CANNES: Planners have skillsets that consultants do not and therein lies the best hope for agencies facing the encroachment onto their territory of the big management consultant practices.

Speaking at a WARC panel session in Cannes on the Future of Strategy, Lucy Jameson, former CEO of Grey London, argued that planners take a “helicopter view of hundreds of different sectors” while consultants typically specialise in one sector.

“Because of conflict, we have to understand how you make a business work across multiple sectors,” she said. “That is invaluable to our clients, and I don’t think we make enough of it.” (For more details read WARC’s report: Big pictures and atomic soups: the future of strategy.)

But as brands have shifted their focus towards short-term activations – driven in part by the nature of digital – so planners have drifted downstream.

“We’re at the advertising problem moment,” she observed. “Where really [planners] need to be [is] up at the customer problem.”

Planners operate at the intersection of culture and commerce – an area in which consultants struggle, Jameson suggested. Humans and their relationships are “rich, they’re messy, and they’re demanding, and actually they make consultants’ heads explode”.

But if planners are closer than most to the weird world of human behaviour, they tend to be less comfortable with commerce and this is one area where they need to improve their understanding if strategy is to move upstream in the business.

For agency heads, then, the question to planners should always be whether they understand how the client makes money, she argued. “It’s so fundamental to us being able to bridge the gap between business and culture.”

It is infinitely useful to manage a P&L yourself, she added of her own experience running Grey London.

“Planners often live too much in the theoretical; you need to have practical experience about how you run something, how you make difficult financial decisions.”

Data sourced from WARC