OPINION: Planners must realise that research is indispensable

Planners and researchers have for too long regarded each other with mutual disdain even though they have much in common. Paul Feldwick says this has got to stop

Planners and researchers have for too long regarded each other with

mutual disdain even though they have much in common. Paul Feldwick says

this has got to stop

The process of planning advertising, from strategy to evaluation, needs

the tools of market research.

It is our only window, however imperfect, on the reality of consumers

and markets and advertising effects. Without research planning is just a

matter of prejudice and whimsy masquerading as ‘insight’.

So why do some planners appear to value research so little? In its

origins, account planning sought to distance itself from earlier bad

research practices, to the extent that many planners say they are ‘not

researchers’. To them, the word ‘researcher’ can mean mechanical,

unimaginative, hostile to creativity.

There are researchers who live up to this negative view. As a

generalisation it’s grossly unfair. But the expectation reflects on

planners’ own values that can themselves be rather one-sided.

The values planners claim to admire, and which they demand more of from

researchers, are the i-words: imagination, insight, innovation. But they

often undervalue other equally important qualities that matter in good

research, such as rigour, persistence and objectivity.

And many planners (not, of course, all) are somewhat lacking in

quantitative skills. They shy away from and sometimes deride what they

don’t understand. Conversely, they are often incapable of criticising

research effectively when criticism is deserved.

Planners and researchers do different jobs and their priorities and

skills need not be identical. But today they overlap more than some

planners realise. After all, both groups ought to share an interest in

the same subjects - understanding consumers, managing brands, how

advertising works.

They need each other. Planners can put research into a broader context

and help it turn into action. Researchers can provide a wide range of

specialised expert skills that planners need to match - although they

should be able to understand what they are, and how, when and why to use


They can also learn from each other. Planners would benefit from a

greater knowledge of research technique, especially on the quantitative

side (most good planners are keen to find out more). Researchers could

do their job better if they understood more about the advertising

development process.

The relationship need not be all sweetness and light. There is room for

debate on the perennial questions of how ads are expected to work, how,

when and if research can evaluate creative work and the right way to

monitor campaigns.

But planners and researchers could be arguing these issues with respect

and empirical research instead of at the level of personal innuendo.

The bad news is that researchers and planners have been drifting apart

for some time. The good news is this has been more through neglect than

design and there’s much goodwill on both sides.

We discovered this at a one-day workshop last November for researchers

and planners organised jointly by the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising and the Market Research Society as part of an initiative to

bring agencies and market researchers closer together.

I chair an IPA working party which will continue this initiative. There

are various things we can organise or encourage - joint training

programmes, information exchange, awards, work secondment schemes. We

might even lure some planners back to the MRS conference.

But the real difference will come from planners revising their own self-

image so that market research becomes for them (as it once was) a valid

and relevant set of core skills with its practitioners seen as allies

more than as rivals.

Paul Feldwick is executive planning director of BMP DDB