OPINION: PERSPECTIVE - Good strategic planning must come at a fair price

Campaign and planning have always had a rather uneasy relationship. Every so often we will drag out the "Does planning have a future?" feature and then sit back, thankful that we do not have to get to grips with these glorified research people with their big brains and metaphysics degrees.

And can you really blame us? From its beginnings 30 years ago at Boase Massimi Pollitt and J. Walter Thompson, the discipline has been schizophrenic to say the least. One minute the department that ensures that an objective understanding of consumer attitudes and reaction is brought to bear at every stage of advertising development is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The next minute, yet another agency chief, cutting budgets back to the very basics of client service and creative output, will trumpet on Campaign's front page that they are rejecting the whole concept altogether.

Still, Campaign has made some strides in the planning direction. We are now associated with the two award schemes that matter - the APG Creative Planning Awards and the IPA Effectiveness Awards. We've not run the old feature for, well, six whole years now. To get a further glimpse inside this world, I recently spent three days judging the APG Awards whose winners were announced this week. (Before you draw this conclusion for yourselves, yes, I was the token planning virgin and ignoramus in a room full of eminent planners and creatives.)

Now I love these awards with their air of mad amateurism and live presentations from the entrants. Not for them the impenetrable jargon of entry papers dripping with cluster analysis and burst versus drip. Where, other than the APG, does any awards jury get to spend 30 minutes-plus debating one single entry? How often does one get to hear, blow by blow, an account of the laborious human process that led to the creation of a relevant, distinctive and effective piece of advertising? Truly these awards are weighing scales for the industry's strategic reputation. At a time when responsibility for strategy is allegedly shifting away from ad agencies and into design agencies, management and marketing consultancies, their relevance has never been greater.

The judging was well organised but several dispiriting things happened.

A staggering number of entrants, especially for smaller clients, did their research for free. There was a lot of "I went shopping with my girlfriend and then I wrote the brief" or "There was no research budget so we sent an e-mail round the agency". In a climate where agencies constantly bang on about the need to assert ownership of the value their work creates for clients, effectively giving away the services of the planning department for free seems to me to be a particularly depressing admission.

Then there was the sense of most agencies operating in ultra-traditional departmental silos. Creatives, it seems, are treated by some planners as barely sentient beings, suitable only for joke briefing sessions. In one case, creatives were supposed to dramatise in an ad a truly amazing car engine, which roared like a tiger, without having ever seen it for themselves.

In case I sound like planning is for everyone apart from people with any sense, I'd like to put on the record that judging the APG Awards has shifted if not eliminated most of my prejudices about the discipline.

These awards, whose results appear on page four of this week's Campaign, show that great strategic thinking is alive and well in agencies. However, I still struggle to see why anyone would choose to do the research that led to these or any other campaigns for free.


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