Are planners evolving fast enough?

At a time when agencies and their clients often feel blindsided by digital’s accelerating pace, planners could use some help to see in the dark. Some compare themselves to the blind leading the blind, desperately searching for light-shedding data and precedent.

"I feel as though the territory is shifting around me and I’m having to navigate it without a map," a senior planner acknowledges. "How do we work out how to make a difference for our brands when many of our tools don’t work like they used to?"

The explosion of social media and mobile technology is making it increasingly hard for planners to provide the critical insights that "bring the outside world in". And while the IPA’s archive bursts with successful examples of campaigns that have worked through tried-and-trusted methods, case studies that have successfully exploited newer communication forms remain thin on the ground.

Some onlookers suggest the result is too much global brand thinking that’s too similar. So, what can planners do to help agencies and clients break free of the mediocrity?

Agency head

Charles Wigley, chairman, Asia, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"There’s lots of talk about the emergence of multiple planning specialisms and the use of real-time data, but more interesting is where planning should be going. Our industry is becoming too shallow in the deep specialism area and too broad across the top. The danger is that planners become jacks of all trades and masters of none. Planners are often the key client hand-holders, and this detracts from what they should be doing – bringing critical insights on consumers, cultures and companies. Naturally, we want planners to be articulate, inquisitive and imaginative – but another creative department isn’t what is needed."


Matt Herrmann, director of strategy, BBDO San Francisco

"I live in San Francisco, where technology is rooted in the culture – but, even here, it’s hard to keep up. Planning used to be a linear process; now, it’s a maze. For so long, planning was all about being the voice of the consumer. Today, that voice comes in so many different forms, it’s hard understanding what that voice is. That said, I worry that we become such fetishists about the new and the novel that we forget about our craft skills. I’m glad the Cannes Festival now rewards effectiveness. Previously, the IPA awards were the only rigorous test of account planning."

Agency head

Dave McCaughan, regional director, APAC, McCann Truth Central

"Planning has become so fractionalised that agencies are confused about whether they need specialists or generalists. The fact is we live in complex times and you need specialists to figure out how to reach the people you’re trying to reach. The good thing is that we seem to be moving back to a time when planners and creatives worked closely together. What’s not so good is that planners, whose job it is to find solutions to problems identified by the account people, are too often used just to keep clients happy, leaving the account guys to deal with the invoices."


Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategy officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

"It’s an exciting but also a frightening time for planners. We have to convince clients to take bolder steps into areas where previously successful models don’t help and where there is no map. Even in my own agency, we’re only scratching the surface. Everybody has been thinking about digital content and social media for a while now, but the pace of change has quickened decisively this year. TV viewing is down slightly while TV inflation is picking up. We have to change the way we work to reassure clients that what we’re advising is effective."