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

Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …


Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.


And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.

28 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You’ve captured the excitement of planning for me. Nowadays it’s more associated with low level BCG employment. Though they will pay better.

Comment by George

What was Jerry Maguire’s catch-phrase?

Comment by John

doddsy youre a fucking champion.

Comment by andy@cynic

It you’re referring to ‘show me the money’, that wasn’t his catch phrase, it was the character played by Cuba Gooding Jnr. #InsultFail

Comment by Rob

doddsy, youre a fucking twat.

Comment by andy@cynic

I was referring to the movie not the character.

Comment by John

Though I could also have been referring to the image you chose to illustrate your post.

Comment by John

asking you what makes a good planner shows 2 fucking fatal mistakes and assumptions.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes, but as Thora Hird once said, there’s nowt as queer as folk’.

Comment by Rob

why dont you tell your planner groupies what knowing how to be useful to the creative teams actually means. clue: its not continually pointing to your shit brief and saying its all in there. or i have this great idea i want you to make. or talking to the creative team in any way that makes you think youre an equal.

Comment by andy@cynic

As collaborative as ever.

Comment by George

Isn’t he so. I wonder why he doesn’t work in the industry anymore?

Comment by Rob

because i dont need to surround myself with egotistical fuckwit failures when i already spend so much time with them on this fucking blog. asshole.

Comment by andy@cynic

Didn’t Nike originally go for the “white space” of athletes (runners) and then once they’d connected to that culture, didn’t they seek to go mass market by broadening their definition of athlete?

Comment by John

have you ever seen phil knight? he wouldnt know what white space meant if it smashed him in the fucking mouth. hes about doing whatever the fuck he wants and he wanted to make athletes better fucking athletes.

Comment by andy@cynic

Not that I know of.

Phil and Bill always wanted to be about the athlete … and given Bill was a track trainer who had used the waffle iron to improve the performance of the athletic shoe, it makes sense running was their first focus.

Of course that was a long time ago, but I know for a fact Mr Knight is as focused on the athlete as he ever was and believes authenticity, technology and a will to win is the only things you need to go to market.

Comment by Rob

fucking nerd.

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s what I was referring to. The white space of focussing your product on meeting an unmet user need. And then broadening it out while not losing sight of authenticity, technology etc.

Comment by John

That’s a good rant. It’s nice to read passion for the discipline rather than the academic overtones usually expressed.

Comment by DH

Only because I don’t have the brains for the academic route. Ha.

Comment by Rob

One of the reasons I enjoyed working with you was your ability to inspire and excite the whole business about the opportunities you saw for us. It went beyond having a strong understanding and appreciation for the business, but a way to keep moving us forward on our terms rather than the categories. I enjoyed reading this post.

Comment by Lee Hill

you know i did all the fucking work and campbell just took you for free upgrades.

Comment by andy@cynic

What you think was Rob getting “an understanding of the brand experience” was Rob getting free holidays.

Comment by DH

rob hypnotised lee. only possible fucking answer.

Comment by andy@cynic

I love no one has made another comment since England broke their voodoo and actually won a penalty shootout.

Comment by Rob

I imagine everybody on the planet literally had better things to do. #wildguess #insight.

Comment by John

Always wondered if Phil Knight ever knew where technology was taking Lance Armstrong’s ‘will to win’
Joking aside, this is a great rant, even if there is a whisper of a ‘planning process’, that said, it’s a better process than Disruption and Media Arts

Comment by Northern

campbell and the word process never goes together so it must have been a big mistake.

Comment by DH

Leave a Reply