I confess I have for the most part avoided judging. I never liked the idea of veterans and worthies critiquing the next generation of youthful tyros. And ‘Judge not lest ye be judged,’ was always ringing in my ears.
I’m so glad I made an exception for the APG Creative Strategy Awards.
I’ve learned about some extraordinary case studies and met some exemplary individuals. I’ve seen lateral thinking and inspiring execution. Though I’m nowadays somewhat semi-detached from the industry, I can declare that the Planning discipline is in rude health.
I’d like to pick out three themes that seemed to me to be particularly resonant.
Firstly, the job of the modern Planner requires that we focus on sustaining and developing an idea as much as having one in the first place. The role has evolved to embrace a wide range of functions: brand design and co-creation, negotiation and diplomacy, role playing and ‘show-running’. It’s what Ben calls ‘Post Planning Planning’.
Secondly, in the age of transparency, brands need to be prepared to recognise their flaws and failings – indeed sometimes to celebrate them. This entails being positive and proactive around issues that were hitherto regarded as unappealing and unattractive. It means telling the truth.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, courage has consequences. We have over the years talked freely about the need for brave thinking and bold work. But in the modern environment daring ideas first have to navigate caution and conservatism from corporate stakeholders, and then carping and criticism in the public realm. In the social age the modern Planner must be genuinely tough and resilient to defy ‘the haters.’
I was struck in the judging process by the fact that often quite understated and self-deprecating individuals had displayed admirable tenacity in the pursuit of excellence and change. I’m not sure that, in the same position, I would have been quite so robust.
I feel that nowadays we all need to channel our inner Katherine Hepburn. The four-time Oscar-winner had a privileged upbringing but a challenging career, and she teaches us a good deal about independence of thought and courage of convictions. She once declared that ‘enemies are so stimulating’ and her guiding principle in life was that ‘the greatest gift that anyone can give is freedom from fear.’
‘My attitude invites sharp criticism’ she said, ‘And I’m perfectly willing to accept it.’
In conclusion, having judged 27 compelling cases back in September, I’m more than ever convinced that these times of transformational change need your imagination, your insight and your lateral thought. However hard it is in the industry right now, however much it’s suggested that the agenda has moved on, please stay true to your creative soul. And stay strong … Strong as an ox. Strong as the wind. Strong as death. Strong as Katherine Hepburn. Strong as an Account Planner.
I’d particularly like to thank my colleagues on both the Shortlisting and Final Judging Panels. I felt flattered to be keeping their company. And I’d also like to applaud Sarah and Matt, and everyone at the APG, for running such a smooth operation. They’d give their Account Management equivalents a run for their money, and we really are very lucky to have them.
And so to the Awards. You’ll be the best judges of whether we’ve made the right decisions. But whatever you think of the particular hue of the trophies, please do read the book that accompanies this event. It’s full of inspiring, thought-provoking stories. And it prompts a positive perspective on our industry and times.
For that we should all be grateful.