What's the future of planning? A large question and – as Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam pointed out in a Warc session at the Cannes Lions today – a question that makes a "large assumption". (You can also read all about our other Warc sessions, on the link between creativity and effectiveness, and exploring some of the world's smartest campaigns.)

Account planning has a near 50-year history – a fact many marketers forget. And, said Weigel, "what we also forget is that planning has its origins in a truly radical point of view" After all, it was due to planners being "fed up" with a lack of access to data and old-style techniques. But, today, planning has become "domesticated – the puppy dog of account management".

In response, planning needs to become more radical. The etymology of the word "radical", Weigel pointed out, is the Latin word for a return to roots. Planners, he added, need to do the same: get back to the roots, reclaim what Pollitt and King started in the late 1960s. More practically, there are some simple things that planners need to start taking seriously: knowing the difference between short-term and long-term effects, learning more about patterns of buying behaviour, and eliminating "zombie ideas" such as (but not exclusively) "participation" and "loyalty" metrics.

And, more broadly, planners should know how ordinary people live. "And they don't. Just look at advertising – 95% is crap. And that's because we live in a bubble called ad land."

That's not to say that measuring effectiveness isn't important. "Our job is to do work that works. We need to know more about effects – the different ways that creativity makes money," Weigel said. Though he was too modest to mention it, Weigel and W+K were behind one of the most famously effective campaigns of recent years, 2013 Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions Grand Prix 'Legends', for Heineken beer.

Heineken Legends

The day's second panellist, Partha Sinha, Publicis South Asia, found much common ground with this point of view. "Planning has got institutionalised," he said. "That's partly due to the tyranny of consumer insights. We're all looking for that one sentence that brings the house down." Instead, planners need to focus on reclaiming "some of the brilliance of creative thinking".

He also had some practical guidance, in the form of a strategic framework used by Publicis to gain new thinking – and, hopefully, client growth.

Partha Sinha pyramid
Click image to expand

"Planning is not a process – it's a product," he added. "I hate the concept of being a 'brand custodian'. We should be at the vanguard – driving the train, not being in the guard's van!" And, within the agency, there needs to be an open, collaborative system to help this process out.

Neil Dawson, the third voice in the room, also agreed that planning needs a rethink. As the chief strategy officer of a digital agency, he pointed out that the planner's traditional role as being the "voice of the consumer" has changed due to the digital fragmentation of media channels. The number of voices that planners can listen to has grown, thanks to new tech.

And he agreed that effectiveness was a big issue, too. "We are in the business of commercial creativity – business aims are key," he added.

Dawson followed up with four questions for the planners in the room, four challenges to take home:

  • Planning doesn't need a radical agenda, agencies do. "We need to make choices – are we going to specialise? Are we going to go full service?"
  • Recognise multiplicity: At Sapient, we have so many different types of planners – it's not about a planner any more, it's planners
  • The myth of easy collaboration: This stuff is actually really hard
  • Prove the commercial value of 'experience': Use resources such as the IPA Databank, [and, of course, Warc] to get a sense of how measuring effectiveness has evolved.

So a lot of shared ground across today's three panelists – even if their conclusions are a little worrying for where the industry is going.

That said, Weigel had a hopeful message for the future. "We need to get back to the righteous indignation that led to the creation of planning as a discipline. Why aren't planners questioning advertising truisms such as the need to have an 'always-on' strategy. We should be questioning this – not going along with fashionable views."

Getting back to basics means, in many ways, getting back to people. Back to first principles – back to the roots.