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Planning and Market Research - Two Much Maligned Disciplines

Opinion, 11 May 2014

How many newer entrants into market research know, I wonder, what "planners" do in Advertising Agencies? I've spent almost a decade of my professional career in planning, leading the Planning Unit at Grey Europe, and then jointly spear-heading it at Young and Rubicam in Germany.

I've always felt it to be an immensely important and powerful discipline, charged with the all-important task of writing a creative brief.

However, like Market Research, it is often mis-understood, disliked even, especially amongst creatives – with the image of finger-wagging theorists intent on destroying the freedom that creative folk yearn for. 

This can – and has, in my view – lead to the discipline being downplayed in importance, and downweighted in staffing terms over time.

It's a development with dangerous consequences – here's my take:

1. Good Planning is the Friend, not the Enemy of Creativity.

Planning is – just like research – immensely powerful, but it can be perceived as a threat, especially to creative people who see it as just another voice narrowing down their creative freedom. Disciplinary antagonism is often rife.

Good planning is actually immensely useful for creatives – it transforms briefs that are invariably driven by numbers, corporate objectives, confusing language, into something both focussed and more importantly infused with an end-user perspective. Using qualitative research, planning delivers consumer language, context, emotion, bringing real-life into a strategic process.

It also opens up avenues for creatives to explore – which are not immediately obvious from the original client briefing document and research data-decks.

2. Planning = Productivity.

Planning is an area where many Agencies have looked to save money over the past 10 -15 years as clients increase pressure on budgets and margins. This appears attractive in the short term – lower overheads, no immediate impact on output and billing – I'd say these are false economies.

Taking away the focus on planning actually reduces the overall value an Agency delivers as a strategic partner, and invariably leads to more tactical output. Hourly rates are more difficult to justify.

By effectively narrowing a brief down to the essentials, sifting the wheat from the chaff, leading collaborative workshops, planners allow creatives – often the most expensive FTEs – to be much more productive, with less work destined for the waste paper basket.

3. Good Agencies Give Planners an Equal Voice.

A frustration of many Planners is their lack of organisational integration – Agencies can be fraught with politics and power struggles, planners can easily be caught between many stools.

To be effective and rewarding, planning needs to be given equal weight at the table. Critically, planners need to be involved early-on in the business cycles, so that timelines can build in the few weeks (or days) needed to do qualitative exploratory work.

Why this focus on planning?

I see the research industry and advertising planners fighting very similar battles – delivering immense value, but often lacking visibility, failing to secure corporate recognition, and struggling to secure an appropriate share of the marketing budget. 

The closer researchers and planners work together, share learnings on new developments, attend Conferences and events in the respective disciplines, build bridges and dissipate potential antagonisms, the better for all concerned. So – being concrete (and with UK bias): researchers grab a copy of Admap ( the next time you can, and planners: check out the MRS UK Impact magazine, bookmark the MRS website –

We may be working with slightly different remits, but we have a strong common interest – helping the voice of the consumer being heard more powerfully, acted on more often – not just left as a phrase in a brochure, on a website.

Curious, as ever, as to others' views.

About the author

Edward Appleton is Senior Manager Consumer Insights at Coca Cola Gmbh based in Berlin, Germany. A graduate of Oxford University, he has over 20 years research experience, on both client and supplier side - Group Manager Research at Nestle UK, European Insights Manager at Avery Dennison, European Research Manager at Rohm and Haas, Insights and Planning Director at Grey Communications Germany were positions that followed his start in research at Mass Observation UK.

He blogs regularly at Research and Reflect. Edward is bi-cultural English/ German, speaks fluent French, is a Member of the Market Research Society UK and a founding Board Member of the Mobile Market Research Assocation (MMRA).