Planning in the creative space has a long history – and its one we should revisit. In 1964, Stephen King, dissatisfied with the workings of both the media and marketing departments within his agency, developed a new system of working which concentrated on combining consumer research and insights to create more effective, creative advertising.
Planning has always been about making sure marketing is rooted in insight to ensure it creates the desired consequence by resonating with consumers. This hasn't changed. The Planner's role is to be the voice of the audience (consumer, shopper, HCP, B2B). The only way you can do it is by immersing yourself in the lives of people … and that means people outside of the M25. Yes, London is a big, dynamic and unique city – but it only represents 13.5% of the UK population – that's a huge majority that don't live in the bubble of London.
So, with all that in mind, I was somewhat taken aback to read not just that Ogilvy UK recently announced that they were actively sending their Planners out once a month to such far flung and misunderstood locations as Bradford! Boston! Bolton! And other towns beginning with a B, and beyond.
London Planners braving the provinces to see how different life really is – why haven't they been doing this anyway? I don't know what's more concerning, the fact this is thought of as innovative or the fact it is deemed newsworthy. To me, the danger inherent in this approach is that it could be a global one. The 'city bias' is equally evident outside of Brexit Britain – you only need to look at the voting heatmaps from November in the United States to see a similar pattern.
A casual observer would see the world looking the most divided for generations. Pollsters and experts have wildly missed the mood of communities and nations alike. There has never been a more important time for agencies to get even closer to the audiences whose perceptions and behaviours they are trying to influence. With such division, layered atop the ever-fragmenting media landscape - clarity and understanding has never been more needed. All of this places the success of future brand campaigns and spend at further risk of course, if a sticking plaster approach of 'let's just head out to the sticks' is adopted to try to address the gulf in understanding.
Jon Steel recently spoke at the Account Planners Group (APG) – entitled Grumpy Planners – during which he bemoans modern Planners who have lost their craft skills in qualitative research – instead plumping to commission a researcher to do it for them or replace it completely with a quick search on Google or Mintel. This reaction to addressing the perceived disconnect just supports his very fine point. London life is not the experience the rest of the country is having. But 'planning tourism' is not the way to plug yourself back into the mood of the nation.
Of course, when it comes to solutions to escape that 'London bubble', they require effort. The internal agency structure is one place to start – breaking free of established hierarchies and encouraging open thinking from all levels, from different personal perspectives and passion points. Getting out of the offices and visiting places is another, but it has to run deeper than a quick street poll or store visit. We find that visiting a shop at the weekend for doing groceries only scratches the surface, as you still view it through the eyes of a customer. You have to step back and experience real life as a person, and with a specialist eye. It's only when you walk through the world with a Planner's mindset that you spot opportunities and issues you would never see while in your regular routine. We encourage at least half a day per month, for all levels of staff, to get under the skin of those real life behaviours, and effectively 'live' the brand and the audience. After all, if the past year has taught the world anything, it's the dangers and unreliability of giving too much weight to claimed behaviour in polls alone.
If you want to move real people to connect with a brand or a premise, you need to experience their lives, see their perspectives on the world, walk further than a mile in their shoes. Only by getting as close as possible to understanding their real life patterns and perspectives can you find the moments that matter, where a brand can add value or joy or simplicity. This isn't something a quick fix, lip-service paid poll can address. Applying that knowledge to the side of the triangle opposite strategy and creativity is where the magic happens, and we find the brand campaigns that really connect and drive long term value for people. If this noble art inherent in the history of creative planning has been lost, it should be a real concern for the industry.