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Detectives and Comedians


Detectives and Comedians

“What kind of planner are you?”

I remember being thrown by that interview question the first time I heard it.

The person interviewing me wasn’t asking for my job description, as she knew I wasn’t a data planner or a social planner or a media planner.

So what did she want to hear? What could I say that would impress or reassure?

I stumbled my way through an answer, but the question has always bugged me.


Years later, I’m still not sure I have a particularly good answer to that question.

Not a short one, anyway.

Part of the challenge is that planning encompasses lots of different skills and interests.

That’s what attracted me to it in the first place.

You don’t need to pick consumer research or data or pop culture or psychology.

You get to play with all the tools in the toolbox.

And what you do changes from brief to brief.

So the kind of planner you are changes with the project you’re working on.

That’s what makes it such a difficult question to answer.


At some point in your career, you will be asked what your Myers Briggs personality type is. Or, worse, you’ll be asked to find out by filling out an online questionnaire.

This is astrology for people who should really know better.

Nobody can be neatly summarised by one of 16 personality types.

Or, if they can, they shouldn’t be a planner.


In planning, you should be able to move from one mode to another.

Sometimes you have to analyse the numbers. Sometimes you need to tell a great story.

Sometimes you’ll step into the limelight. Sometimes you should sit back and take notes.

You need to be a great listener and a great motivator.

The voice of the consumer and the guardian of the brand.


But it is possible to better understand the heart of planning by thinking of two other jobs.

Two jobs that seem to dominate TV dramas and panel shows.

Detectives and comedians.

The best planners I’ve worked with share traits with both.


Detectives start with the obvious questions.

What happened? Where? When?

Then they focus on the more difficult problems.

Why? How?

They look at seemingly complex things and pluck out important bits.

They deconstruct causes and effects.

They look for motives.

They make arguments and back them up with facts and observations.

They’re willing to change their minds when new evidence appears.

Instincts are important for detectives, too. They know not everything can be measured.


Then there are comedians.

Comedians are brilliant at understanding people.

At observing human behaviour and making sense of it.

At finding a new way of expressing something familiar.

At finding the tension in something and making it memorable.

Cutting through the bullshit.

They take risks and make leaps.

They make you wish you’d thought of that thing.

If they’re really good, they might even make you think you did think of it.


When you think of some professions, there are clear moulds.

If I introduced you to an estate agent, an accountant and a primary school teacher at a party, you’d probably have a good chance of matching the person to the job.

But detectives and comedians are harder to spot.

There are different types of comedians.

Extroverts and introverts. Storytellers and one-liner specialists. Observationalists and surrealists.

And there are different types of detectives.

Solitary and sociable. Analytical and eccentric. Meticulous and instinctive.


I think planning should be a bit more like that. You shouldn’t be able to spot a planner so easily.

(No, we don’t all wear glasses and spend all our time drawing venn diagrams.)

When agencies look for planners, they shouldn’t have a type in mind.

We should be looking for diversity in every sense of the word.

Problems can be solved in different ways, by people from different backgrounds, with different personalities and approaches.

That’s what makes planning the most interesting and exciting job in the agency.

As long as you’re part detective and part comedian, how you do it is up for grabs.


By: Joe Smith, Strategy Partner at AMV BBDO

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