The April GreenJam panel, led by Philip Slade, the strategy director at Keko London, also featured Kit Altin, the planning director at Leo Burnett London, and Simon Callender, the creative planning director at Initials.
Our aim was to help GreenJammers understand how to spot good planning, with a focus on explaining the differences between observations and insights. Here’s a flavour of the panel’s thoughts and the interaction with the audience.
1. Don’t get distracted by the data. Philip Slade said: “It’s one of the best times to be in strategy and planning because of all the data and also one of the easiest times to mess things up. Because of all the data.” Kit Altin added: “The whole story can’t be told by big data. Look at the film The Big Short. The answers came from people driving around and looking at ‘For Sale’ signs outside homes. The answer can’t always be found by sitting at your computer.”
2. Observation can do the job. Philip Slade said: “Observations don’t explain ‘why” and good planning is about keep asking why.” But Kit Altin added: “Insights can be brilliant, they lift you and everybody else in the room but don’t become too obsessed with them. You don’t always need an insight to produce great work. Take what’s often cited as the ‘greatest ad ever made’ – Guinness ‘Surfer’. There’s no insight in it, it’s an observation about a product feature.”
3. Cultural relevance isn’t always possible for brands. Philip Slade: “Most products have zero chance of achieving cultural relevance in their lives. Your Bic Biro just doesn’t need cultural relevance. Though it’s worth remembering that we’re in a vanity and ego-based industry where clients and your boss are on an ego trip and somewhere inbetween your career lives.
4. “Always ask: ‘what’s the ambition?” Simon Callender spoke about the limits to some brands’ scope and that they need to ask some tough questions: “What is the ambition and where’s the permission for a brand? Sometimes the ambition can just be too big for the brand.”
5. All research is flawed. Kit Altin said: “There is no best research methodology yet. They’re all flawed because we’re all flawed as people. But unfortunately, though we’ve got to work with the research, we should all be concerned about how it’s used to judge and plan ideas.”
6. “Immersive ethnography” isn’t a bad approach, said Simon Callender: “Throw yourself into a situation, if you’re a beer brand get yourself into the micro-breweries and pubs. Walk in people’s shoes to understand them.”
7. Pick the right brand, and client, for the big insight. Simon Callender said: “Ask where credibly can we go with the idea? I’m a huge fan of idea over budget and knowing which fight to pick. Ask yourself if a brand is after a long-term strategy or a short-term fix.”
8. Good planning stimulates energy. Philip Slade said: “If you’re sat in a presentation in your agency and you’re bored then it’s shit planning. Good planning is about storytelling and drilling down into a great idea.” Simon Callender added: “You can sense the presence of a bullshit planner if it’s over-intellectualised. Insight should be relevant and simple but create a huge amount of energy in the room.”
9. New techniques don’t always work. Kit Altin said: “Social listening? It can’t tell you what people think, it can’t understand sarcasm for instance. Good planners provide the nuance in terms of human understanding.” Philip Slade said: “You need to be the people who don’t fall in love with machines, you need to understand the numbers and the data but also the foibles of the human mind.”
10. Build good relationships with the creatives. Kit Altin said: “Good planning is in the relationship with the creatives. The mark of a good planner is that they are close to the creative teams.”
And, if you’ve read this far, go further:
11. Read and discover. Here’s Philip Slade’s suggested reading and exploring list for those who want to experience and understand good planning:
1. ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having - Mapping Social Behavior. By Mark Earls + other authors.
2. ‘Decoded – The Science Behind Why We Buy’. By Phil Barden.
3. Sign up to ‘Only Dead Fish’ weekly email newsletter of invaluable insight stuff
4. Sign up to ‘Group-think.co.uk’ London young planners’ social and sharing group
5. Sign up to ‘Openstrate.gy’ . US-based but getting more international planners network of sharing insights