In future, the USP of the successful agency planner will be their ability to synthesise different data sources, argues Anthony Wong.

But today, the proliferation of trackable data means that agencies run the risk of being cut out of the conversation. Many clients don’t see the value of hearing the Facebook data from an agency - instead, they want to hear it from Facebook. So the agency might not be in that meeting. This isn’t good news for the agency planner, and it won’t help the client much either. Facebook data, after all, should be used only to create a strategy on Facebook.

Years ago, clients had some brand metrics, and some media data: TV, radio and print metrics. Now they have many more different sources, due to the rise of digital media platforms, and different data within each of these platforms: likes, views, shares and so on.

This is, to the client, quite confusing. While, as Mary Meeker’s latest internet trends deck notes, online advertising is “increasingly measurable and actionable”, the client only has so many hours in the day to go over the 30 or so media data reports they might have. And their marketing choices have to go alongside all sorts of other data-driven choices, from pricing to logistics.

They don’t have the time to think through these multiple different reports. That’s where the agency planner comes in. It’s up to the planner to use different combinations of data to create new strategies for clients. A planner who is really useful for a client would be able to look at those 30 reports, and build the messaging strategy from there. Armed with their detailed, data-driven analysis, the planner can help the client figure out the roles of all of the individual channels in serving the overall strategy.

This also means that some planners will become obsolete. No longer will the planner be able to walk into the room and be the “cool trends person” with access to secret stores of knowledge. Because everyone in the room now has the ability to Google. People who think they can still do that, and get by on traditional brand planning skills alone, clearly can’t survive. Planners with data skills, on the other hand, will find their value increasing.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should become more like media planners. And I’m not suggesting that the “big idea” should be ignored in favour of individual channel executions, as the client will most often do those kinds of piece-by-piece, tactical jobs.

Instead, planners still need to be focused on the bigger picture, advising the client on what is the best place to say what to whom. And advise how these communications support and strengthen the big idea that goes across the campaign.

Everyone needs to get up to speed on this new way of communications. We at Ogilvy make sure we conduct a lot of proactive training in digital and data skills. And we have a new mantra that has guided this decision – Make Brands Matter. The idea is, if you do a piecemeal execution, and try to optimise each channel in isolation, this doesn’t happen. But if you synthesise data sources, and create a campaign strategy from this data, you raise your chances of becoming the client’s partner in creating sustainable, long-term brands, versus very transactional executions.

The brand planner really needs to be the guardian of core brand values. There have been many recent cautionary tales - from McDonald’s and Pepsi, to name but two - of campaigns that have not achieved this.

But I remain optimistic for the future. Data-driven, brand-focused planners will become the go-to partner for clients in need of overarching strategic help. They will diagnose problems and prescribe solutions across the marketing mix, with more accuracy and evidence than ever before.

To achieve this, she or he knows what the customer data - from social, to search, sales and sentiment, across virtual and physical circuits - mean better than anyone. And he or she uses that knowledge to bring evidence-based – not just opinion-based – leaps forward to the table. To free the imagination and encourage bolder creativity.

This commentary appears in WARC’s new Future of Strategy report, based on a global survey of senior agency planners. The report covers the current state of the strategic discipline, future opportunities and challenges, and guidance on building the planning team of the future.

More on the future role of agency strategists Find out what senior agency  strategists told WARC on what's changing, what challengies lie ahead, and  building the planning team of the future. Get an excerpt of the report