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APG Noisy Thinking | How do you plan?

We thought it would be bracing to start the new year with a fresh look at the basics so we began by asking 3 planners who’ve been doing it for a while, with quite a lot of success, how they approach the job.

They have vast amounts of experience at different agencies, working on a multitude of diverse clients and applying contrasting academic and strategic approaches to their work. They are also generalists in the best sense of the word. They are able to apply their skills, experience and personality to any number of strategic problems: small, large, tricky, straightforward or messy and come up with a workable and inspiring creative strategy.

And I use the word ‘personality’ advisedly because one of the lessons that came singing through their presentations was how they channel a range of useful and hard acquired skills through their personal interests to create something that feels a bit like magic. It’s not just how they do it; it’s who they are as people.

Being a planner in 2019 is undoubtedly tough. You have never had more potential ideas and data to use in developing strategy. You have never had more stimulation from culture and people and digital sources. And you have never had less time to come up with a way forward.

But you do have yourself, your passions and ways of dealing with people; how you think, what you read and how you come up with ideas. That mix is entirely yours, and add the best of that to acquiring a range of skills to pull you through problem definition and solution and you have your own strategic magic. You need to build up your own continuously refreshed databank of ideas and ways of thinking that you can draw on when a new brief comes in and you need to come up with something fast.

That’s what we wanted you to take away from Noisy Thinking. The fact that there are always multiple good solutions to any brief and with the right balance of rigour and creativity you can come up with something that is going to take you and the creatives to an effective campaign.

As the three speakers demonstrated, you can start in entirely different places, and follow entirely diverging paths in the search for a creative strategy but end up in equally effective, inspiring places. So how do they do it?

Craig Mawdsley is CSO at AMV BBDO and well known for taking an upstream approach to problem solving and doing rather impressive things with data along the way. So we asked him to put on his Data Man hat and show what a strongly commercial approach to solving a brief could yield.

He chose to illustrate his talk with a series of charts of data about the National Lottery that he used in a recent pitch. All the data he showed is in the public domain which was helpful from a client confidentiality point of view and also encouraged us to think about accessing data that is generally available, as well client data when we’re working on a brand. As you know, client owned data is not always as accessible as we would like.

His view is that numbers are the best place to start for advocacy but not always the best place to start to win a pitch. (Eat your heart out, adam&eveDDB who won the lottery pitch).

Starting with data is however the right way to think, and for the strategist with a good dose of integrity, also the best thing to do in the interests of the client.

We live in a world of opinion fuelled by social media, and agencies are also rife with unfounded opinions, so numbers can help you understand what is true and help you bring truth and proof to all the talk.

Numbers and data are also good for working out what problem you are trying to solve. They can help you navigate the dynamics of an organisation, get to people you want to influence and show you where you should be focusing your creative efforts.

Craig is humble enough to admit that he gets a lot of help with all of this from AMV’s Head of Data Insight; a person who understands that he needs to provide a workable story to move a strategy on; not a version of the ‘truth’.

There followed an inspiring and interesting walk through about 10 data heavy charts and graphs through which he simply outlined the development of the AMV strategy: The Story.

The realisation that, for example:

  • Declining numbers of people were doing the lottery over time as experience told them they were not winning, and the success of the lottery was increasingly dependent on fewer people spending more.

  • Defining the problem, they realised that the main issue was with the Lotto game where an increase in the number of numbers on the ticket had substantially diminished the chances of anyone getting the jackpot each time (the % of jackpots won went from 70% to 14%) and definitely not you. An increase in ticket price to £2 reduced the number of lines bought and over one year the revenue from 1 billion lines was lost.

  • All of this profoundly influenced the strategy as telling people they had a chance of winning abutted their experience that practically no-one was winning.

  • In addition, they used stats to show that over time the number of people in the population self identifying as optimists was declining leaving only optimists playing the game. As a result, the agency concentrated on how it feels to play; not to win.

A data slam-dunk of a strategy that sang its power and simplicity through 10 choice graphs.

Ultimately we planners are in the business of business. So start with numbers.

Milla McPhee is Head of Planning at adam&eveDDB and she has an academic background in behavioural science as a lecturer at Sydney University. So BE has a big influence on how she approaches some problems, but if forced to describe her most effective approach she would say she is a ‘method planner’.

