I've been mulling over an article for a while, and finally penned it earlier this week. I've emailed it to Campaign, but presuming it won't get published I thought I'd drop it all here.
Planning is at a crossroads and needs to spearhead industry-wide changes to take advantage of upcoming economic growth argues Mark Hadfield, Head of Strategy at Nexus/H.
There’s a lot of chatter around at the moment about how the industry can move forward by learning from different sectors; a selection of IPA delegates visiting Silicon Valley and the new planning trend of ‘making instead of talking’ being two examples.
As a planner this fills me with optimism, as I’m all for branching out and learning new things from new sectors to benefit my day-to-day work and the clients I work for. After all, continuing to learn everyday is part of what makes me a planner isn’t it?
Within every great team there are great individuals; entrepreneurial individuals who give the rest of the team a platform from which to learn and challenge. This puts planning squarely at the heart of the modern agency: improving, learning, adapting and challenging in genuinely remarkable times and deviating from the norms set out by generations past.
But in 2012, some 40 odd years after the discipline was founded and in a global economy about to leave behind a significant period of stagnation, planning is at a crossroads and some key questions need to be asked so planning can build on this opportunity:
- Where will the next generation of planners come from?
- How can planners improve how they learn from other planners?
- How can agencies unleash the full potential of planners?
Learned and Taught
I have a theory that there are two kinds of planners: Taught planners and Learned planners.
Taught planners are traditionally spotted at university studying a human sciences course, and join a large network agency to learn their particular interpretation of planning.
Learned planners have spent part of their life working in another discipline and then make a switch over to planning. Their previous discipline may be unrelated to their new industry altogether but they bring with them unbridled enthusiasm, an essential naivety of the constraints of the industry and a new perspective on answering problems.
Like a footballer being taught ballet to increase balance, there are many positives to be learned from the latter approach but traditionally these people don't fit into the pigeonholes of the large networked agency.
It's important that the industry doesn't wait for Learned planners to fall into planning. The industry as a whole and each agency individually should have a team of scouts who scour the fields for interesting people ready to take a sideways jump into planning. We need to evolve beyond cherry-picking students of psychology and think laterally about where new planners can feasibly come from in order to remain relevant in the future and to approach clients business problems in evolved ways.
Planning partnerships are essential
As we’ve all noticed, we’re in a time when clients are expecting more for less. More results, more output and a quicker turnaround usually with less reward. Well, the agency of the future will need to move with even more agility and speed and to supplement this, continual evolution is absolutely essential.
Andrew Cracknell states in his excellent The Real Mad Men “clients have always been hyper paranoid about having their business with an agency that is simultaneously handling a company who could even remotely be considered a rival”, and I’m sure we’d all agree. But I’d argue agencies themselves are just as paranoid and this inhibits the learnings, and thus benefits, planners can bring to a clients business.
Agencies that have traditionally competed with each other should be encouraged to share ideas, and an open-source style of critical questioning is needed at all levels. It’s essential for the future of the planning discipline and the communications industry as a whole that we overcome our paranoia and start to share non-confidential, beneficial knowledge and information within our industry. Max Wright writing in Campaign a few years ago stated integration is a ‘way of working, no more no less’ within an agency. I totally agree but I’d like to take it one step further and I’d like that same integration to move between agencies. Instead of flying to Silicon Valley, we should all be opening our doors to learn from each other a little closer to home.
On top of this, meaningful collaborations with other disciplines outside of the industry would pay dividends - be it relationships with screenwriters, comedians, business analysts, actors or artists to further increase agility and to keep everyone away from those pigeon shaped holes.
Making mistakes is good
Cliché alert: Mistakes should not be feared. This is something I hear lots from people speaking at conferences, yet we’re still dominated by an awards industry that celebrates successes and not mistakes. With planning and creative teams eager to raise the bar and set new records at every opportunity mistakes should be expected and indeed, for the brave, praised.
For some agencies the question needs to shift from "How can we avoid mistakes?" to "How can our clients benefit from our mistakes?" because as we've seen over the previous eight years, the rulebook is changing at an alarming rate and more mistakes are being made every day. If the agency cannot adjust to this evolved way of thinking they will suffocate the free thinking a planner needs to succeed in the future.
Remaining focused on the opportunity
Andrew Cracknell said at a recent Yahoo! event “There is an urge to do what can be done, instead of doing what should be done" and this is something it’s essential we remember. What should be done is the undeniable role of the new planner and it’s a role that is growing with importance with every brief.
Now is the time for planners to unite and to work together to do what should be done. If we can improve how we find fresh thinking, how we work together and how we truly encourage the making of mistakes we can be the spine of our agencies moving forward. This puts us in prime position to use economic growth to fuel and evolve the importance of planning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark Hadfield is Head of Strategy at Nexus/H. He studied a degree in Architecture and an MA in Design Studies. He doesn’t share as much as he’d like, but he definitely makes mistakes.