Network Modelling: Planner agencies

(This is first of the  series of articles introducing and modelling planner agencies and network  brands. This piece is an attempt to introduce the concept of planner agencies)

Around this time last year, I was  developing the ‘Grand Strategist’ model as part of my MA in account planning. Then, I finished my thesis at Rapp London (they thought it would be nice to do  things together). Afterwards, we agreed to stay with each other and I began to apply  my thinking in a different world of wonders; a world where ideas are powered by  media, technology, data and creativity. 

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Nevertheless, I am still very  much living in a world between questions and answers, whilst working as  strategist and developing my PhD in communications planning.
After all the years I have  spent working in advertising and understanding planning (in different parts of the world, across diversified disciplines and different agencies i.e. Traditional, Direct, Digital), I still believe that the core of our industry  remains the same, as it was decades ago ‘ideas’.    And yes, it’s ideas we need in  what we deliver and how we deliver it. However, it’s not about developing and designing any ideas, but ideas that are  integrated with business thinking and deliver value for everyone. 

The Changing Challenge: 

In my earlier notes, I vaguely  touched on the changing communication landscape, discussing how brand, direct  and digital agencies are desperate to own it. However, unfortunately, most  advertising agencies are trying to own the ‘new communication landscape’, whilst living in the ‘old landscape’.    There’s  not much debate about not having a new landscape model to answer the changing  landscape challenge.    Now, I  am interested in discovering one.

The Glories of the Greatest Age:

In recent years, we have  experienced some very strange and unexpected things, as Professor Brian Cox, author and presenter of the wonders of the solar system series puts it, ‘I  think we are living through the greatest age of discovery our civilization has  ever known’. His analysis is based on the fundamental laws of physics. And  the beauty of physics is the implication of its laws on a universal scale.     

In my opinion, one of the major  factors causing the ‘greatest age’ is a united approach from all disciplines, communities and industries to unearth the unknown. This approach affects not  only specialised areas such as biology, physics, mathematics and  communications; but it is also influencing our society in general. Within our society  the impact of unification is twofold; it’s awarding us with a better control over things in life, and it’s consistently expanding the scale of control. We  are now experiencing amazing new things, like brands with hundreds of millions  of users, utilising the same platforms irrespective of race, age, gender or location – this is fascinating! 

The Collaborative Big Bang:

The world's digital content is equivalent to a   stack  of books   stretching from Earth to Pluto 10 times.’ BBC Click. 

Where brands are benefiting  from the unplanned and unexpected wave of change, they are also facing danger at the same time. Without a doubt, brands are known by the ideas they own. In the past, brands used to own ideas by communicating them at a mass level on a  selected scale. In  the past, the channels used to deliver ideas were not as  advanced as today so, traditionally, brands delivered ideas capitalizing on  emotional participation techniques. Then, came better technology offering  enormous scale and immense participation; people started to take control of how  they consumed everything. On top of that, they started to express their ‘controlled choices’ with everyone. This gave birth to functional participation (on a mass scale) and higher expectations. Ultimately, these mega shifts in how people used to receive and share information, content and thoughts changed the overall behaviour of the society,   resulting in a changed world, revealing a new type of  communications  landscape . 

Today, people living in the ‘greatest age’ have developed an incredibly loyal attitude towards New Brands (brands borne during the digital era, IPA). Mad Men say brands are losing loyal  audience. However, I disagree. Without a doubt, people have changed their  definition of loyalty, but on a grand level they are more loyal than ever before. Their demand is simple ‘Transparent Value Exchange’ so there's no wonder why we only have one book shop (Amazon), one music store (iTunes), one wikitionary (Wikipedia), one market (eBay), one help desk (Google) and one community centre (Facebook). 

The Ideas Crisis: 

With an increasingly evolving definition of  scale and participation, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deliver brand  ideas. Today, what we really need is the strategy to create relevant and meaningful ideas, and an understanding to deliver them consistently across all  environments / channels. 

In recent years, whilst working  on various brands from all sorts of different sectors, I got the feeling that  we are moving away from owning and delivering our ideas consistently. That we  were becoming more excited by the stuff we didn’t know about and less  interested in keeping ideas intact. On various occasions, I experienced the same brand message being delivered with a different idea in one environment and  with different thoughts in all others (I believe that I am not alone). Even a  decade ago, this was alright as the scale that controlled ideas was mainly  limited to a handful of channels. It was manageable if an idea was delivered in one environment in one way, and with a different story in all others i.e. ATL, Direct, PR, BTL etc. Today, things are more connected. If an idea is  disconnected in one environment, it can easily be identified as being disparate  to what it should be. This eventually results in damaging the overall  communications investment. 

Like every other industry, in  advertising there are all sorts of brands: strong, good, bad, new, weak, boring  etc. There are brands that run on ideas and there are brands that work around functionality. However, if ideas are the most important element in the  communications business then we need strong advertising brands to take the  responsibility of securing the core of our industry (ideas) from the dangers of  the “greatest age”. 

From Gridlock Planning to  Collaborative thinking: 

To design and develop ‘ideas’ for the new landscape of the “greatest age”, we need grand and specialist  advertising agencies working together. The Enablement of this process requires a ‘planner agency’ i.e. Agencies that can bring everyone together (imagine if the advertising industry was one big advertising agency i.e. account  management, media, creative, technology) and help everyone understand the value of ‘enduring ideas’. And when this happens, it’s simply satisfying, allowing  better control over ideas and more confidence to the client (I recently had the  opportunity to experiment ‘Network Modelling’ on couple of briefs). 

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To succeed in the new landscape, we need to encourage participation at all levels and maximise the  scale of our thinking from the ‘inside’ and outside of our industry. In this, lies the hope to have connected and consistent ideas, built for brands, designed around people; as an oasis of calm amongst the seasons of the “greatest age”.