She thinks you have to be a chameleon to be a good planner but there is one characteristic that makes the best planners: empathy.

In a nice aside she claimed that one way of working out whether you have sufficient empathy is that you have to be good at buying presents for people; and able to put yourself in the shoes of other people and literally become them to do your job (I thought that was a terrific analogy and will steal it forthwith.)

She used 2 examples where she had put this method of planning to really use on clients. The first is Highways England. Data analysis showed that of all the reasons for serious accidents the main one is tailgating. They could have done an awareness campaign to try and curtail the behaviour by making it more salient, but in research they found that tailgaters were happy to admit they did it.

The aim therefore became to change perceptions and make the behaviour socially unacceptable, a bit like drink driving.

Milla spent a day watching accidents on the road on video. Interesting but ultimately not great for yielding insight.

She then spent a day on the road with Highways England in their cars, looking out of the back window. And this was when she realised that cars pulling up to the bumper felt like a dangerous encroachment of personal space; an entirely different emotional response to watching accidents on a screen.

And from that, the brief ‘don’t be a creep’ led to ‘Don’t be a Space Invader’ drawing on a cultural icon with a dramatic and highly visible TV execution.

Dreamies are the most irresistible cat treat. When she was put on the account Milla actually went out and got a cat.

(I think we'd call that method pet ownership).

Thereafter followed a period of cat observation and the fact that as cats only give love and affection on their own terms, owners want to gain power in the relationship to manage a return of love and affection.

Milla realised that her cat responded immediately to the noise of the packet being shaken and that this could become a primary emotional moment in the relationship between cat and owner.

‘All it takes is a shake’ to bring your cat to you for a shared moment of love.

So Milla’s principles are that really getting to an insight can give you belief and conviction as a planner and you can get that from genuinely experiencing the power of a brand in your life. And that conviction gets you to better creative.

So insist on ‘field days’ henceforth. And go out and live your brands as your consumers live them. It can be life changing.

Raquel Chicourel is CSO at M&C Saatchi. She’s been a journalist and planner and has a special affinity with culture. Refreshingly she started with a most un-planner-like assertion that ‘style is as important as substance’ and however good the thinking and data, style can make the difference between good and great.

Using an entertaining interactive presentation based on the recent Black Mirror interactive Bandersnatch, she created Plannersnatch for us live in the room. BOOM.

There followed 5 Raquel Rules.

1. The importance of resilience. Planning is not a linear progression, leading to a brilliant thought; it’s highly messy and chaotic like the game of life. So don’t let things go. Stay with the work right up to, through and after production. Dodge the Planning Twilight Zone where other people seem to be in charge, and make sure you are there fighting for it to be right up to the end.

2. Fluidity of style. There are lots of different ways to be a planner:

  • An empathy lighthouse or EQ Sensei who knows what the client is thinking and can change the course of a meeting

  • A creative strategist, the creatives’ favourite person; they fight to be in your briefings

  • A Byron-Les aficionado, all about driving effectiveness

  • A culture ninja, there in the trenches with the real people in the real world

  • A data wizard with a cup of tea, culling amazing insight from the dark side of the moon.

But there is no right answer. You don’t need to choose or pigeon hole yourself. You need to be able to adapt to different clients and problems – to freestyle

3. Precision and inventiveness in how you frame the problem. Never play back the client’s articulation. Always reframe it to inspire. So Fridge Raiders’ ambition to turn teenagers from crisp snackers to protein snackers, was all about getting teenagers to see them as the gaming equivalent of popcorn to film.

You only have one chance to frame the problem so get it right.

4. Culture. Make your thinking matter; make it true in real life. We live in a world of oversharing and people frankly don’t like sharing their Air BnB holiday with strangers. So for HomeAway the promise was you get the whole house. 5. Running out of time she turned to briefs and briefings.

In the debate about brief vs briefing, the importance of the briefing is pre-eminent. Creatives must leave the room wanting to work on the brief.

A rousing end to an impassioned speech. I guess the whole audience would like to be Raquel's briefings.

The video will up on the site in a week or so.

In the meantime, APG members are being offered an exclusive discount on tickets to the launch of Noisy Thinking sponsor Flamingo’s new cultural trends report, The Frame. Go here to get your ticket. If you’d like to know more, please contact Bronwen Morgan.

Sarah Newman


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