Jon Steel, the legendary strategic planning guru and author of famous brand planning bibles like Trues, Lies and Advertising and Perfect Pitch was a guest speaker in Noisy Thinking. The event, organized by the Account Planning Group (APG) UK and held in London this past July (2015), was sponsored by Flamingo, the global insight and brand consultancy.
Steel´s conference was titled “Ten Reasons to be Grumpy“. In his hour-long presentation, he described what could be called his personal “State of the Planning Community” in ten ideas. I have tried to summarize them here:
-1. Planning is no longer the research-based discipline that it used to be. Planners are inundated with data and desk research but they are not doing the real-world research by themselves, other people are.
–2. Agencies are no longer training young planners. Junior planners will not become senior planners by osmosis or hazard.
–3. Agencies and clients are no longer partners. Steel was so integrated with a client that he once even temporarily covered for a product manager in that company while he was on leave. It was a true partnership where agencies worked on client´s businesses, not only on their communication.
–4. Pitch consultants are basing their offer to clients on efficiency and economy. They are promising clients more agency work for less.
–5. Cost cutting. Planners are working in way too many accounts simultaneously. While this may be the only exit for agencies to bear the financial cuts, the strategic work quality suffers; the planning departments tend to take the share of the lion when cuts are in fashion.
-6. In-House Planners and Out-House Researchers. Regarding the issue of objectivity, agency planners tend to be better than out-house researchers/planners at recommending how to improve the creative work as non-agency staff are usually disconnected from the creative process.
-7. The Efficiency Mindset. Doing the right thing versus doing the right way. Procurement teams tend to focus on avoiding doing things wrong, instead of doing the right thing.
-8. Short-termism. CMO´s career tenure in the same company shrank from 10 to 2 years. Therefore, client briefs tend to ask for quick wins rather than goals that might take longer to accomplish.
-9. Blue-thumb effectiveness. (Referring to Facebook´s “Like” thumb icon). Social media results are nothing if we fail to measure traditional real business results like margins or usage increases, sales, market shares, etc.
-10. Where is our Conscience? Agencies should invest in Good Citizenship and Sustainability projects to change the business world for the better, from the very inside. He mentioned WPP participation in the Why? WhyNot? climate campaign.
Some of the challenges described by Jon Steel are out of planner’s hands, even at agencies CSO levels. However, I think that Steel hit the jackpot. He reminded the planning community what we should never forget while we joyfully immerse ourselves in the oceanic potential of digital strategy: If we want to learn about consumer´s perceptions, motivations and digital behaviors, we cannot forget the universal human’s fundamental truths.
We need not forget what the great Douglas B. Holt called cultural branding: understanding cultural context, subcultures and the genealogy of consumption myths, our very basic cultural truths. This, at least, is still in planner’s hands and we should strive to make good use of it.