The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

How Much Planning Do You Actually Do?
October 20, 2010, 5:55 am
Filed under: Comment

So I was talking to a copper friend of mine a day or so ago and he was complaining about how much paperwork he has to do.

He said that the volume is so vast that it basically not only undermines his ability to do his job, but has major ramification on the security of the city he works in.

Now whilst I would never try to claim planning is anything like being a Policeman – let alone as important or necessary – his comment struck a nerve.

Some days I think I get paid to do pointlessness.

OK, so I’m in advertising so you could argue that is exactly what I get paid to do … however what I’m talking about is the huge amount of unneccessary meetings and presentations I am asked to attend/write.

To be honest, I push back a hell of a lot … not because I don’t want to contribute – I do – but because I don’t want to be seen as endorsing the attitde that every meeting must be followed by a 600 slide powerpoint document or that every person in a project must be in attendance or it can’t move forward, even if what is being discussed relates to areas/issues that are of no concern to you or the job you have to do.

Planning isn’t about writing documents.

Planning isn’t about attending meetings.

Sure, both those things feature in the job – but they are a byproduct of what you do, they are not and should not be the focus – and yet I see/hear more and more agencies and clients thinking that is what planners ‘do’.

To be honest, that is as much the fault of the planners who are willing to accept this attitude [or the agencies they work for endorsing it] as it is their clients ignorance – however at it’s heart, I think one of the main problems is we’ve become a society obsessed with effectiveness.

Actually that’s not quite true – I think we’ve become a society obsessed with measurability.

Whilst the term ‘effectiveness’ – at least in my industry – is ambigious to say the least [ambiguities I touch on here], at least it has a reason for existing and whilst ‘measurability’ is a key element in helping determine ‘effectiveness’, it is now being so badly used and abused that I believe it contributes more to ineffectiveness than anything else.

As I’ve said many times before, we’re seeing more and more organisations seemingly focused on the process rather than what the process delivers – and even when they get it right, too many view ‘effectiveness’ as a way to identify how they can do things cheaper or more quickly in the future.

The issue of ‘what is effectiveness’ is a major one – especially as what one person thinks is effective [ie: adland] is possibly not what someone else believes [ie: the client … or vice-versa] and this is why we’re addressing this issue in the upcoming AME conference … however at it’s heart, unless we all [agencies and clients included] get back to addressing and contributing to the real business issues rather than being preoccupied, refocused or consumed by other people’s insecurities, ego or project irrelevant KPI’s … it’s not just going to get worse, it’s going to totally fuck up the future for everyone involved in advertising or the people who hold shares in companies.

This is not about finding excuses to not get your hands dirty – besides, that’s the best part of the job – it’s about ensuring you spend your time adding ‘real value’ … which contrary to popular opinion doesn’t mean doing stuff for free, but doing stuff that makes a major positive difference to the overall outcome and everyone can and should play a part in that.

It shouldn’t be like this, but if you want it to get better, education … or re-education … is down to you.

56 Comments so far
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Is this because your industry has concentrated on selling service rather than solutions?

Comment by Lee Hill

I certainly did more planning at cynic than I did at my previous agencies but that could be to Lee’s point that you guys sold business solutions rather than servicing headhours.

There definitely seems to be a belief quantity is more valuable to organisations than quality and while a unproductive workforce is a costly workforce, if downtime was viewed by companies as a period of time where their people could develop thinking and ideas, I am sure it would prove to be more profitable than shuffling paperwork and meetings.

By the way, your bio on that Asian awards thing is the ultimate in effectiveness. You say more in 2 lines than others achieve in 20 pages.

Good bio, good post.

Comment by Pete

His bio might be better than the others but his photo is fucked.

He thinks he looks a rockstar but he looks like he’s blind.

And what’s wrong with planners being too busy on pointless shit to plan? Sounds great to me.

Comment by Billy Whizz

The look is appropriate. For the conference’s door security.

Comment by John

Well that’s good to hear Pete – though do I take that you’re currently not doing much planning under George?

I knew his nice guy image was all a scam.

And yes, I know the ‘look’ is twat worthy, but the benefit of being seen in sunnies is that less of my dodgy head is visible so people might … just might … talk to me rather than cross the road or throw rocks.

Comment by Rob

I think it applies to all industries Lee. The more stuff you can be seen to be doing, the longer it takes and the more strained all-nighters it involves, the more effort can be imputed to have taken place and the more worth can be ascribed to that. The ghastly love-child of presenteeism and elitism that obfuscates and overstates and leaves little room for inspiration and brilliance.

