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

Planners Are Pathetic, Pointless & Other Words That Begin With The Letter ‘P’ …
March 15, 2013, 6:18 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Campaign Magazine

So there’s an age old debate whether planners are of any value to adland.

Despite being one for almost all my working life, I agree that there are a lot of things wrong with what modern day planning has become.

To be fair, this is less about the discipline and more about how some companies – and planners – work.

Sadly, too many view planning [and planners] as either a tool to charge clients incredible amounts for creating over–complicated, ultimately meaningless, powerpoint documents [mainly because they’ve sold the value of creativity down the river] or a license to act like they’re a cross between the second coming of Christ and Einstein.

And to those companies and planners, I say fuck you … because planning can contribute a lot to [commercial] creativity and all you’re doing with your actions is destroying its validity and credibility.

In my mind, our job is to perform 3 things:

+ Understand what’s really going on in the minds and heads of society. [Not the things they say, if anything, the things they’re not saying]

+ Identify the fundamental problem that we need to solve to liberate our clients potential. [Both now and in the future]

+ Stimulate, encourage & inspire our broader creative colleagues to be braver, bolder and more exciting in their response to the problem at hand.

That’s it.

Our job certainly doesn’t stop once the brief has been written … in fact, in some respects, that’s where it starts … and ‘planner’ certainly isn’t code for writing countless, pointless powerpoint documents.

Sure, writing and presenting is part of the job … but it’s purpose is to help drive better work, not encourage clients to be more closed-minded which is why I have this [admittedly stupid] view that if you write a presentation and people never refer back to it, you’ve contributed to the confusion, not clarity.

Anyway, a few months ago, someone wrote in to Campaign magazine slagging off planners.

Not just slagging them off, but character assassinating them.

OK, so some of the things they said were fair – at least in the context of the sort of planners who I think need a kicking [who in my book, should be called ‘Pretenders’ rather than ‘Planners’] – but I still was upset this sort of attitude was being expressed in such a condescending and generalistic tone.

Are some planners crap?


Do some planners add nothing except more obstacles?


Do some planners think they’re geniuses despite having never made anything other than a creative brief?


Do some planners confuse being interesting with saying [other people’s] interesting things?


Do some planners forget the creative teams are friends, not enemies?


Do some planners forget we are judged on the output, not the input?


But let me tell you, planners don’t hold the monopoly in that shit … there’s plenty of creatives, suits, MD’s and almost everyone in-between that have those same misguided, deluded, myopic opinions.

As do people in almost every industry from banking to policing.

So I decided I couldn’t let it pass.

Yes, I know it serves no purpose.

Yes, I know it won’t convince the doubters to change their opinion.

Yes, I know I am basically ‘biting’ to an idiots proclamations but, unlike research companies who seem to never stand up against idiots making a mockery of their industry, I think it’s important to fight for what you believe in when it is being openly challenged – even if you’re being challenged by a myopic fool who, for all I know, has only ever worked in a company that employs wannabe-geniuses who end up just writing complicated powerpoint documents no one reads to [1] justify their job [2] keep their delusions alive – which is why I wrote this:

Is it immature?

Errrrrm, of course it is – this is me we’re talking about – but daft views deserve equally daft responses so regardless of what happens, I feel I can look at myself in the mirror because I’ve stood up for what I believe … and as the old maxim goes, if you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything.

Don’t mistake this post as my attempt to stoke the fires of Planners vs Creatives – it’s not and never will be because I respect, love & need my broader creative colleagues – if anything, it’s simply a rant against prejudice [& shit planners] which is why one of the best bits of advice I ever got was before you start questioning others, take a long hard look at yourself first.

Oooooh, I feel so much better after that, have a top weekend.

47 Comments so far
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Firm but fair.

Comment by Chris

My letter or there’s?

Maybe I don’t want you to answer that.

Comment by Rob

im sure you know campbell, but i didnt write that first letter. it was way too nice for my fucking liking.

good on you for kicking the fucker back to the sewer, might be the toughest thing ive ever seen you do. or any italian for that fucking matter.

and ill give you a reluctant thumbs up for smacking the planners who give you fuckers a bad name. correction, an even shitter name. you have always been the creatives friend because as thick as you can be, you know theyll make you look fucking way better than you would otherwise. not hard, but still a wise choice.

good fucking post. too long, but at least it had some fight in the bastard.

i am now going to spend the next few days sat in a hospital where real fucking problems exist. something all you fuckers should remember. alls good. just some check ups for supergirl.

Comment by andy@cynic

Bonnie’s a legend.

