For planners, spending time outside the bubble of adland is a necessity, argues Deutsch’s Rob Campbell in an essay for WARC’s Future of Strategy report 2018.

I've been asked to write a piece on the importance of spending time outside the office. Not in the quest for a decent lunchtime sandwich, but to better understand what's going on in people's lives.

In some ways, it’s kind-of horrifying to be asked to do this because it should be bloody obvious.

And yet, it seems fewer and fewer planners spend much time in the real world, preferring to observe it from the comfort of a research report and Google search.

Look I get we live in times where we can access incredible amounts of data. And I appreciate in this competitive world, things need to happen quicker than ever before. But – and it’s a big but – spending time outside the bubble of Adland is a necessity. Not just for planners, but for the clients you’re working with and the audience you’re unleashing your creativity on.

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was going on with American youth. So I sent three of my colleagues backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities. Specifically, the richest/poorest ... fastest growing/shrinking ... most/least diverse. The only stipulation I gave them was a bit of advice my mum once gave me: "be interested in what others are interested in". And so off they went.

A month later and they were back with experiences that had challenged them on deeply personal levels. Stuff that was incredibly uncomfortable to witness and experience.

But they also came back with stories that changed the way they looked at what was going on in America. Stories that added colour and context to how people live. Stories that filled the gaps between data and research reports. Stories that made them laugh, cry, despair and feel excited with what’s going on in the shadows of society.

No nice hotel rooms. No fancy travel. Just a month listening and learning straight from the mouths, lives and streets of youth. We called it 'America in The Raw'.

Getting outdoors benefits all

We are all better for the experience. Better planners, better department, better agency. Better at helping our clients understand their audiences more intimately. Better at identifying creative opportunities that would otherwise not reveal themselves. Better at making work that stops telling people what to think and starts resonating with how people are thinking.

Of course, nothing in this approach is new. Nor is it necessary to go to such extremes to get cultural understanding and nuance.

But given how few planners seem to get out into the real world – I hope this serves as a reminder that planning is an outside job.

You may wonder how you get your agency or client to pay for you to do this. Well – apart from the fact it doesn’t cost anywhere near what they may think – you just need to point out the commercial value of having a level of intimacy with culture that few others will ever have. Plus there’s the fact this understanding leads to more interesting creativity with more powerful results.

But as I said, it doesn’t have to be this huge, formal thing, it should just be a natural part of how you do your job. If you’re a planning head, you should push your team to get out the door, and if you're a junior planner, you should push your boss to let you out the door. It will change your life. And career.

Get a sample of The Future of Strategy This essay is part of The Future of  Strategy, a report based on 550+ interviews with strategists around the world.  Learn more about the report and about WARC. Download now