And I hate solutions – most of the time customers don’t have problems, they have needs and it doesn’t take some business version of rocket science to work out how to meet them.

Comment by John

Hello John. My comment wasn’t meant to imply this situation was unique to advertising, it is prevalent in most industries, driven by the view it is a “safer” way to drive short term profitability.

As for your view that solutions are often unnecessary, I think I understand your point but ultimately disagree. While day to day solutions to customer needs should be identified and handled internally, there are many (for example) long term or high investment opportunities that have benefited from external brain involvement, though it does requires partners who understand the brand as well as the economics of the business to be truly effective.

Comment by Lee Hill

smash the fucker lee, you know hell back down because he lives in hope youll give him an upgrade. fat fucking chance eh.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Lee. It’s the “solutions” mentality that I dislike – so many businesses think putting the word in their corporate motto or company name is enough. If you’re not providing solutions, then what value are you offering after all?

The reality of such companies across all industries is that they sell process (aka their patented solution) not the collaborative input you rightly identify as being central to effectiveness.

Now, about those upgrades…

Comment by John

Who am I kidding? I can’t even afford a ticket.

Comment by John

so how come the toilet walls of nyc say you visit professionals for a solution to your fucking needs doddsy?

Comment by andy@cynic

Didn’t realise you frequented the tranny bar toilets Andy.

Comment by Billy Whizz

i only did it when i was looking for you.

Comment by andy@cynic

Can you explain what you mean when you say you ‘hate solutions?’

I know that there are many occasions where mountains are made out of molehills by agencies and consultants – but it sounds like you think the majority of corporate requirements can be handled internally which is something I don’t entirely agree with and ultimately leads to the master/servant mentality that is stifling both creativity and advancement.

Comment by Rob

Not saying that at all – and intrigued that people are interpreting it as such.

The thing I hate most is that everyone repackages their business as a solutions provider. It’s a relatively recent thing. I also don’t like the implied corollary that every situation is a problem – I think that can generate a fire-fighting mindset that can’t see the wood for the trees.

Comment by John

i blame the lawyers.

Comment by lauren

i blame lawyers, planners and campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

especially divorce lawyers.

Comment by andy@cynic

and exfuckingwives.

Comment by andy@cynic

you were talking to a policeman friend? you were being fucking arrested again more like.

im with billy that a weighed down planner is a less pain in the fucking arse planner (though my dream is to weigh them down with fucking ropes and chains and chuck them in the river) but the issue of not doing what youre ultimately paid to do is something that affects a fuckload of people not just whining planners.

they go on about needing to be generalists but wouldnt it be fucking nice to be specialists again? agencies have been so quick to take the money out of clients tight claws that they see us as slaves not fucking geniuses and then they believe they can do what we can do because shit like crowdsourcing has been embraced by adland to look fresh and interesting when it undermines what we are supposedly all about.

this isnt like the old days where you involved weird fucks to make great stuff, theres no weird fucks in this crowdsourcing shit, its mr and mrs fucking average and clients love it because they think theyre connecting with “their fucking audience” but thats not connecting that’s creeping.

ok so some agencies are so shit that my grandpa could do better (and hes dead) but attending countless fucking meetings and doing rounds and rounds of fucking presentations just to make a client feel comfortable isnt clever because you set a fucking precedent then thats what happens when you say youll make “an ad” rather than put your balls on the table and say youll sell x amount of product y.

trust is better than like.

as for that photo in that sham of an award show. you look a twat, though fucking amazingly you look less of a twat than the others.

Comment by andy@cynic

You’re on fire today aren’t you Andy.

While I am an advocate of the ‘generalist’ attitude and approach, I do get what you mean about the need for ‘specialists’ and I wholeheartedly agree with your issues regarding ‘crowdsourcing’.

Without doubt it has a role – and it has unique benefits – but the way so many companies approach it is wrong because the key factor in their decision is cost … mainly because they think cheap = effective, which as we all know, just isn’t the case.

The other thing I find funny about many in adland embracing this approach is that it could be argued mass involvement creates parity and blandness … and given the industry tends to find these elements offensive [and are massively vocal against focus groups to adjudicate work] it’s a bit weird they are jumping on the bandwagon and claiming it’s giving the industry a shot in the arm.

But then what do you expect from a bunch of people who have about as much vision as Mr Magoo.

Comment by Rob

I hate to admit this, but it would appear planning has become the ultimate example of middle management. Sure I’m being generalistic – and would hope I and my team are not like that – but I am seeing and hearing way too much process management from planners than actual planning & producing.

Sure, there is an element of needing to ‘grease the wheels’ of the system to get your things through – but how many people are actually seeing a result come out the other end that’s commesurate for all the effort?

