“In a recession, planners are the first people to be made redundant.”

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You what? The problem with thinking ahead of our time

This was the statement presented as a “do you agree?” question by a Masters student who interviewed me some weeks ago, as part of his research into agency people (statement apparently made by another agency planner). My response at the time was “well they can’t have been a very good planner then” and although I obviously don’t know who made this remark, to me… it has middle-aged man written all over it.

Despite that brief moment of confidence, I have since been haunted by this question. I have to admit I’m struggling with the value of planning right now and am occasionally reminded by colleagues that planning remains a hard-sell to both prospective and current clients for various reasons:

  • When a client commissions a planner to think on their behalf, this will inevitably demand more thinking by the client, pre and post planning
  • Planning is a gamble, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get from it, which of course is its value, but also a risk
  • Planning is long-term and most people (agency and client-side) need a quick RoI for marketing activity to justify their own position
  • The pressure of working in a recession means that we often end up chasing shallow proposals, without being able to zoom out and evaluate the quality of the investment
  • Apple has a monopoly on digital media headlines creating a ridiculous frenzy to produce an app, without understanding the needs of an audience or SWOT/PEST analysis of the mobile market
  • Cool stuff does not come from Twitter, it gets promoted on Twitter
  • Really cool stuff comes from within: from understanding and involving your own audience(s) and producing something that you know they want, rather than think they need

Having seen some planners in other agencies I’m aware that the bar is high, but that’s not what concerns me; I like high bars and without arrogance, I think I’m a good planner. What I find frustrating at the moment and have found frustrating for a while is that the intelligence I can apply to planning is only as great as the confidence level of the clients who employ me.

At the beginning of this week, I wrote a post for Start-Up Café called “Get over social media!”, which I guess was in part, a personal reaction against a lot of social media consultancy and strategy that has come my way at Blonde. I’ve worked on one pure social media strategy piece and at least three digital marketing strategy projects, exploring each one with in-depth research and presenting back some short, medium and long-term direction. What agitates me is the fact that so many companies still seem to see social media and social networking as easy money…. quick win stuff and nearly always as territory that they can manage independently of their own website. Nobody, including myself, is under any illusion that social networking will go away and most appreciate that Facebook is HUGE; but (!) “social” is not a trademarked value of Facebook … or of Twitter and is a characteristic that should now be applied to all marketing and advertising activity regardless of the platform. We often talk about Facebook privacy issues in the context of consumers, but I have to admit I haven’t checked the rights of companies when it comes to their content on Facebook. At the moment, Facebook is a significant online attraction, in terms of membership and time spent online, but I don’t believe it should be The Strategy for any brand and think it’s dangerous for a company to put all of their eggs in one basket. I’m still holding out for a better, bolder move by Google in terms of social activity and I’m not swallowing that Facebook and Twitter are the end of the line when it comes to our digital “socialution”.

Two years ago at Blonde, we used very specific questions in surveys to establish the digital comfort zones of consumers. Now, it’s more important to use open questions:

  • Firstly because iPhone and Facebook headlines have influenced people to such an extent that they may react to these platforms and technologies without necessarily understanding the offering.
  • Secondly, people can be “social” without being on Facebook, so understanding whether or not someone is using Facebook, is actually only a tiny, tiny part of understanding their online social behaviours.
  • Thirdly, our knowledge of digital technologies and the immense flexibility now presented in Digital is far, far greater than the awareness of most audiences involved in our research. Mapping their online to offline behaviours, independent of associated technologies, can provide a more longevous digital solution than simply reviewing statistical data about where they’re hanging out online.

I believe this type of analysis is fundamental to the commercial evolution of any business, but some of our strategies have been scaled down to such an extent, that they’re no longer strategic pieces and the shadow of tactical activity is literally a whisper’s version of the curvy flesh we proposed as healthy.

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