Editorial: Planners add too much value to risk losing them

Ask anyone from Madison Avenue to the Champs Elysees what the UK ad industry has given the world and the answer is invariably the same: creative work that, at its best, is without equal. As a result, the outstanding producers of such work have built global reputations and command universal respect. And rightly so. Sadly, the agency planners who provided the insights that often enable creative genius to thrive have never been equally lauded.

This perhaps explains the collective insecurity that seems to plague planners.

Russell Davies, who has seen how the discipline works from both sides of the fence (first as Wieden & Kennedy's planning director and now as the global planning director of Nike), feels planners should stop selling themselves short. As he rightly says on page 28, great planners are the unicorns of the business and British advertising should be proud that its invention has been embraced the world over.

The question, though, is whether agencies understand the true value of the legacy handed down by Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King. The dearth of experienced planners created by the recession makes one wonder. Happily, Davies sees evidence of planners getting better at defining what they do and how they can best add value for clients. As a judge at the Account Planning Group Creative Planning Awards, he was relieved to find planners doing what they do best.

In some ways, the planning role remains what it always has been - namely, to ensure the consumer data available to agencies results in relevant creative work. In other ways, it has moved on, reaching a point where planners do not necessarily come up with the killer idea themselves but ensure the agency collaborates internally so that such ideas evolve.

There's nothing wrong with this. Today's brands can face questions too complex for one person alone to answer.

The danger with this "free-for-all" approach is that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. As an APG judge, Davies saw a disturbing number of papers full of imaginative thinking but lacking coherence and common sense.

Good planners don't grow on trees. Agencies have to search for them and cherish those they have. It is OK to offer planners to the world at large, but the business needs to think more on how it can keep the pick of the crop.