumer rarely gets a look-in. Given that planning is supposed to bring a perspective based upon the consumer to the advertising development process, that seems to set a bad example to young planners."

Planning blogs, Lowery asserts, have become a significant reference point for junior and would-be planners, with a number of blogs offering everything from advice through to mock briefs designed to test their mettle. It's here that he feels blogs are capable of wreaking the most damage.

"It's a bunch of people who don't know what they are talking about setting tasks for and judging the efforts of a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about," Lowery says.

It's a stinging critique that will no doubt see Russell Davies cross Lowery off his Christmas card list. Notably absent from the debate, the former Wieden & Kennedy planning director has meticulously kept a blog, which includes an online training resource for would-be planners, for the past few years.

Planning as espoused on blogs tends to be ideas-, not fact-based. And while that's not to cast any aspersions on the blogs' creators - Huntington, Davies and their peers have all demonstrated their rigour when presented with research and data - there is a growing fear among senior planners that their juniors are becoming overly reliant on this new, online resource.

"There's cut-and-paste planning going on. You can spot a strategy put together by blogging a mile off. You can hear the different tones of voice coming through from different websites," the McCann Erickson executive planning director, Nikki Crumpton, says.

Like Lowery, Crumpton fears that a sea of young, ideas-focused planners will dilute the pool of craft skills. What she's looking for is total planners - those who marry ideas with factual insight. "Planners need to be able to find ideas anywhere; to be able to look at data and to be able to work with consumer groups. If we're no longer talking to consumers or using data, we'll just become a poor man's creative."

Huntington's six-point spirited defence of what he terms the "plannersphere" displays all the rigour you'd expect from an experienced strategist. He argues that blogging has created an online planning community that builds close ties in the discipline and that it allows planners to beta test thinking.

"I reckon we are getting smarter as a result of the plannersphere," he says. "OK, so the plannersphere isn't hot on the craft skills, but it is successful at sharing knowledge. On a daily basis, good people are falling over themselves to give away their intellectual property or share a new campaign or brand they're interested in."

- Got a view? E-mail us at

PLANNING DIRECTOR - Laurence Green, managing partner, Fallon

"I like some planning blogs. They offer helpful context for my job, just like chat, my colleagues, The Guardian, my kids, the odd book and the Today programme do.

"They occasionally inspire me; they mainly sharpen my opinions. That's the point. But, by contrast, planning is a dance between opinion and fact, theory and data, imagination and, yes, rigour.

"If planning is blindsided by blogging, then we all get left in the opinion business. Mine versus yours; creatives' versus clients'. Campaigns and brands will bend in the wind; clients will value us less and pay us less.

"Is blogging killing planning? Probably not. Is blogging planning? Absolutely not."

PLANNING DIRECTOR - Richard Huntington, planning director, United London

"The idea that blogging is killing planning is arrant nonsense. The accusation is that it encourages people to share half-thought-through thinking. No shit. In a 2.0 world, where you should always be in Beta test, that's the point.

"The plannersphere is not a journal of record for the science of advertising, it is a place where we try out our new thinking. It's where a planner can submit half-baked ideas to the collective intelligence of the online planning community for their scrutiny. It is a place where a planner can gain access to the best thinking in our discipline.

"Blogging isn't killing planning, it's the best thing that has happened to it since the death of the overhead projector."

PLANNING DIRECTOR - John Lowery, outgoing planning director, Grey London

"If planning blogs continue as they are presently configured, blogging will kill planning. The version of planning on blogs is distorted.

"That, in itself, isn't killing planning. But planning blogs have become a reference point for young planners. As a result of the significance of blogs as educational tools, these people are entering the world of work as distorted versions of planners.

"What we have is a bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about, asking another bunch of people who don't know what they're talking about, what their opinions are, on something they know nothing about. And that, apparently, qualifies as training."

PLANNING DIRECTOR - Nikki Crumpton, executive planning director, McCann Erickson

"I like planning blogs because they make planning look very dynamic. They highlight the innate curiosity that planners have, and show the discipline in a very active light.

"But they do worry me, because a lot of what is peddled on them is taken as fact, rather than just opinion or inspiration.

"Cut-and-paste planning is a dangerous thing. As a result, you lose craft skills, the right to sit at the table as the objective person and you also lose the right to be valued by clients.

"At the end of the day, we're all here to service our clients, not our egos."