My guess? 10%.

This isn’t just a planning issue, I would say the same thing is happening across all disciplines, but given the bullshit I read about planners being rockstars, I would say the truth is they’re more like HR managers than fucking Eddie van Halen.

Comment by Rob

My business card says planner but I’m more like a typist. And I work at a planning friendly agency. Got any jobs?

Comment by Frank V

Hi Frank, good to have you pop by.

No agency job is perfect – hell, I’ve had 2 jobs where I was given [for me] the ultimate job description and yet they both ended up having large parts that were painful and/ or frustrating.

For me, it’s all about having more good days than bad – and one of the things that ensures I have that is working with colleagues and clients who are focused on a specific [and hopefully ambitious] goal rather than wasting time going off at pointless angles to simply please the egos or politics of the companies you’re dealing with.

Hell, I can even manage that if it’s going to help us achieve the ultimate goal – but when everything gets diluted and the objective seems to be to keep the issues bubbling because that keeps the income coming, then I get annoyed. Actually I do more than that, I tend to quit – but I certainly wouldn’t suggest anyone follows my advice and luckily I know no one ever will, ha.

Comment by Rob

Honestly, the best planning (the kind that produces long term results) cannot be measured within a fiscal year. I love it. What a *Fuck off* to the damned ROI parade.

Comment by Bryan Jones

I agree Bryan – and I also think the best planning, while focused on a specific goal – should positively impact a whole host of other measurable elements, however given more and more companies have a financial vision of just 3 months, are you saying that at it’s heart planning is pointless?

I don’t think you are … and as I said, I do agree with what you’re saying … but with the pressures placed on corporations for almost immediate results, does this mean the role of planning, at least in a purist sense, is dead?

Comment by Rob

Planning is not dead. expecting different results under current compensation structures is.

ask to be billed by the hour, expect to “show” and be “shown” work by the hour. pay for all night and get ready to have your head blown by the overall experience by day break… Which Will have à lasting impression ànd brought back to an hour rate is cheaper for clients yet more motivational for “agencies”

Focus on impact requires different attitude from all involved..

Comment by Niko

The move towards measurability is just a byproduct of the financials becoming more important than the strategy and creative.

While I understand the need for ROI, as Bryan says; the best planning (and creative) work is the kind that has a very long tail of ROI!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

A very long tail of ROI would have a minuscule or in fact negative ROI (no sales revenue – cost of production/ cost of production).

The whole point about the ROI debate is that it’s not going away and the marketing/advertising response should not be to whine or to focus solely on the measurable, but to become more numerate and financially literate and argue in the finance director’s language.

Comment by John

whilst i condone financial/economic responsibility, john, i would suggest that it’s not just about language, is it – it’s about the whole finance/admin-based process.

with the language of ROI/economics comes a stack of paper-based checks’n’balance processes that are excellent for accounting for finances and financial process (except, of course if you are a banker. then you should act like you’re in a creative agency).

but then the whole process of creative problem solving becomes financial problem solving, based on what the process is.

i know that advertising is a financial problem-solving industry so obviously it needs elements of said ‘checks’n’balance’ approach, but there is a reason why companies use advertising/creative solutions instead of their accountants’ ones [presumably because they work. differently].

and ordinarily i also couldn’t give a shit if advertising became weighed under with paperwork, but it seems that artists are also facing the same fate.

[i’m considering becoming an accountant, given the amount of financial reporting i know how to do. but my drawing skills are turning to shit]

Comment by lauren

That’s my point. It’s about justification not responsibility. Learn the language and then you can try to argue the paperwork out of existence by showing it has negative ROI

Comment by John

A bit of both I think. Yes we need to adjust the process, and yes we need to speak more in a way that financially led people can identify with.

After all, we should be able to communicate with anyone!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

@lauren don’t mean to sound rude, but you keep talking numbers..


Comment by niko

quiet you

Comment by lauren

I know what everyone is saying – but quite frankly, my attitude is if you can’t prove you’ve made a difference, you can’t expect to be paid huge amounts. And I want huge amounts.

Comment by Rob

Oh, and it also explains why we [cynic] had a royalty scheme in our remuneration policy as we were happy to put our money where our mouth was whilst encouraging clients to take a long term view as well as fulfilling their shorter term needs.

Comment by Rob

theres no fucking point talking about how brilliant cynic were when you fucking sold out to the yankee dollar. twat.

anyway this post has stayed on tangent for too fucking long so what do you think about the tits on this

Comment by andy@cynic

If I had those I’d never have to leave the apartment again.