Comment by DH

Like father like daughter.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Back to your back-handed compliment best. Ha.

Give a big hug to Bonnie for me … your point about adland not knowing what real problems/issues are, is absolutely bang on. And yet we claim we understand society … how delusional we are!

Comment by Rob

All you had to do was show their letter then yours but instead you took on Oprah’s persona and wrote war & peace. If that person thinks they had a problem with planners before, they should come on this blog and see what we have to deal with.

Comment by DH

But I’ll give you some mild applause for your response. Anyone who uses Fox as an insult can’t be all bad.

Comment by DH

What that guy says is outrageous. How someone can call planners useless when they bring so much laughter to the agency with their funny stories they call “the brief” totally deserves the response you gave them Rob.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I feel a bit sorry for the writer of that letter because their biggest mistake was to imply all planners act that way. I know you acknowledged that Rob, but maybe thrir reference point with planners has always been dictatorial rather than collaborative.

Most of the issues that exist in agencies are to do with ego, control and respect which is why the agencies that do well are the ones who manage these issues rather than feed them.

Great 3 roles of a planner by the way. People should print that out and hang it around their office.

Comment by Pete

I agree with Andy, it’s good you highlighted the problem is as much to do with planners as those who criticise them.

Comment by Pete

Jesus wasnt as nice as you. That’s not a compliment.

Comment by DH

Fair point Pete.

My issue was – as you said – much more about the ‘generalised’ tone of their letter than what they said.

In addition, their view that ‘those who do the work are the only ones who will know what works best’ will only occur if they take responsibility for [1] understanding the client and their business and [2] understand society and understand their real issues, not just what’s happening in the hipster community … whereas too many just want to sit in their ivory tower and be waited on hand & foot.

Of course not everyone is like this – and without doubt, there’s a shitload of planners who aspire to act like this – but no one is as good as all of us which is why if you approach things with the right attitude, respect and understanding … planners & creatives don’t end up being different departments but a powerful, unified collective which, I am happy/relieved to say, I have seen in practice for most of my career.

Comment by Rob

Good points Pete. There are many reasons behind the fractures in agencies, many coming from outside the agency, but if people continue to blame others while never considering their own responsibility and actions, then it will continue to only get worse.

Rob, I’m interested to know how it works at W+K. Are there tensions? I assume there are, but how does the company command such a unified spirit? Is it a case of hiring the right people or something more process orientated?

Comment by Bazza

I am assuming that the reason it works so well at W+K is there is a unified belief throughout the company that the work is all that matters. The bit I think some people in the advertising industry fail to realize is that, as Dan Wieden talked about in the link you put up yesterday, that while “the work comes first”, it’s always linked to making good things happen for clients.

Comment by Bazza

Hi Bazza …

I think a lot of what you asked I’ve answered in the comment I made to Pete’s comment and yes, too many people think W+K is about creative indulgence rather commercially minded wonder which is … however your question about whether W+K is culturally driven or process driven, the reality is culture definitely contributes more.

Are there processes? Of course, but it’s always focused on what the process needs to produce rather than the process itself.

Finally, your question of whether there is ever tension in the agency. Of course. There are some epic arguments and battles … but it’s rarely about ego and far more about what is the best approach to achieve the goal and do it in the most interesting, ingenious, involving, challenging and creative way possible.

If this sounds like how we used to operate at cynic, you’d be right. So arguments and tension but [hopefully] for the right reasons. Well, most of the time anyway … ha.

Comment by Rob

I’ve never worked with a decent planner.

For me, they come in three types.

1. Bloody useless clowns who contribute nothing of value and seemingly have what is practically a sinecure. They at least don’t get in the way though.
2. Chaps (and it’s usually chaps) who contribute nothing to the creative process but earn their (artisan) crust by mollifying clients with buzzwords.
3. “Superstar” planners who have this aura around them, get paid the GDP of a small South American country, and talk utter nonsense. People are then forced to make ads based on this nonsense. I am convinced their main talent is to have the brass neck to just pull something out of thin air, but make it look extremely laboured over, and then say it with such utter conviction that the first person to voice dissent is usually penning the “Turkey of the week” column in Campaign.

To be fair though it does seem like a fucking hard job. I couldn’t do it right either. i’m not even that good at my own job, for fucks sake, which is maybe why I’ve never worked in an agency with a decent planner.

Comment by Anonymous Coward

In my experience, number 2 is typically caused by agencies who sell processes not creative ideas. They are desperate to have a powerpoint with a bespoke process that ONLY they can deliver (even though it is just like every other agency).

