OPINION: Forget research, planners should focus on the future - Successful planners understand the crucial differences between establishing current trends and persuading people what to think in the future. By Mark Stockdale

’Does planning have a future?’ (Campaign feature, 24 January) is the latest headline to reflect a sentiment that has dogged the discipline for over 20 years.

’Does planning have a future?’ (Campaign feature, 24 January) is

the latest headline to reflect a sentiment that has dogged the

discipline for over 20 years.

And, despite consistently being associated with words such as tenuous,

dubious and even damaging, planning’s response seems to be, ’Hey, if

we’re so crap, why are there so many of us?’

Wake up planners. We have a problem. Can you imagine reading ’Do

creatives have a future?’ Or articles on account management tagged:

’Cutbacks for the function some find too tenuous.’

I’ll tell you what I think the problem is - and, boy, is this ironic:

overwhelmingly, planning has got the wrong brief.

Frankly, if there was an account planner on the ’account planning

account’, they would have been fired by now. Even the Account Planning

Group perpetuates the problem by joining most of the industry in

defining planning as ’representing the voice of the consumer’.

This may well be a superb definition - but of market research, not


Let’s be clear: market research asks people what they currently think

and feel, whereas true planning works out how to get people to think and

feel what we want them to. It seems that most planners can’t tell the


Most of what passes for planning is, in fact, little more than what the

’planner’ heard in groups last week. Research debriefs masquerade as


Campaign’s article ignored the long-standing feud between BMP DDB and J.

Walter Thompson over who ’invented’ planning. But it did serve to

demonstrate how pervasive BMP’s view of planning has become.

Stanley Pollitt of BMP always argued that strategies don’t exist until

executed and effectively set up an in-house qualitative research

department to ’represent the voice of the consumer’.

His major contribution to planning was, thus, a preoccupation with

qualitatively researching creative work. JWT’s planning, by contrast,

can be traced back to a 50s department responsible for strategy


BMP’s school of planning became fashionable in the 80s among most of the

so-called creative hotshops, whereas the JWT ’grand strategy’ style of

planning was - and still is - far less prevalent in hotshop


Don’t get me wrong. Good research is important to strategy


It’s just that its role is limited and misused and that’s what causes

the damage.

Research can only tell us about the past and consumers have incomplete

knowledge about brands. Consumers are also unqualified to act as

communications consultants. (If I hear one more researcher say that

respondents believe we should do ’X’ to an ad, I will kill.)

If planning is to have a role in agencies it has to be about strategy -

deciding what we want for the future and working out how to make it


At Leo Burnett, planning’s primary role is to manage the future of the

brand and we work with two planning cycles, not one.

The first is the brand planning cycle (defining the strategic brand


The second is the communications planning cycle (developing the best

possible communications to realise that vision).

So, what we look for in planners, the skills we give them and the tools

they use differ markedly from ’planners’ at agencies who merely

’represent the voice of the consumer’.

Does genuine planning have a future? Absolutely. But do in-house

qualitative researchers masquerading as ’planners’ have a future? I

doubt it, because that’s what’s wrong with much of what passes as

planning. It’s a luxury clients - and agencies - can do without.


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