Agency Planner: Less Architect, more Artisan

There appears to be a distinct conflict between what planners want to do and what planners really do.

The tension between the kind of rigour and post-rationalisation that clients may want from planning and the kind of impacting outcomes that planners want to have is creating a rising discontent within the Agency Planning community. I personally came to the dramatic realisation, that the kind of planning us practitioners want to practice, might best be practiced outside the communications business!

So what’s driving this conflict?

There have been seismic shifts in the marketing and communications models. Mediocre marketing fundamentals can no longer be overcome by aggressive communications programmes.  The magic delivered by cunning planners and masterful creatives is simply less effective in the nearly impotent interruption based communication world.  Also, the digital world has opened our eyes to the opportunities presented by a world in flux, where ideas need not be bullet proof prior to execution, and where significant value can be created by experimenting  and prototyping smaller ideas. What innovation experts would call thinking with your hands or “Serious Play”.

So how relevant is the Classic Agency Planner? The grand master of words and storytelling is driven my a unified objective, to significantly impact the brief, inspire brilliant creative output and ultimately for that output to have an impact. While this old style planner is till masterful and respected, deep down they themselves know they are only playing with part of the “impact” toolbox and that their real impact power lies both upstream and downstream from their current discipline. 

Upstream impact lies in areas such as brand and product innovation, where planners are well placed to embrace Design Thinking principles to imagine all manner of non-communication impacting ideas. Within communication circles Planners are finding value by shifting from Brand Architects to Artisans or downstream planners who create stuff. Again the digital world has opened up the possibilities for not only imagining ideas but executing them quickly and cost effectively. Just think of 2 of the best outputs from the Advertising community in the past 2 years. “Earth Hour” from Leo Burnett Sydney and ‘Best Job in the World” from CumminsNitro. The power in these  ideas lie in their ability to solve a problem by getting people involved. They don’t evoke powerful responses to imagery, these are not copywriter and art director showcases, these are “planner ideas”.  And while some “Architect” skills are always required in problem solving, it’s the “Artisan” planner which creates that yields the power.

The new marketing landscape means there should be plenty of opportunity for planners to flit between being  Architects of brands and ideas to Artisans. We just need our colleagues and clients to get the message so we can stop post-rationalising mediocre communications and start making an impact.

Take a look at RedScouts piece on this topic:

7 responses to “Agency Planner: Less Architect, more Artisan

  1. Very persuasive – I like this! I have been developing my thinking that the 2 skills of the planner boiled down are simplifying (that’s most strategy) and optimising. Both are better done at the extreme ends of the development spectrum. Whereas the skills involved in herding cats in the middle are very different. This is something I am trying to address with my waggledancers concept – how planners influence development teams. But I think you’re right that the thinking is prob more effective at the high end. And the doing at the sharp end.

  2. Yey! I agree. And wrote some stuff on that here

    There’s a fundamental change in what can be done, and is done, by agencies that planners – who have been filling gaps all along I think (seen as we’ve never been completely necessary in order for agencies to exist) now have such great gaps to fill, and great opportunities. In traditional planning as well as completely redefining what planning is.

  3. More Comments on this Post taken from Ad Strategy Group on Linkedin
    1. Agency Planners will exist until the Agency as a concept exists. what do you think of the future role & meaning of the Agency? – Julia Myslina

    2. Interesting thought, although artisan sounds a bit more tactical to me in a world where clients need strategic business help more than ever before.

    Social networks have changed society, the way people buy and therefore business. Clients still need people able to tell stories from data that will inform action. Just the actions are less often ads.

    That for me is what planning always was, is and will be. Insights from information. So perhaps we are more consultant than communicator these days but still as focused as every on smart creative strategy? – David Rabjohns
    Owner, MotiveQuest LLC – Online Anthropology

    3. I think that Angela was right on the mark when she said planners are storytellers… and I think the need for that will continue to increase. That said, planners need to go beyond the traditional definition of insights to understand community and group psychology, behavior and experience, and just as critically, how people use the tools available to interact with brands and each other. – Johanna Skilling
    EVP, Director of Strategic Planning at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

    4. I recently worked at a design firm that worked with companies on their brand (mission, vision, values,) and the visual and verbal expression of the brand. Brand should touch the employees and shape productss/service. All of these parts of the brand, along with the marketing and advertising are ripe for planning. In a time when a brand is in a constant state of contact across so many points, planners have a strong role to play beyond traditional agency roles. – Randy Werner
    Consultant at The Launch Crew

    5. Just read the full blog entry, and watched the video and am in agreement. There is a complete disparity between what planners could be offering and what many want to do, and what they are tasked to do. Currently they have a very attenuated role and are usually quite siloed only allowing them to use a limited part of their skillset. Whether the definition of agency or what it means to be an agency expands to include more creation of products and ‘experiences’ rather than just communication, or planners simply leave and start doing their own amazing things where no real limits are placed on them or their roles, we will see, but either way things are a changing and agencies can either change with them, or face new, intelligent, agile competition from their former employees. – Emeka Patrick
    Creative, Account Planner, Thinker, Entrepreneur, Innovator, and Seeker of Continual Inspiration

    6. The problem might be that clients don’t expect a planner to be something different but a traditional planner because Agency itself is still an advertising agency. yes, you can do more than just a brief or competitive, but who cares? and today planners have to either find other places outside agencies to be what they want to be or to come up with the miserable role assigned by clients to them on the impact generation process – Vladimir Ivanov
    Senior Strategic Planner at Young & Rubicam

    7. In light of the rough economy perhaps “artisan” in the sense of starting one’s own fine cheese making operation! – Robert Schwartz
    VP Brand Development at Added Value

    8. Come on people, planners are that special species that can think with its both hemispheres and that means, at least in my perspective, that planners should be able to both offer consultancy support to client and to inspire creatives to design compelling ads. Now you would say ” hey, that’s classic planning” and you are right.


    Planners, as strategically driven admen have bassically the purpose of understanding the consumer, observe their behaviour from various perspectives and to try to find the best ways to get the right through.

    So, if the consumer changes, so should the strategy approach.

    What I am trying to say is that it is mandatory that planning evolve with the consumer(left hemisphere) and to tell the changes in a compelling manner (right hemisphere) to both the client and the creatives.

    We are the ones that are able to speak client’s tong and creative’ tong also and the ones that can suggest product innovation
    to the client and send to the creatives consumers’ need to “talk” to the ads… We should not be consultants, but DOers.

    So less talk, more acting!!! – Gabriel Patru
    Strategic Planner at Lowe&Partners

    9. Gabriel, great comment, I agree that only by doing one can make a difference in this world, so let’s feel the rhythm) – Julia Myslina

  4. As a former Creative Director who became a Planner; I enjoy this broader space in which Strategic Account Planning is moving today. The irony is that in many cases, not so long ago, strategy and briefs were used as ways to ‘frame’ the creative thinking and narrow down creatives’ freedom. I know it. I suffered it.
    Angela, as you mentioned, social media is in large part to blame for this wonderful return to broader-thinking-process that we are experiencing today.
    Thanks for sharing, Angela.

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