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February 26, 2003
Saving Planning and Planners

I don't know what caused the body blow to account planning.

It might have been the slump in economic growth, the slump in business spending, the advertising recession slump, or the slump that followed the Internet expansion, a slump that perversely punished all of us for the gerbils-shot-from-cannons of a few. Choose your slump.

Whatever the reason, planners plummeted.

In an industry that is frankly not very good at learning anything new, and not very good at working in new ways, this is a huge problem.

No planning, no campaign.

No campaign, no result.

No result, no client.

As one agency after another put their trust in account, creative and media people, why weren't planners kept? Why were planners marginalized? Why wasn't there a seat in the lifeboat with planning's name on it?

The answer is an uncomfortable one. People cherish, nurture and protect what has value. In the recent ruckus, planners weren't valued by agency managers, or weren't valued highly enough. Planners lost.

Since planning failed to prove its value, putting it back on the landscape is a huge challenge. To be even remotely successful, planning has to change dramatically. To be a planner today, you have to think like a consultant. This is what you should think about:

1. You must expand the concept of brand. "Brand" isn't about branding. Branding is about graphic identity, visual and verbal identities, color palettes, typographic distinctiveness, character and voice, style and tone. "Brand" isn't about advertising. As you know, the brand is all about the company or product -- and everything to do with it -- including its connections and relationships, its power and performance, and its truth. And the concept of brand is not just a function of how consumers package the pieces in their hearts and minds, but how prospects and influencers put the brand together, too. And every brand is about motivations, as much as relationships.

So if you want to be totally involved with the brand, you must embrace the whole brand, all of it, including its complexity, its relationships, and its motivations. Otherwise, you will never know enough to manage it.

2. You must connect to clients, not creative people. A marketer's revenues and profits come from relationships with customers, prospects and influencers. Yet very few clients have a clear view of how to build relationships with customers and prospects, and how to make those relationships real.

Creative people don't care about relationships. They care about creating and producing stimulating ideas for advertising. Direct marketers care about relationships, but only if you, as a customer, have money in your hand. The fact is, nobody in an agency helps clients move customers and prospects from basic awareness through bonding. Agencies talk about it, but they don't do it.

So if you want to do a planner's job successfully, do exactly that. Identify strongly with the client, glue yourself permanently to the client, and find ways to make the client's valuable relationships real and productive.

3. You must accept that a client's life is about more than communication. Planners were invented in advertising agencies to help agencies communicate in better, more meaningful ways. Even in the best planning agencies, planning still serves a communication model and addresses communication touch points. And the touch points have no meaning unless you're communicating.

But most companies and chief executives don't think that way. They have a much broader view. In their view, the brand is a lot more than advertising and public relations. It's about technology, process, channel partners, influencers, revenues, margins and profits, politicians, regulators, competitors, and above all, people in the company who make the brand happen -- designers, chemists, 1-800 operators, and tech support and customer service representatives.

So if you truly want to connect to the client, share the client's view of the world. Incorporate that broad, multi-dimensional viewpoint into your work as a planner, and your work will change dramatically. So will your value to the client.

If you reinvent the way you see planning, and think of it as a broad-based consulting relationship, rather than just an advertising work-up, you will connect strongly to your client. You will be the most aware, most informed, most committed person assigned to the business, and the one person in the agency truly bonded to the client, dedicated to helping him or her get where he or she wants to go.

Which is exactly what clients want from people who are paid to give them advice.

And that is a very good (and very powerful) place to be.

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Ian Latham is a world traveler in the ad industry. Ian has worked in top management for Ogilvy & Mather on three continents. Recently, Ian founded Latham & Company, a strategic brand consulting practice that helps chief executives harness the power of their brands to create growth. 
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