This is how I’ve always seen the proper role of planners.
Defining the problem.
Otherwise why don’t creatives take briefs directly from clients?
They can solve problems, of course they can.
The difficulty for creatives is in defining the problem to be solved.
Edward de Bono said "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
That’s often how it is with creatives.
The answer is an expensive, beautiful, stylish, D&AD award-winning ad, now what’s the question?
Well, an expensive, subtle, artistic, award-winning ad may be the answer to a different question.
I have always seen it as the job of planning to get the question right.
To get upstream of the question in fact.
To question the question.
To be strategically creative.
To change the problem from one that can’t be solved to one that can.
That is the true intellectual creativity of planning.
That is what Stephen King envisaged when he coalesced creativity and marketing thinking into planning.
Unfortunately, a lot of planners have become exactly what Stephen King warned them against.
They’ve become "mere ad-fiddlers".
Concentrating on the executional details of the solution rather than the big picture.
The tactics rather than the strategy.
Many planners think it is their job to have an opinion about every single executional detail of an ad.
This is in fact the exact opposite of what Stephen King envisaged planning to be.
This is just another person concentrating on the execution, the solution, the last five minutes.
Instead of making sure the problem to be solved has been excitingly and creatively arrived at by concentrating on the definition, the strategy, the first fifty-five minutes.
I think this is because many planners now confuse themselves with researchers.
They think their job is simply to be the voice of the consumer.
They steep themselves in consumers’ lives and believe their own subjectivity is the consumer’s subjectivity.
Their job then becomes to judge the finished work.
IMHO they are looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
They are not doing either job: planning or creative.
This is the equivalent of a general in the middle of a battle going round to every soldier to check his uniform is correct.
No one is doing the general’s job, and he’s stopping the soldiers doing their job.
For planning to truly be a contribution, planners need to recognise the role of planning.
To give the creatives an unfair strategic advantage.
To fight the battle somewhere no one expected us to fight it.
To compete where we are strongest and the competition is weakest.
To spot an opportunity that no one else has seen.
To be upstream, to be original, to be predatory.
That is what planning could and should be.
That is creative.
That isn’t ad-fiddling.