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Rob is paid the GDP of a small South American country and talks nonsense but he also slags off planners as much as any creative, so you might find him OK.
No need to be”anon coward”, we all give planners shit on here. Even the planners.

Comment by DH

I’m a very junior creative – I’ll put my name to blunt comments on blogs when I have a career behind me, haha. Right now I feel like I have to watch my step.

Comment by Anonymous Coward

Hello Anonymous Coward … thank you for commenting.

Trust me, no one is more critical of the planners you talk about than me. They are the people who do more to damage the validity and value of the discipline I work in than anyone else.

That said, I do think people in other disciplines often criticise out of fear rather than appreciating what a planner does and can do. As I said, i believe our role is to contribute to better, braver, more provocative and imaginative creative … which means helping the client understand it’s the right thing to do as much as aiding our creative colleagues to understand how a particular point of view will be relevant and resonant to society.

There’s no one way to do things, which is why it’s a collaborative process rather than a combatant and I hope you get to work with a good planner because you might [note: might] think they’re not all a waste of skin.

Hopefully. Ha.

Thanks for writing, I really appreciate it.

Comment by Rob

I know there are good planners out there. You can see it in the work. Sometimes a piece of work is so good that you know that the whole team had to be good too. That’s the type of thing we’d all like to be involved in.

Comment by Anonymous Coward

You might find this post interesting. It’s from a now ex-W+K planner, but in it he talks about how the companies focus on the best possible work not only stops stops inter-departmental politics, but creates an attitude of collective strength:

Comment by Rob

The title made me think Andy had done a guest post, but the content was excellent.

The point about helping and encouraging creatives is SO SO important. The best thing I ever did at my last place was to try and get to know all of the creatives. From having drunken arguments about creative value in the pub, to simple things like actual talking to them after a creative presentation and telling them how each of their ideas went down. (Every time I did that they said thank you and seemed surprised I took the time to do it!)
Or things like fighting to get the agency to agree to pitch for a small piece of work that got the creatives excited enough that every single one attended an optional meeting to read the brief.
Any creative that slags off the value of planning is either misinformed, has never worked with a decent planner, or has worked in places that don’t value their planners enough to give them the time or space or training to be good.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

People often attack the things they do not understand or choose not to understand. Rarely is it the discipline, rather the attitude and approach of the people working within and with the discipline. Good on you Robert for standing up against this, though I may have taken a slightly different approach.

Comment by Lee Hill

Isn’t planning a group think/commodity since the internet went 2.0? I haven’t seen a decent ad in recent years.

Comment by Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith)

I’ve seen some decent ads, but not enough to justify the hype the industry puts out. Mind you, most of the stuff I read – especially from the planning community – seems focused on pretending we are the modern day Einstein’s, even though we don’t realise the only way you’ll get others thinking that way is if you actually do something.

Oooooh I’m bitter today aren’t I. Ha.

Comment by Rob

The only sad part is that no other discipline in the ad agency has had to defend their worth constantly like Account Planners.

Sure, the media folks get tagged for not being the smartest or most creative folks. And certainly account people have had a fair amount of jokes made at their expense. However, they never have to defend their roles. Everyone seems to widely accept them.

All I have to say is thank God for this new trend of “inventionist” positions. Hopefully they can take the heat off us Account Planners for awhile. If not, I’ll write a deck stating my case and make all the creatives sit through it while they doodle on their sketchpad.

Comment by Matthew Lyle

Hahaha … that made me smile. What I would say Matthew is that every discipline thinks they’re [1] the most important and [2] suffering the greatest lack of respect.

While you fairly highlight how media/accounts have also been subjected to ‘validation challenges’, I’m not so sure if planners have had it worst of all … just ask a ‘sales promotion’ guy and you’ll realise we’re not nearly as questioned as some other people.

But yes, the ‘inventionists’ will cop the majority of the flack in the short-term … but all they have to do to counter it, is actually invent something rather than talk about it or try and claim ‘a process’ is something that is worthy of invention praise.

Comment by Rob

Good work Rob. Especially some home truths about planners.
However,while I fully agree you don’t have a good brief without good work, the pedestal on which some creatives can put themselves upon can be even more breathtaking.
Great creatives are just great, and actually welcome input. They have the talent and craft skills to transform business in one rough. They have the instinct to do stuff that will provoke a response. Enough to say fuck the brief, let’s do that …sometimes.
But bad creatives only talk to creatives, never watch stuff like Corrie, never read the Sun and think irony and a small logo qualifies as an idea.
All departments have good people and shit people, – it’s fair that planners need to justify their existence and either contribute or get the fuck out of the way.
But then creatives should be very fucking great, very fucking solid – or shut the fuck up and follow the brief.
And by the way, ‘we can’t crack the brief’ is rarely an excuse. Great work comes from great problems.