Comment by Billy Whizz

what about having to hide from doddsy?

Comment by andy@cynic

Got double locks and bars on the windows.

Comment by Billy Whizz

enough of this fucking shit. wheres that fucking shit age? hes been quiet for fucking ages. and northern? where the fuck is northern groper? and marcus? and peggy?

how the fuck have they get out of visiting this shit hole and yet i havent?

off to supervise. the fucking roof gets put on today. about fucking time the lazy shits.

Comment by andy@cynic

You need to host a home improvement show. Need to.

Comment by Billy Whizz

oh i was just being quiet and listening andy… as for wanting to make a difference while making huge amounts of cash… looking at the hairy booby picture and its backstory, this man did it. effectively 😛

Comment by peggy

oi, tell my boss this. he is also concerned with being constantly busy. When I push back I get a kick in the arse

Comment by roli

I could be completely missing the point, BUT, given that I imagine it’s been about 15-20 years since Rob, Andy, Lauren, Niko, John and all the rest of you have been at the bottom of a organization looking up instead of the other way around, let me just say this…

It’s not the responsibility of us low level peons to tell the client that it’s about finding the ‘solution’, not the time put into finding that solution (less we be considered arrogant), it’s also pretty damn difficult for us to tell co-workers (co-workers that we are trying to impress/sleep with I might add) that we shouldn’t be brought into every meeting that requires some ‘thought’ (because that’s what planners do right)…’s your job.

As the Head of Planning, Planning Director, General Manager, Account Directors, etc., your job is to think about whether you should sell by the solution/sell by the hour (and from the above you seem to have that one nailed down), your job to think about what is the best way for your planners to add ‘real value’ and then your job to make sure that every one of your planners (and clients) knows this so that when they do encounter the above they can paraphrase you.

Now I know planning the system may not be as fun as getting your hands dirty in the trenches, but if done well it does mean that you will have everyone singing to your tune, allowing you to then step in at the very end and exercise your ‘strategic expertise’.

So really “education … or re-education … is down to you [the guys making the six figure salaries].

Comment by Patrick

thats excuse bullshit.

sure bosses should be leading the way, sure it can lead to some fucking awkwardness if you stand up to them and others but if stuffs not happening and you do it well and get the results then no fucker will mind and if they do then theyre wankers who only got there by crawling.

the best people try to make shit happen regardless of title, age or salary the rest make fucking excuses.

Comment by andy@cynic


If your sick of writing planning posting maybe you should re-brand the blog

‘The Musings Of An Opinionated Management Sod [Help Me Manage!]

First topic: The difference between a Jnr Planner, Planner and Planning Director, and how this all gets fucked up in China…

Comment by Patrick

so youre in commieland. explains fucking everything.

for the record campbell has acted like a fucking planning director before planning even fucking existed. that explains everyfuckingthing as well.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Patrick … I do understand what you’re saying, but I have to say, I agree with Andy. Sure it’s somewhat different in Asia given the way the business culture operates plus the maturity of the ad market, however if appears you’re saying you are helpless to make/lead certain changes of working and I just don’t believe that is the case.

I’m not saying you can do it without upsetting a few people – and it’s also important to remember just because you think something is right doesn’t actually mean it is – but if you believe in something strongly enough and can prove why it’s better, then I believe you should take some actions to try and make it happen because otherwise you are part of the problem rather than the cure.

Sure it would be better if you had a boss who encouraged you to try and do stuff – and I was certainly blessed with that – but even then it didn’t stop me going off and pushing certain agendas I believed were better for the agency and the client – and even though that led to me sometimes [1] being bollocked and [2] being wrong – it also led to me being able to build up a portfolio that both achieved results and helped set me apart from the competition.

I know it’s not easy, I know it can cause issues … but I’d rather have people create their experience and knowledge rather than just talk about the theory of it.

Oh and for the record, while I know some people get promoted for the amount of crawling they do to their boss or the reliance they have for taking corporate shit … the way I would explain the difference between junior planner, planner and planning director is simply the stuff they’ve done and the responsibility they took for making it – or getting it – done.

Comment by Rob

oi patrick, im very far away from looking up or down on anything. as well as six figure salaries. and i couldnt care less.

anyway, what i think you are saying is that in a hierarchy it needs a leader to set the rules. and i agree. i also doubt that it is possible to make a difference bottom up when everyone above you is not interested in drops of rain on their parade really, even if it would change things for the better. question is for who…

anyway, i was wondering, in general, making a difference and all, what do you think of the pepsi refresh project? it does make a difference doesnt it. its got vision. not in the context of short term sales figures that would be measurable. but its building brand and society. plus its crowdsourcing realised in a good way. i think its a great idea. a visionary must have come up with it.

