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Drinking, chatting, fighting, smoking and bags of provocation

98% Potato by Jon Griffiths and Tracey Follows

Well done to all those who entered our terrifyingly hard and devastatingly serious quiz.

I know you’re a fearfully competitive bunch so you might like to know that only 7% of entrants got all the answers right. The question that tripped most people up is to be found here, courtesy of Christine Grey: ‘Planning at Thompsons was always regarded as the pinko lefty department. Miles Colebrook used to call it brown bread corner. We went to a seminar once and they served up a kind of fruit compote pudding, and Miles said ‘Ugh! Account Planners’ breakfast’

(Not much has changed then in the last 50 years, Ed)

There were 3 winners. Stand up Stefan Schoombee, Alexi Gunner and Sahil Nathu. Your prizes are in the post.

There is also a Special Prize for wit awarded to Trevor Lindroos of Omobono, who substituted illustrious BBH Strategy God and APG committee member, John Harrison for a potato. We’re assuming you’re mates….


OK, it wasn’t actually fisticuffs; more fighting your intellectual corner, but the early days of planning under Stanley Pollitt at BMP have all the hallmarks of genteel riot – a riot that accidentally spawned an entire qualitative research industry on the side.

In fact, as you planners probably know, the introduction of planning as a way of thinking and working happened more or less simultaneously in BMP, and in JWT under Stephen King. Maybe it’s not surprising that JWT, with its choirs and orchestras and clients who originally had to apply to have the agency handle their account, should have pioneered a different style of planning; brilliantly conceived and extensively documented as the Planning Cycle and the T Plan by King.

The new planning approach in both agencies was propagated and promoted by a handful of acolytes who mostly fell serendipitously into the job and appear to have had an absolute ball getting it going. And they had several important qualities in common: They were all pretty extraordinary people, they had a desire to challenge the status quo, they combined intuition and analytical thinking in solving problems and they had bright, intense and inquiring minds.

98% Potato is a crowd funded publishing project that has allowed John Griffiths and Tracey Follows to disseminate the findings from a series of fascinating interviews with these first planners, and to review in detail the development of planning as a discipline over the last 50 or so.

It’s a closely observed, detailed account of the complex root structure of planning as it is practised today, showing how the rival approaches to planning have morphed and changed over time in the hands of many different personalities and in a myriad of agencies in the 50 or so years since its inception.

During that time planning (and now ‘strategy’) has grown from a cottage industry confined to a handful of London agencies to a global discipline practised across a myriad of different kinds of agency and in client companies too. The APG which was originally an intellectual huddle of keen volunteers, has become a flourishing organisation with over 1,000 members in London alone and satellite APGs around the world.

So what has changed? I guess the answer is everything and nothing. It seems clear that something as profoundly useful as planning has largely grown through its own merit, with clients account men and particularly creatives, just wanting more and more of it.

There never was and never will be an accurate ‘definition’ of planning. There are as many definitions as there are agencies that have practised it and as the authors show, it morphs and changes all the time depending on circumstance, the demands of the agency or the business as a whole or the economic cycle. There is more demand for planners than ever and tech and innovation companies compete to hire them for their unique and hard-to-qualify skill set.

Good ideas stick fast. At the APG we’re currently interviewing CSOs across London representing every kind of agency from media to design to ‘creative’ and digital (and some clients) and it’s heartening to note that many of the first principles are as alive and useful and central to the discipline today as they were when planning first asserted itself back in the ‘70’s.

The authors pose some provocative questions: Should planning be the preserve of the whole agency – a mind set rather than a department?

How do you manage the competing demands of tech expertise and human insight?

But for me the overriding message of the book, is how much it’s always been down to individuals thriving in innovative cultures and building successful brands and businesses through their strategic and creative abilities.

And if you were hiring planners tomorrow, wouldn’t your brief be extraordinary people, with desire to challenge the status quo, combining intuition and analytical thinking in solving problems with bright, intense and inquiring minds.?

Pity about the drinking and the fighting, but you can’t have everything.

Sarah Newman APG Director

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