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Noisy Thinking Goes Global

Last night at Google there was a frenzy of interest in Global Planning – how to do it, what makes it great, what makes it terrible, whether there is such a thing (Planners being Planners) or whether it’s all just about connecting with people, whoever or wherever they are.

120 Planners (and we were delighted to welcome Planning God Paul Feldwick amongst them) showed up to hear Guy Murphy, Jackie Hughes and John Shaw shed brilliant light on the subject: ‘Global or local Planning – Which would you rather do?’ Between them they made three exceptionally elegant, entertaining and original speeches and whether they were broadly for or against, beautifully nuanced or neutral, no one could go away without wanting to pop on that plane and give it a go.

You can watch the videos here.

John Shaw (former Worldwide Planning Director at Ogilvy and current Strategy and Planning Partner at Rapier) began with a thoughtful, funny and genuinely fascinating review of the life of a Global Planner and all the implications of the job for life and career, both good bad. (If you missed this, you still see his slides here)

Drawing on his own experience, he’d also done an intriguing piece of research among a large number of Planners who’d worked on global business ‘at home’ and abroad. He rehearsed the down side at some length; rarely is the quality of the work the main draw and you have to deal with endless shitty conference calls and stare down ‘cookies the size of your face’ in trying to prevent boredom in global meeting rooms. He can’t be the only International Dad whose daughter was sometimes ‘frightened of the strange man’ when he reappeared from some global trotting, and he acknowledged that living abroad can be lonely, (depending I guess on how seriously you take your responsibility as agent to exporting the British drinking culture).

But the upside was undeniable. It’s fantastic when you get the work right and you pull off a truly global piece of work that works. Working in another country helps you grow as a person, see yourself in a new way and even be a better Planner because you are less reliant on instinct and more on objectivity – especially at first. London is a bubble. Working abroad and planning globally helps you appreciate iconic and world-class stuff at first hand and gives you a real sense of scale, which is exhilarating and exciting. It could change your life and he laid down the most seductive of Planning gauntlets: ‘You’re curious, aren’t you?’

Jackie Hughes (who’s worked at a high level in Planning in agencies, clients and research companies and is currently Strategy Director of Flamingo) begged to question the whole proposition. She talked about people power, and how people, and connections with them, are the beating heart of Planning. For her global and local are just about proximity and geography – they don’t get to the crux of the issue. Planning is about making sure the voice of the person is heard and people don’t reside in demographics or even necessarily in a region – London probably has more different cultures than China.

For her Planning is the connecter of people, brands and culture, and the question is how you create powerful people connections locally or globally. To illustrate her point she showed a brilliant model for plotting brands and institutions by their ability to connect; from high empathy to low empathy and local to global – with high empathy brands (Farmers markets, Apple?) Being able to be either ‘glocalist’ or ‘localist’ and equally strong either way. And you can set these against brands that have relatively low empathy like global Facebook – tending towards imperialism? And feudalist brands such as the Post Office or Snappy Snap. It’s stirring stuff.

So global or local; it doesn’t matter. Do what seems fun and properly engages your brain – and follow your instincts and interests.

Guy Murphy (Worldwide Planning Director of JWT) concluded with a seductively clever apology/(recruitment drive?) in favour of planning on the world stage. He felt the need to start by defining terms, in particular to lend some certainty to the notion of local vs. global planning, by re-defining the opposition less ‘pejoratively’ as domestic vs. international. He outlined the skills required: Managing the geographical dimension of brands and being able to marry ideas with cultures, and he positioned it not as a job but as a skill – making clear that international planning skills are the most important future skill for any planner.

He then launched into a brilliant exemplar of what makes international planning so fascinating by showing how one idea works internationally. Using the ubiquitous and English ‘Keep calm and carry on’ poster, he first explained how extraordinarily local it is – stiff upper lip and restraint in times of crisis and impending war – and how English the subsequent ironic and ‘post-ironic’ iterations have been in their response to a crisis of a different, economic kind. Yet this quintessentially English piece of communication has crossed continents and borders and been adopted in the most unlikely of cultures and geographies, each of which has bent and adapted and made it their own. His point was that it shows how different cultures respond to a crisis. In the US the version reads: ’Keep calm and fake a British accent’ since the Americans are fascinated with our fatalism and the fact that it contrasts so strongly with their interventionist approach.

In the Philippines the exhortation is to ‘keep calm and leave it up to batman’. It’s witty and reminiscent of a line in their culture about ‘God will do the rest’. So their interpretation puts religion at the heart of a defence against crisis. Unsurprisingly perhaps the Greek version is defeatist – ‘Keep calm. How, you idiot?’ There were numerous other examples including an extraordinary cultural mash-up created by teenager in China about the now dead former President of Argentina. So local can be global, even verbal ideas can be global – breaking all the ‘rules.’

To sum up he posited a planning role on the ‘Making the world feel OK about the crisis’ account. What skills would be required and what questions would you have to ask. Maybe….How do cultures feel about crisis? What is the cultural response – religion, sport, irony? What sort of comms model might you need? How many executions for the budget? How does the idea work across cultures? And so on.

If the world is only going one way and growth is going to be increasingly multi market, don’t be a 2D Planner. “Think Big and Engage Billions.’

Then there were numerous interesting and insightful questions that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Nobody wanted to go. They mingled and chatted and drank (avoiding the more arcane of the shots thoughtfully provided by John to give a literal global flavor to the event. A dram of Scandinavian Fisk, anyone?) And eventually of course, it was Time.

Heartfelt thanks to our brilliantly engaging speakers, the highly appreciative audience; to Google our generous hosts and Flamingo our sponsor.

Sarah Newman

APG Director

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