I remember going to John Steele presentation and laughing my head off (silently). It was fantastic, as you can well imagine, but bits of it were far removed from my life as planner and, I suspect, yours.
What I found mirthful, was his story about the three month run up to pitch. That's right, three months. That's probably common if you're WPP pitching for Samsung global or something, but not the day job of most planners. Certainly not mine.
My reality is 'yesterday', I bet it's yours. Ever faster lead times by ever more demanding clients. Pitches with four, three, even two week turn arounds. Which means being great fast, and that's not easy.
Perversely, though, I find something quite liberating about a looming deadline. No time for egos, 'best practise' posturing or mooning over one word in a proposition for days. It forces people to work to together, the siege mentality builds relationships and cameraderie like nothing else. It also forces a bit of chaos into proceedings and messes up the 'proprietary process' we're increasingly expected to follow, job functions are blurred.
You're well out if the comfort zone, where you need to be if you're going to do anything remarkable. By all means, pretend to the client the work got here through clinical professonalism, just don't believe the hype. Agencies function best through just about managing rampant chaos, not by pretending to be laywers. .
However, removing the temptation of procrastination and tearing up the rule book isn't enough. It is hard thinking fast, you still need to time to make connections and piece the puzzle together. Here's what's worked for me, based on two simple truths:
a. Your subconsious is cleverer than you. Fill your brain with as much info, issues and fodder as you can and it will work on your behalf while you do something else.
b. Your first instincts tend to be right, trust them
1. Be ruthless selecting your team. Put together a core team of one lead planner, one lead creative team and one suit. That's it. You haven't time for management meddling, or massigning the ego of anyone else 'who'd really love to be involved'. And make sure it's a team who enjoy working together, or you are sure will gel quickly. You'll need a supporting cast, but's that exactly what they are. Bring them is as and when they're needed.
2. Each member spends one day cramming as much info about the brief as they can into their heads, collecting fodder and basically absorbing so much their brains beg for mercy. Then spend a long evening enjoying something that has nothing whatsoever to do with work, letting your subconscious do its work.
3. The next day, lock them in a room. No phones, no interruptions, just caffiene, water and food (and toilet breaks). Don't mess about with workshop techniques or formal brainstorm stuctures. Just talk, kick things around, share what you've learned. Just don't leave until you have a direction and the beginnings of a creative brief. It will just emerge out of conversation.
Then stop and agree this is what you will be working on. Trust your insticts. The rest of the procees is bringing these instincts to life and proving they don't have shit for brains, As long as you've done the hard work before and genuinely thought long and hard about the issues and got as much fodder as you can, it should be fine.
4. The planner writes up the strategy for the next day and it's shared to your wider team. As with all briefings, listen, treat it as a springboard to a conversation, be open minded, invite debate, let people tear into it and build a better version of what you've already written emerging. Perhaps a completely new version.
5. Then go your seperate ways and let chaos reign for a while. Creatives turn the strategy into pant wetting gold. The planner goes out and bashes, rips and generally beats up the strategy until it's genuinely water tight. If any development gems come out of that for creative stimulus, throw them in. Do not change the strategy unless you come back with something genuinely better and with more creative potential. The planner should explain the strategy to as many people as possible, anyone. Mirror neurons means you actually put yourself in the position of your audience and quickly show you what to improve, while the rigour of explaining it succinctly and defending against inevitable questions shows you where it's leaky.
6. Likewise, if creative development throws up a blinding idea that's off brief but is much better strategically, ditch the original thinking without a flicker of ego and work double quick to make it water tight.
7. The suit pushes things along, makes sure everything happens loosely on time, sources costs, keeps everyone in check and provides that invaluable sounding board. There are daily updates with the core team. But in between, there are many conversations. Everyone needs an open door policy, have coffee, go to the pub share, bat stuff around and generally shoot the breeze. This is where the real work is done.
8. At some point,earlier than is 'normal' you'll have an agreed strategic idea, creative interpretation, comms plan and budget timings. It will be all be chaotic. Now it's time to ruthless to knock into shape and getting presentation ready. Wirite it all as work is still being finalised, it not only saves you time, the act of precis, distillation etc acts as a final sense check on all the work and brings them much closer together.
Never forget, 70% of a pitch is how clients respond to you. That means loking enthusiastic (trumps slick every time), like you enjoy being around each (original selection should have taken care of this) and you are open and care what clients think. Much of that last point is knowing the presentation inside out, not only so you can actually talk to them, not read from a script, but also to allow for questions, interruptions and your audience wanting to get involved.
This is the last post before the annual spring pilgrimage to Mum and Dad's in Cornwall.
Only two years ago, I was looking forward to slowing things down, outdoor swimming, flailing in waves, rugged walks, over indulging on Mum's cooking, clotted cream and drinking cold Guinness while the sun goes down, sea salt still suck to my body.
I still am, but there will be much less of it, due to something else I'm looking forward to even more.
