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Business Bites Back

Last night at Fallon, the APG convened for some more Noisy Thinking about the present and future of planning.

This time it was the turn of clients past, present and future to chare their views on the state of the discipline and the challenges facing Planners….

Andy Fennell, Group Marketing Director of Diageo; Mark Lund, Partner at NOW and former CEO of COI; Alison Hardy, owner of Headstrong Thinking and former Director of Marketing Services at Doctor Foster: DOH shared insights and provocations

Andy kicked off, reflecting initially on the ever more complex state of marketing and communication, with a proliferation of media and markets to deal with nowadays. His view of planning and planners was simple – be insightful, action focussed drivers of growth. Our role is to create change and for all our cleverness and intellect, if we can’t affect change then our ideas and our role are worthless. Our role is to focus creative endeavour and our obsession is simplicity. The kind of planners he’s looking for are partners, team members, owning the business outcome. The last thing he wants is a consultant. If you can’t synthesise all your cleverness into a remarkably simple idea expressed in ordinary language, then you will simply be tolerated and ultimately ignored.

Inspired by Andy’s tales of simplicity and business focussed and chilled by the prospect of noisy irrelevance, we welcomed Alison to share her views.

As an agency planner turned client at the UK’s biggest employer (the NHS, 1.4 million people!), Alison had a unique perspective. We all indulge in the fantasies she describes, where the agency, and the planner is the centre of the clients’ life, hanging on our every utterance. Of course it’s nothing like that. Clients are busy, distracted and managing a vast number of relationships – in her time at the DoH, Alison was dealing, on a weekly retained basis, with 19 different agencies, of one discipline or another. As she put it – you don’t manage the client, the client manages you. Very few agencies and very few people count in this world. Only 3 or 4 of those 19 agencies were really close to her and very few individuals in these agencies stood out. The challenge for planning is to be the voice of insight and clarity in the crowd; to understand the clients’ business and make a difference to it. Planners’ habit of always looking to find a new challenge and tiring of routine can militate against this, as ultimately the only thing that matters in an agency is the individuals, and planners allow themselves to be moved around too much to matter in the long run.

Alison’s focus on closeness reminded us all that for planning to be effective, it is a relationship discipline. Mark Lund was up next.

Speaking as a serial founder of agencies and a manager of one of the biggest agency rosters in recent history during his time at the COI, Mark was broad in his references and realistic in his assessment. Marketing clients are under more pressure than they have ever been, needing to interpret a colossally complex world and deliver results fast. The planners role is to help the client interpret this world and light the way ahead. Our duty must be to the ultimate business outcome. He shared some helpful archetypes to illustrate the future – would you be Gandalf, drawing on wisdom and experience to create the right outcome? Or would you be the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock of 2012, the young, quick witted observer, able to see what others have not seen and draw swift and insightful conclusions. He left us with the image of the great planner as the gymnast on a bar, able to perform dazzling somersaults, but always land on a slender, solid foundation of truth.

The evening wore on into questions as we discussed what consumer ownership of brands might mean for all this (get over it, the consumer has always owned your brand, it’s just more visible now); whether the planners’ primary responsibility is to the client or the creative department (it’s all about the business outcome, remember?); and whether planning can thrive as an independent specialist discipline (planning is one player on a team, as an independent voice, the question is what will you do with all those clever charts?). The assembled masses tumbled out into the bright lights of Oxford Circus provoked, inspired and ready to go again in a couple of months when we will debate the effect that global planning has on all this.

Thanks to Fallon for hosting such a stimulating event and to our sponsors, Flamingo.

Craig Mawdsley

APG Chair

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