Pete Buckley, Connection Planning Director at Meta, writes about the value of Comms Planning and how 2022 is shaping up to be a challenging and exciting time for the discipline.

A few years ago, when I was heading up a Comms Planning department at an agency, a friend of mine who works in marketing said, “I don’t know what comms planners do all day, every plan is basically the same: some TV, bit of social, outdoor and some always-on search, isn’t the job really easy?”.

I’m not sure if this reflected the planners my friend worked with or me, either way it isn’t great.

And it isn’t true.

The largest academic study into brand-building effectiveness published last year by Oxford University and Kantar found that the average media plan could be 2.6x more effective with a different media mix. And there isn’t a single optimal plan: different brand outcomes require significantly different plans.

Not that easy after all.

But the bigger point is the comment suggested the job of a comms planner is somehow limited, boxed, pre-determined. Indeed, there are some who believe as algorithms and automation become more prominent, the role of the planner is diminishing. What’s the point of planning when machine learning can optimise to an outcome automatically? Or as stated recently, “automation gives everyone the same advantage”.

The truth is it doesn’t. In fact, Comms Planners are more valuable than ever.

Here’s why:

Automation can unlock new levels of creativity

New Zealand suffers from some of the highest levels of preventable drowning in the world. By merging decades worth of incident data with demographic and real-time location, activity, weather and tidal data, an NGO built an automated campaign able to predict where drownings were most likely to happen and serve an ad in their Facebook and Instagram feeds before the incident occurred, reminding people to stay safe in the moment that mattered most. The campaign recently won the Best Use of Data Grand Prix at the WARC Awards for Media.

The explosion of voices

It’s now common for large advertisers to work with over 10,000 influencers – if that’s not a comms planning challenge I’m not sure what is. We know when this activity is planned with the advertising the upside can be significant – a recent study we ran found coupling your brand ads with amplified influencer activity results in greater brand lift for lower cost. Whilst influencer activity may be managed by a different agency or even department, comms planning can help define the role for influencers in the context of the broader plan, making their contribution even more valuable. A great example is from Malaysia where L’Oréal combined influencers, industry experts and advertising for a 24-hour Live Virtual Beauty event, resulting in a month’s worth of sales delivered in a single day.

The planning within the planning

Most digital platforms now offer endless planning options, from optimisation to buying objective to targeting to formats, the planning decisions made in-platform can transform results. Broader comms planning can add massive value here. Warner Brothers Entertainment wanted to boost digital purchases of their back catalogue during lockdown. Instead of being limited by first-party or on-platform data, they went broader and became the first advertiser in the UK to use Amazon Prime viewing data to understand which titles were getting traction, then pulled creative assets directly from Amazon product pages to promote those titles. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and search changed in real time to reflect lockdown VOD viewing habits. The campaign was so successful the approach has since been rolled out globally.

In all the above cases it is planners looking for insight that is the powerful point of difference. The data on drowning, the influencer activation, the films that are popular – the effective plans have an insight that a person has uncovered. Machines help automate a lot of the execution once you have the insight, but the transformational strategic thinking is what powers the machines to execute better. Today, we have more places to uncover insight than ever before, and these insights can be executed more effectively thanks to automation and the range of experience and channels now on offer.

There has never been a more exciting or challenging time to be a Comms Planner than in 2022. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the 2021 WARC Awards for Media winners, which are packed full of great Comms Planning.