To be honest, I've been waiting for this moment ever since my little boy was born. This is our first summer trip when he can walk, or to be honest, hurtle from a to b like a demented twin of 'Dash' Parr:
I can't wait to get him on the beach, race him into the sea, build sandcastle and watch him discover rock pools and pebbles with the unbridled marvel and joy you only get when you're under 5.
I grew up spending my summers here. I can't describe how much I can't wait to share it with him.
As mentioned, changing your mind can be good. In this case, it means the APSOTW judging panel wasn't final after all.
There were one or two rumblings it was man heavy. That's never good in an industry too male orientated, and since this is a 'King of Shaves' project, a woman's perspective is doubly interesting (it took a female creative to tell me one the first thing a woman notices about a man is his shoes).
There's a breadth of experience, planning styles and personalities for lots of feedback from different perspectives. I'm slightly humbled these people are willing to share their time and expertise (and worried they'll expose me for the fraud I am). Planners eh? Aren't they great.
One the greatest comebacks I ever saw was the Lendl V McEnroe in the final of the mens French Open Tennis in 1984 (showing my age I grant you).
It was classic chalk v cheese. McEnroe's waspish, pointillist genius - classic serve volley tennis, all touch, impossible angles and passion, taking on Lendl's bulldozer - pounding groundstrokes from the back of the court backed up by a thumping serve - all straight lines, repetitive resilience and stoicism.
With deliciously added bite from the fact they couldn't stand each other.
For the first two and a half sets, McEnroe wiped him off the court. Darting little sorties to the net, before putting the ball away at stupefying angles, while Lendl pounded his groundstrokes to no avail, in the hope McEnroe would run out of steam. If you looked at the court, you could see McEnroe's footprints in the blood red clay all over the play, a tapestry of his genius, in comparison with Lendl's churning out the back of the court. And that's how it would have stayed, McEnroe's impish game winning point after point while Lendl glowered in the fierce sun.
But then Lendl starting hitting some precision lobs over McEnroe's head. Immediately, the American got a little more cautious and didn't come in so close to the net, and Lendl got a little more room to hit some rasping shots past his outstretched racket. Just like that, the match changed. It was still close and Lendl didn't actually take the lead until match point in the 5th set, but the change in gameplan proved decisive.
Which is a very long way of saying that while you need a gameplan or a strategy, very few plans survive contact with the enemy. Of course you should stand your ground, but only a fool isn't prepred to change their mind when they are so obviously wrong, or something so obviously better is staring them in the face.
Balls to pride or saving face, the 'biggest' person is the one who has the courage to admit their wrong or agree someone else has a better idea.
So don't stick doggedly to the words on your creative brief when someone suggest something better, or work off brief isn't just great, it's a better strategy. Don't dig you heals in if someone who doesn't have 'planner' in their job title, or from another agency or, a client, has a suggestion that's better thab yours. That's the beauty of digital campaigns by the way, they're really an evolving, real time experiment, flexibility should be baked into your plans from the start.
The job of the planner isn't to DO all the best thinking, it's to make sure the best thinking emerges. A crucial difference that is lost on too many. So leave your ego at home and remember that changing your mind isn't a sign of weakness, it's a source of strength.
Well, the submissions for the APSOTW are in. Thanks so much for the people who took the time out of their day jobs to have a go. Naturally, we haven't looked at your submsissions in detail yet, but it's already obvious you've put a lot of work into it.
The 'we' I'm refering to are the judges. That's me, Rob Campbell (Head of Planning at WK Shanghai, Gareth Kay (Director of Brand Strategy at the GSP&P) and John Dodds (independent marketing consultant). John protests that he's no experience in planning, which is a good thing since planners are worthless if they inspire 'marketeers' i.e the client, with their thinking.
There will be more judges coming soon.
We hope to publish feedback anf results by 1st June, which is just long enough to give submissions the attention they deserve and just short enough to not keep everybody waiting.
Finally, an apology from me, I never got around to publishing the final tutorial thing, following on from this. No one's had a go, so I might have got away with it, but if anyone has any interest, whatsoever, let me know.
I wasn't really interested in the Royal Wedding last week (but grateful for the day off we all got) and, despite received wisdom, I wasn't alone. I did find something interesting in what the hysteria means though.
The British don't have a national 'day'. There's no Fourth of July, or Queens Day like the Dutch. For the increasingly ironic British, rubbish at showing emotion, terrified of earnestness, showing off or feeling pleased with ourselves in any way, it's just too self congratulatory, too.... 'worthy'.
That's why we get overly excited at the football World Cup, or every four years, take an Olympic 'national treasure' to our hearts. Getting excited, proud and even loosing our inhibitions a little over teams, people or even overly spoiled aristocrats serves as a substitute. These avatars allow channel our pent up need to come together and let our hair down. They're a way to celebrate being British without having to admit you're doing it.
Of course, these occasions are few and far between, for those times, we have our liver shrivelling relationship with alcohol.