Comment by northern

Absolutely true. To be honest, the reason I didn’t mention that is because I didn’t want it to get into ‘who are the bigger dicks’ competition … but you’re right.

In my experience, the best creatives I’ve worked with aren’t just unbelievably informed about everyday culture [as well as art & creativity as a whole], but they take responsibility for knowing the client, the issues & the business as a whole.

These people are generally better planners than planners and they certainly don’t sit in their office, ignoring everyone only to venture out when they think they have created a masterpiece … even though it’s basically an exercise in indulgence and ego and either goes nowhere [to which they blame everyone but themselves] or it makes a little whiff in the atmosphere.

There’s planners like that too – I’ve just had the unfortunate displeasure of talking to one today – but yes, there are a shitload of creatives like that … and funnily enough, they tend to be those who have never actually done anything of note even though they think they are Steve Jobs meets Dan Wieden meets God.

Comment by Rob

Well said.
By the way, while I’m not sure I’ve worked with that many great creatives, the ones I have seem to have only found me useful for two things:
A source of ideas- a you say, culture, what folks care about, what excites them, what’s missing
Help to get their ideas through- suits, research, clients
One of those good creatives used to work at BMP and told me that John Webster used to love planners, not for briefs, but for helping get into the minds eye of the people the work would be for

Comment by northern

Only a few weeks ago, I read an article about John Webster’s love of planners … how he felt they helped stimulate his brilliant mind by tantilising his brain with things about society he didn’t know.

He didn’t need them to tell him what the business needed or suits to help sell it because he made it his mission to stay involved in all aspects of the job because he felt that made him better [let alone was something he was paid to be responsible for]

For the life of me I can’t find it but in the meantime, this post is pretty awesome about him:

Comment by Rob

If John Webster can appreciate planners, you’d think that would be enough for other creatives!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

There’ll be a lot of creatives who don’t know who he is or think he’s too old or too British to be relevant. It’s like a film student dismissing Spielberg on the grounds he’s been around 40+ years.

Comment by Pete


Comment by Lisa Hart @ DDB

The more I get to know you, the more I like you. Great job at articulating so well the issue of generalization. Love your writing. Bad planners may indeed put at risk the opportunity we have and love. But so what – people with substance will always have space to do what they are supposed to do, whatever the job title may be. As long as we take care of our own (our actual own), sweet dreams.

Comment by Rodrigo Maroni

Funny. I find the more you know Rob the more you have this urge to change your address and number.

Comment by DH

Maybe rodrigo likes queen, sandals and shit football.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Don’t take it personally Rodrigo, on this blog insulting is flattery. Yeah, that’s how we roll.

Comment by DH

That’s not how all of us ‘roll’, thank you very much.

But yes, don’t take the comments personally Rodrigo – which, sort-of knowing you – I’m pretty sure you didn’t and wouldn’t.

Comment by Rob

You’re very kind matey and it’s good to have you come on here and comment. I like the “take care of our own” sentiment – if only for the fact it sounds like I could be a member of a tough gang rather than being a fully paid up member of the birkenstock clan. Ha.

Hope to see you on here again and hope to see you in São Paulo soon.

Comment by Rob

thanks a lot for the warm welcome, everyone. however you felt like welcoming me, anyway. Didn’t take anything personal, rest assured.

Comment by Rodrigo Maroni

LATAM eh… so we can have coke and lime… nice..

Comment by niko

[…] and pointless’. Brilliant defence of ad agency planners here. Good comments […]

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Good on ya’ for giving it back.

But in a way the writer is right – when planning got so focussed on ‘insights’ as the holy grail we lost the plot! I don’t think in today’s fast, chaotic world there is one perfect insight but lots of sparks. By the time we’ve found the right insight the world’s moved on! Our job is to work within our agencies to latch onto a ‘spark’ and make it engaging and relevant.

Comment by Brenda Kassir

Hi there …

As I said there are definite elements where I agree the writer is correct, but the way they talk with a all encompassing tone means that I believe they have an inability to see the difference between when it’s done well and when it isn’t.

As for one key insight, I’ve talked for years that this rarely is the case – my whole PSFK rant was on that – but by the same token, people who say ‘the insight is dead’ are also stupid because the issue isn’t that insights are no longer valid, it’s that they don’t know how or where to get the ones that can liberate opportunity rather than constrict it.

Comment by Rob

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