While the multi-platform world presents significant opportunities for brand advertisers, it also presents new challenges. Today's planners need to call on new and existing skill-sets to unlock the full potential for their clients, argues Lawrence Dodds.

Multiple stacks, multiplied stress?

The numbers of specialists involved in each campaign is growing: a recent campaign delivered by UM pulled in 15 people from across the agency, ranging from comms and digital planning to AV, SEO, search, social, ad operations, OOH, programmatic and others. This makes for an awful lot of cooks.

Each team sits on its own data, and each generates insight that could form the basis of a campaign. Essentially, the tools we once used to implement a strategy have now come to inform the strategies themselves.

So, how do you manage all that data across multiple platforms and who is ultimately responsible for it? Agencies used to select a media owner based on the audience profile but now those audiences can be tracked and targeted across multiple platforms. Media agencies have had to move focus away from their traditional buy and focus on tactics that will work for audiences wherever they may be at any given point - and in real time.

Think horizontal but skill up

The top-down style of campaign planning must, by necessity, be replaced with a decentralised approach. That said, there still needs to be a process in place to manage this and ensure all teams are working together effectively and towards a common goal.

Planners are the logical point of convergence across teams within a horizontal structure. Integrated planning teams (comprising both communications and digital planners) act both as the filter and as the glue that holds everything together. The planning team is responsible for ensuring colleagues have the tools and information they need, creating the conditions where all teams feel empowered to shape the campaign.

Working across multiple teams means planners’ project management and people skills have become just as important as strategic skills to ensure the work flows through the agency effectively. At UM, we call this agile team-based approach scrUM – because planning is no longer a relay, it’s more like rugby. In essence, we must be able to adapt to incoming information from numerous different angles.

Key qualities

We knew digital would explode and the agency world spent a long time preparing for the inevitable changes this would bring. However, the transition of spend to digital and the pace of change was faster even than many imagined. But this certainly hasn't rendered the core of the planner's skill-set obsolete, after all the starting point for any campaign is to understand the client's business and their strategic needs.

However, priorities have changed: planners have always needed a deep understanding of the media, but they should now be prepared to spend more time talking about digital. As such, the planner's knowledge base has had to increase significantly to keep abreast of an ever more complex landscape.

No-one would expect an individual to be an expert in every specialism, and it's absolutely right to defer to colleagues and to put different team members in front of the client. However, planners do need to know enough to get the best out of each member of the extended team. In practice that means having sufficient grounding to act as the internal client and challenge colleagues to achieve more.

As with a great many sectors, technical aptitude is being pushed to the fore. In context, this means a strong understanding of measurement is now more important than ever, but so too is the knowledge of how to use the tools that facilitate the interrogation and interpretation of that data. There are many more that planners can now call upon - econometrics, digital attribution, and so on - but they must recognise when best to employ them.

Getting the most out of integrated teams

There's no denying that a horizontal team structure adds layers of complexity to campaign management, but there are a number of simple rules to remember to maintain the lines of communication and fulfil the brief:

  • Start with a clear brief – be absolutely certain everyone understands the shared goal and their specific role in achieving this
  • Complete a data audit – start the project with a clear set of insights and identify how each team member can assist in pulling these together
  • Set hypothesises – challenge teams to prove/disprove these to gain additional insight
  • Meet regularly face-to-face – a ‘brief and forget’ mentality won't work in such a fast-moving environment. Check in regularly for updates from all teams
  • Give yourself time – better work is produced in adequate time frames so be prepared to push back on deadlines that are too tight.

Data can offer a real-time reflection of consumer behaviour, and being able to interpret this through the multiple lenses of an integrated team means campaigns can employ reactive approaches on the channel(s) that will prove most effective.

This has brought about significant changes to the role of the planner. Ultimately though, it is personal qualities that mark out the best planners and these remain unchanged: they should be naturally curious and aspire to understand audience behaviours to uncover additional insight and new opportunities.