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Power to the Planner

In May 2012 I wrote my first ever blog on my first ever APG event and, ever since, I’ve been hooked on both. After going to my first APG Conference last week, it’s become clear the correlation between the two isn’t a coincidence. Blogging is a way of simply and succinctly sharing ideas, and the APG, time and again, is able to consistently offer its members the best stimulus anyone could ask for. If before, during or after an APG event you haven’t had at least one interesting idea, you’re doing something wrong.

This year’s ‘APG Big Thinking on Strategy’ Conference, with keynote speaker Sir Lawrence Freedman, was no exception. So here’s mine…

Listening to all eight guest speakers last week, the value of Planning and Strategy couldn’t have been emphasized more… Now and again you hear comments like ‘there’s no need for Planners’, ‘they’re a nice to have’ and ‘they’re not really needed’, which breeds the idea that Planners need to constantly prove themselves because they’re a non-essential part of the advertising process. I’ve always thought this idea was nonsense and now, thanks to Sir Lawrence and the other speakers, I couldn’t be more certain.

For me, Planners and Strategists (at their most basic level) are simply problem solvers. Give them a problem and it’ll get fixed. More often than not this is a business problem that communications are tasked to help solve, but not always. I don’t know about you, but with almost everything I try and do, I encounter some kind of problem… I’m not just an unfortunate fellow, it’s the way the world is. So if one perspective of life is a constant series of problems that require solving - why wouldn’t a Planner, who is expert in consciously solving complex problems, be an essential part of the process?

Keynote speaker Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College London and author of Strategy: A History, has gone to great lengths to detail the origins and fundamentals of Strategy over time. To synthesise his insightful talk and all 630 pages of his book, Sir Lawrence defines strategy as “getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power”. And, for me, this definition is fascinating. If you don’t want to get more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest, then absolutely disregard the need for Strategy in advertising. If however, you want to harness “the art of creating power” in the process of making great communications, there’s no person better equipped to meet this need. Strategists (with a big S and a small s) future-proof themselves and the industry by continuously solving problems in an innovative and creative way to get “more out of a situation than a starting balance of power would suggest”. That’s how they add value. And that’s why they’re so important.

Malcolm White demonstrated this perfectly in the final speech of the conference, centered around ‘The Future of Strategy’.

Malcolm saw a problem with Strategy, in a talk about The Future of Strategy, to an audience of over 300 Strategists, and in doing so solves this problem to secure the future of Strategy in advertising once more. It’s a great, tongue-in-cheek example of why the skillset of Planners and Strategists is so important.

Until next year’s conference, here’s to the ‘nice to have’s’.

Power to the Planner.

Alex Dobson

Hall & Partners, London

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