Traditional ad planners and strategists are facing a unique set of pressures as the worlds of creativity and technology merge ever more closely together, finds Leo Rayman, CEO, Grey London.

At Cannes, as with the industry more widely, our fascination with technology is taking our eyes off the power of a brilliant idea. The Croisette may be covered with tech partners, but don’t try to understand this world at the expense of the idea. You can tell almost any story you want with the numbers. But what is the ratio of signal over noise? There is just so much noise.

What’s more, really good strategists – and, let’s face it, our industry needs plenty of those – give clear direction. It’s not a case of, “All the gear. No idea.”

And so, drawing on findings from WARC’s upcoming Future of Strategy report, a panel discussion at Cannes this week looked at how strategy is changing at a time when clients are trying to claw back control. Along with Paula Bloodworth, brand strategy director for Nike at Wieden + Kennedy; Dan Burdett, chief marketing innovation officer EMEA at eBay; and Frank Reitgassl, former head of strategy at BBH and director, brand strategy & creative at Mondelez, we unpicked some of the challenges facing the planners of today and tomorrow.

WARC interviewed more than 500 planners for this upcoming report and one of the findings, according to its head of content, David Tiltman, is a feeling that, increasingly, in-house client teams are perceived to be the biggest competitors to traditional ad agencies – even though they lack the skills and experience.

Another trend uncovered in the survey, he said, was the dichotomy between big picture brand building and the day-to-day reality of executional issues. “It’s a case of fast and cheap at the expense of smart,” he warned, claiming that planners are feeling ‘’a bit unloved’ as a result.

eBay’s Burdett also spoke of the pressure on marketers for accountability and of a shift to performance channels, towards direct response and paid search, which has relegated traditional brand building efforts further down the priority list. He warned that marketing departments are ‘drowning’ in too much information and sacrificing longer term strategy for short term gains. “It would be great to work with agencies more closely on data,” he said.

Proper strategic relationships with publishers are increasingly key, especially when it comes to data sharing and access, according to Burdett, who warned that the ability to measure across channels hasn’t shifted as much as it could have done. “We’re an industry still fascinated and preoccupied with media innovation,” he said. “But that seems to have come at the detriment of creative innovation… tactics are driving strategy.”

Reitgassl put the role of brand strategists into focus when he said that brands are “a set of associations in people’s heads”, and that these are built holistically. “Brand owners have to own brand strategy… because they own the triggers of these associations,” he said – the logo, the font, the packaging. It follows that you need people who are committed to the brand in the long term. And while the role of the planner is to inspire, it’s to inspire based on clarity, he added. No mean feat in today’s media landscape, with a plethora of channels each jostling for position.

And Bloodworth agreed that, in this era of peak complexity and disruption, information overload too often leads to wrong but ‘safe’ decisions. “Good work still needs a leap,” she said. “It needs the gut, the instinct. I hope we don’t filter that out from all the information.” She hopes that a golden age for planning could come whereby planners provide clarity rather than control. But she also warned that execution is key, in order to deliver work that really cuts through and moves people.

But, for me one key question remains: How can you be a powerful adviser when you can’t be commercial? Strategic planning needs to be commercial, and here is where the likes of Accenture can make a brilliant case for value; sadly this is something planners have traditionally failed to do.

Read more from BBH at You can also register here to receive a sample copy of the WARC Future of Strategy report when it is released on July 25.