The Years Ahead For ... Account Planning

Charles Vallance hopes that 2010 will be the year that planners will spend less time talking about planning and more time actually doing it.

There's always something a bit smug about awards ceremonies. Which is another way of saying they're smugger than the cat that's not only got the cream, but also the mouse, the hamster and the budgerigar. Not to mention next door's pet rabbit. Very, very smug indeed, in other words.

Not only that, but they tend to be the stalking ground for some of life's less appealing characteristics; resentment, delusion, envy, bitterness, spite, arrogance, self-congratulation. Or is it just me? Either way, you can tell how much I enjoy an awards do.

What, you may ask, has this got to do with planning in 2010? The answer lies in the Account Planning Group Awards, which culminated in a glittering prize-giving event last October. Among many notable features, one that sticks in my mind is a fantastic piece of plannerial prevarication - "dress code; black tie (optional)". The art of the single-minded proposition lives on. We were also treated to the winners being read out in alphabetical order which, although it takes away nearly all of the suspense, does have the advantage of refreshing your memory on which letter comes where should you be alphabetically rusty.

I remember shuffling into work the next day, bleary eyed. One of VCCP's planners, "Gorgeous" George Everett, had won a silver for Comparethemarket.com that put him in quite good company (alongside the likes of Volkswagen, Nike, Lynx, Johnnie Walker, Nokia etc). However, in the begrudging spirit of an awards shindig, I think we succeeded in making him feel that he had quite badly underachieved. It seemed hilarious at the time.

Anyway, the next morning, Cliff (Hall, managing partner) sent round a cheery note to say how well George had done, and I felt amends had been made. At one with the world, I brewed myself a restorative cup of tea, and settled down to read all about the last night's proceedings in my hotoff-the-press copy of Campaign.

Much as I take a dim view of awards ceremonies, I have reluctantly to concede that, as a way of showcasing state of the artness in any given field, they do serve a useful purpose. Planning, in particular, seems to lend itself to the awards rigmarole. As a naturally bookish subject, it suits being written up. Both the IPA Effectiveness and APG Awards are a great source of reference on best practice and communication know-how. That said, having never troubled the scorers at the APG Awards (not even a measly bronze), I have a natural preference for the IPA. That'll learn them.

So, going back to the morning after, there they were nestling languorously on pages 20 and 21 of Campaign (9 October 2009). By them, I mean Guy Murphy's words of wisdom on what could be learnt from this year's entrants and winners. In a very lucid article, Guy sets out how planning is evolving and adapting to the digital age and how the papers, in effect, illustrate the way that planning is redefining itself as the noughties give way to the tens. Won't it be nice, incidentally, when we get a decade with a proper name like the 20s? At least the teens aren't too far away.

In his seminal piece, Guy identifies seven new types of planning that are leading the way in the evolution of the discipline. They are as follows:

- Content planning.

- Channel planning.

- Cultural planning.

- Creation planning.

At this point, I thought Guy was going for the seven Cs, but he blew it.

- Real-time planning (I'd have gone contemporaneous planning).

- Behavioural planning (conduct planning?).

- Micro-planning (not so easy to find a C on this one). Leave it off the list and go for the six Cs?

Rather than repeat or paraphrase what Guy has already said on these emerging skills, I would simply refer you to his article (www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/946157/Redefining-planning/) as the simplest way of understanding how planning must continue to proliferate and adapt successfully in the year, and years, ahead.

There is only one thing I would add to the general debate around planning, which is more a point of etiquette than anything else. And the point is, it's all getting rather repetitive. It strikes me that planners are in danger of spending so much time debating the evolution of planning that they'll turn round one day and find it's been outsourced to somewhere more productive.

For this reason, I very much hope that 2010 will be the year that planners focus less on talking about planning, and more on doing it. The year that planning gets over itself.

The best planning will always involve small teams working closely together, solving problems through combined imagination and creativity. My resultant advice to up-and-coming planners would be to make sure, each week, that the combined sum of how often you visit Facebook, how often you Tweet or update your blog should be less than, or equal to, a fifth of the contact you make each week with creative teams in discussing and improving the end product.

For the more numerate, my planning co-efficient for 2010 can be expressed algebraically as follows;

(Tweets + Blogs + Facebook visits) over 5 </= chats with creative teams about end product.

This is my Action Algorithm for 2010. The more fastidious among you (that's right, all three of you) might observe that an article on planning isn't quite complete without a mnemonic of some sort. Or at least an acronym. After considerable thought, I think I've come up with quite a catchy one - TEN for 2010, which goes as follows:

- Talk face to face first, Tweet avatar to avatar later.

- Engineer opportunities to speak to creative teams rather than tap away at your keyboard.

- Never sit at your desk for more than an hour - it's bad for your literal and figurative circulation.

Happy New Year.

- Charles Vallance is a founding partner of VCCP.