Once upon a time I thought this blog would be all about what it's like being a planner in the North of England - the experiences of doing a job outside of any of the famous or common places to do any form of good brand communication, let alone proper strategy for it. It didn't really happen, it became about swimming, cooking, having kids and maybe the odd post about doing the planning basics.
Quite right too, that's what I'm interested in, even if you're not. But maybe it's worthwhile throwing out some pointers to what it's like doing this job around here.
In case you're wondering, planners have to earn their keep wherever they work. Suits and creatives can get along quite happily without planners, we have to prove our worth. If you don't like that, tough, it's really how it is. Even in corporate cultures that revere planners, you have to earn your spurs on an individual basis. That applies to big budget clients and agencies, which mostly exist in London if you work in the UK. Outside of this, you mostly get to work on second tier brands, challengers and stuff that isn't above the line...and then you really need to earn your place.
Curiously, as 'advertising' gets squeezed, it gets consolidated more and more into London - and gets far less innovative. I find this perverse, since it needs to earn attention and blur into other media more than it ever has done before - digital IS the media more and more, TV or no TV. Instinctively, agencies outside of London do the integrated thing better, they've had to do it for a lot longer. But it's true their thinking is less sophisticated, they're less at the cutting edge.
Some of that's geography- I've been spending a lot of tim at Mother recently and they make the most of living in London, breathing in culture and breathing it out, but that's not all good - London is not Britain, and certainly isn't the world, down-to earthiness can really help.
That said...my God! Regional agencies make too much of being nice and chummy and full of common sense - clients want to be excited and think their agency is cooler then they are. Read the comments in The Drum and what you'll see is a big massive chip on each shoulders and the worse kind of inverted snobbery - creatives thinking it's still 1985 being the most common theme.
Much of the sophistication and rigour comes from planners - most people don't appreciate that the Gorilla came from rock hard quant analysis PLUS amazing creativity - and was steered through proper FMCG pre-testing. Planners did that. Celebrate Juan Cabral if you want, but appreciate the planning that got it through research.
Planning outside of London is a rare thing. There are few planners, let alone departments. Some of that is shortsightedness from the agencies, who are too used to slack thinking (and slack work) but also from clients who sometimes don't have the budgets but mostly don't have the culture to appreciate what planners do.
Anyway, with that all in mind, here's ten things to think about if you want to plan in the UK, but outside of London:
1. Get good at digital. Even if you're at one of the few places that do significant and good above the line, your budgets will be squeezed and you'll need to know how to apply thinking to digital. Anyhow, regional agencies are being very canny and beginning change their business model - positioning digital at the heart of planning with other comms as channels in. To have a future, you need to know how to plan for digital. I think that's still about having ideas people want to spend time with, but you have learn how to get out of messaging planning and into experience planning. That also means you get to work with bigger clients with bigger spend. I'm lucky enough to work on global stuff with Ogilvy and national stuff with Mother because I do the digital bit. Digital is far more regional neutral than anything else.
2. So that means you'll need to free up your inner geek. Make friends with developers, read Clay Shirky, read Mashable, know what it cool. Get post digital - understand the latest thinking on how we use the internet now we've forgotten it's there. But become the bridge between geekdom and creativity - be the person that can translate and simplify the amazing choice out there into something creatively potent - don't do anything because it's cool, do it because it will surprise and delight.
3. That, in turn, means getting good at comms planning. Understand how different media will and should fit together. Know how and why people are using mobile internet, when you should build a website or just create a conversation around Facebook. Media planning out in th sticks is poor - it's really just buying. Clients either go to London, or look to their creative agency. You don't want to be out gunned by a really good London media planner and you don't want to lose the chance to add value by doing something no one else in your region can do well.
4. This means going back to the origins of true planning - being the voice of the consumer rather than a 'shrill for the work'. Clients want evidence, and lower budget clients want even more evidence if they're going to take risks. So go beyond the usual stuff about brand consideration etc, know your audience as humans. You need to create proper dialogue. Don't believe that bollocks about becoming what people are interested in, brands are not that important and you don't work on Nike, but you become part of the interesting conversation and HOUSE them. So know what REALLY makes people tick - no one does that really well out here.
5. All the above is the theme of becoming indispensable. It never stops out here, you're a luxury, you're added value. You need to become someone they can't afford to get rid of. Never stop looking for ways to be useful - be flexible, do things you think London planners would consider beneath them - do dirty qual, even better, get really good at cheap quality qual - go out and meet people involved in the subject your working on. Become an amateur behavioral economist, invent new techniques.
6. Don't get precious. Any planner anywhere needs to surrender their ego, but out here, don't got all huffy about best practice, don't expect anyone to understand what you mean by transmedia planning - and it's not their fault, it's yours. Take all that amazing stuff you know, you might have done or seen others doing and re-purpose it for your agency or your clients. Make it usable. Don't expect agency culture to fit around you.
7. That said, don't give in. Champion great thinking - don't take the easy option, don't just surrender to creatives who live in their own little bubble. Just don't be a wanker about it, don't be an elitist idiot, find a way to make people want to do it right, want to push things. Like any communication, find the right buttons to push.
8. Get to know everyone. Planning's a tiny community, you need to know as much of it as you can. Choices are not massive, but you still want to move around a bit - new challenges but also finding a culture that fits you and your life stage a little bit.It's so much easier when you can email or pick up the phone to people you know.
9. That also means don't piss people off - it's too small an industry, especially our bit of it. I wish I'd been less headstrong in the past (and not too recent past) always leave on good terms, never take the opportunity to snipe, remember everyone can see what you post on Twitter.
10. Get good and known for something unique in your locality. That may be a brilliant qualy side, it may be you as a workshop demon (oh yes, get good at workshops - always invaluable, despite the fact you might, like me, hate them - clients love them and love you for doing them - great way of making people think they thought of stuff), not just 'I'm good at digital'.
Hope that helps, might have convinced you to get a job in London or abroad, but better you know that now! Oh, and if you're under 25, go to Asia or Australia for a bit, it will be ace and you'll regret it if you don't (I do).