As the discipline of planning grows up, practitioners are evolving into two different styles. WARC’s David Tiltman was at the APG Awards to hear about the future of planning.
Last week saw the APG Awards, bringing together the best and brightest of London’s strategy scene.
The case studies from the winners are all on WARC – worth a read for anyone interested in the craft of strategy and the sparks that inspire great work.
My standout moment of the evening was a talk given by Google’s Ben Malbon, based on his experience of judging the papers.
His argument: that there are now two types of planner: ‘proper planners’ – those with classic training, steeped in the craft skills of strategy; and ‘post-planning planners’ – a newer breed with less depth in the legacy skills but able to bring a more diverse range of talents to the party.
The full talk is on the APG website. Here’s the key bit:
“Is the future of planning ‘proper planning’? Think: a beautifully sharp machete.
Or, is the future of planning actually ‘post-planning planning’? Think: a Swiss Army Knife.
And - unsurprisingly maybe - I think the answer is both.
But - crucially - it’s not “neither”.
It remains a rare gift to be trained in the art of proper planning. And so if you are, you’re incredibly lucky, and you should consider doubling down on the craft skills that make you as such. And wielding them like the giant asset they are.
Equally, if you’re more of rogue planner - a post-planning planner, let’s call you - then your value is just as high, but differently realised. You’re a connector. A bridge builder. A pace setter. An instigator. An imagineer.
You might well be called a rogue. You could well be misunderstood. But you’re also probably of inestimable value to your company.”
Based on the work we’ve done in our recent Future of Strategy report, my money would be on the post-planning planner.
Not because the classic planning skills are redundant. Far from it – one thing we hear consistently is that one of the big problems in strategy teams at the moment is talent that has come up through a specialism (social strategy, for example) but struggles with ‘big picture’ brand thinking.
But the demands clients have of their suppliers seem to be pushing us toward a world where planners need a few more tricks up their sleeves.
For example, here’s R/GA’s Tom Morton on the rise of ‘experience’: “We can’t decouple brand thinking from experience thinking. The people we design for have technical expectations – like how seamless the experience should be and how they can access it – and brand expectations – like what experience the brand can authentically offer them. We have to work with both in mind to deliver a meaningful experience.”
Another strategist I spoke to at the APG Awards (who might reasonably be called a ‘post-planning planner’ based on a career in lots of different types of agency) argued that more strategists need to be able to “take a leap”. At a time when award-winning work is often a PR idea with advertising attached, he argued, planners need to do more than articulate the research; they need to think beyond it.
We’re seeing these trends in the data. It’s why only 37% of strategists see their next role in an agency. Consultancies or in-house brand teams (or just freelancing) are growing as options for planners.
And it’s why we are now seeing so many complaints about the way agencies are charging for a planner’s time. The Future of Strategy survey found huge dissatisfaction with the failure of agencies to charge for strategic thinking. As the work becomes more varied and more complex, why shouldn’t strategy be charged for directly?
If this sounds pessimistic, it shouldn’t. As Wunderman Thompson’s Neil Godber recently pointed out, the opportunities for planners to ply their trade are huge in the current landscape, whatever part of the industry they end up in.
For me, the rise of the ‘post-planning planner’ is more than just an after-dinner debating point. It’s a reflection of the turmoil in the current industry. And it’s a sign that the people we used to call planners now have a range of options ahead of them.