Comment by peggy

I disagree Peggy. Sure it’s more difficult – sure you often need an advocate to make things happen – but I can say from personal experience that I helped make some things happen [aged 20 and basically the agency shit kicker] by simply getting on and having a go. You’d be amazed how quickly people jump on the bandwagon of success once it’s successful and start embracing it as normal practice.

I’m not discounting Patrick or your views, I understand them – I just think it’s also used as an excuse to not do stuff.

Comment by Rob

well, i have done stuff and had a go. successful stuff with people jumping on the bandwagon. but i also tried to do other stuff that did not work, not because i wasnt good enough in convincing anyone, or because i was wrong, but because of the system. it depends what you are trying to do.

and i think one always need people who support you or agree with you. advocates or whatever you want to call them.

Comment by peggy

I agree Peggy – totally agree – but my issue with Patrick’s comment was that he seemed to relinquish responsibility in at least trying to make things happen. That’s probably not what he intended, but I see a shit load of people who sit there waiting for greatness to happen to them without actually realising you have to [at least sometimes] fight for every minor bit of glory along the way.

I should point out that [1] I say this in the context of adland and [2] I am not saying I am great – not by a long shot – but I can say I’ve worked fucking hard to get where I am and whilst I have had some amazing bosses and opportunities, I’ve also done all I can to make sure my thoughts can’t be ignored – even when it means I cop shit and ridicule when I am wrong. Which is a lot.

Comment by Rob

Andy, Rob, Peggy,

Thank you for the all the comments.

Rob, Andy – Yes, just to clarify I’m not trying to put all the responsibility on those at the top and in my original comment I should have mentioned that those down at the bottom should get in there and change things when they feel an idea or even general management policies are wrong.

That being said I think there is a big difference between an idea and the overall branding of an agency i.e. the thing that differentiates Cynic from W&K from BBH, from Anomaly etc. and potentially even the same agency across multiple locations. This agency branding (and in turn I would argue the overall strategic management of the agency) should remain in the hands of the Partners/Directors because the day your junior/middle people start deciding this is either the day they become higher management, the day they leave to start their agency or the day that agencies brand becomes a little less clear.

Back to your post, you actually mention this: ‘its as much the fault of the planners who are willing to accept this attitude [or the agencies they work for endorsing it]’, so what I’m trying to say is as senior management stop endorsing it.

As an aside, it’s interesting to see that when you talk about planners you tend to describe them and the way that they should resolve problems in the singular, in commieland and I’d guess less idea focused industries, it’s more about how do we resolve problems as a team.

Comment by Patrick

ok now i get what you mean.

the best companies or the most fucking interesting ones are the mob with the best fucking management and id guess the best management got that way because they were either trained by the best and learnt what they could aspire to or trained by the worst and learned they could do it better themselves.

also helps if the guys who started it stick together, not chop and fucking change because things get diluted or just turn to shit but you need to keep young blood coming in you can nurture or you turn into fucking dinosaurs in no fucking time.

w+k are the best at getting it right. not campbells w+k, fuck that, i mean the guys who founded the thing. strong principals executed in the modern day or as campbell said (hate quoting him) they value creative dont devalue age and that means very young or in campbells case, exceedingly fucking old.

sounds like you need a boss wholl show you shit and lives it rather than talks bollocks. dont know much about commieland but if you dont know campbell you should start because he might be a queen loving twat, but because i trained him hes quite fucking good and he actually gives a fuck about people but only because he knows hell be asking them for a job when w+k get sick of him treating it like his company and demanding they make cars interesting tv spots. soft twat doesnt realise this shit blog has already blown all his options because even if someone he helped would hire him, the agency they work for sure as fuck wont.

Comment by andy@cynic

Very late to this, thanks to a certain boys birthday and a day withstanding shouty americans, so I can’t be bothered to read all those comments, but at the risk of repeating what someone else has said, most of these problems tend to stem from selling the process rather than selling good ideas, things like a million workshops because you can charge tons of money for them, entailing late nights preparing stim, rather than a few good people having a conversation.
Of course, there are bloody suits who are justy too lazy, I’m not above doing anything, and out here in the sticks you have to helpful, but one of the first tasks I did here was set an account director straight when she asked me to source some competitor ads for her – just this once, but then again, it paid dividends because it started a conversation about strategy and meeting the client – and going out and interviewing women with massive knockers about their lingerie.
However, lazy suit syndrome seems to exist in all agencies to a certain degree…and guess which agency I accuse of process syndrome?

Comment by northern

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