Perhaps the timing was unfortunate. As lockdown was finally eased last Monday, and as pubs and high streets re-opened, the Account Planning Group released its latest survey… about planners. And I couldn’t help thinking: is our industry now at peak introspection?
The well-meaning folk at the APG make unfair scapegoats, perhaps, for a wider malaise, although we’d expect the planning discipline to be the most determined to shine the searchlight on the world outside, rather than the industry’s insides. It’s (one version of) their job, after all.
The wider point is this: agencies flourish – and, by extension, our industry too – when the work we do genuinely connects with our audience. Sometimes that’s a matter of luck, but more often it’s because someone in the process has correctly intuited how people feel about John Lewis (or another retailer); about Christmas (or another season); about being a Londoner (or proud citizen of AnyTown).
A curiosity about the outside world is what sustains us, whether the insights and inspiration we work with are formally or informally gathered. We win when we walk in others’ shoes.
The Great Horizon Collapse has affected everyone over the past year or so, personally and professionally. But it’s critical that as the world opens up, ours must too: life beyond the industry’s Truman Show bubble isn’t just bigger but materially different from our own. Outside-in businesses (market-oriented, competitively aware) tend to beat inside-out (resource-led), and there’s no reason for that not to hold for our industry too.
As it happens, there’s reason to be cheerful buried deep in the APG report. As one self-aware respondent pointed out: “Being stuck at home has meant less creative inputs/experiences in day to day life – no more improv class, no more stumbling upon a cool pop-up or book, no more meeting strangers who talk your ear off about their ideas, weird passion etc. I’ve had to get inventive.”
Looking forward, another proposes that post-pandemic planning managers “give them more freedom to take time off, work more flexibly and get out into the world. God knows if we didn't need to spend more time out in the world before, we definitely do now.”
It turns out that 95% of planners don’t want to travel into the office five days a week after the pandemic, and 95% don’t want to work from home five days a week either. But whatever their ultimate place of work, planners who can cheat the filter bubble have a massive part to play in the industry’s great re-wilding. There are burning client questions and new creative possibilities across virtually every category you could mention.
Things are looking up. It’s time for us to do the same.
Laurence Green is executive partner at MullenLowe London