A Planner's Playbook - Everything I learned about planning at Miami Ad School New York
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After being in advertising for 4 years, I needed some new guidance and inspiration as a strategist. And that is exactly what I found: I spent the summer of 2013 with 17 other (soon to be) planners from all over the world attending the Account Planning Bootcamp at Miami Ad School New York. Thanks to the 38 industry heroes and instructors that shared their knowledge and coached us in those 3 months, I learned more than I ever could imagine about planning. 'A Planner's Playbook' is my attempt to summarize all that wisdom in 30 short nuggets (or plays, to stick with the metaphor of a playbook) and share it with you. I left out all the difficult frameworks and models and kept in simple by just stating, in my opinion (and in that of my instructors), what a planner should be and do. Enjoy reading.
Transcript of A Planner's Playbook - Everything I learned about planning at Miami Ad School New York
- A planners playbook. Everything I learned about planning at Miami Ad School that you should know about. by Sytse Kooistra.
- Hi I'm Sytse, a strategist from The Netherlands. After being in advertising for 4 years, I needed some new guidance and inspiration as a strategist. And that is exactly what I found: I spent the summer of 2013 with 17 other (soon to be) planners from all over the world attending the Account Planning Bootcamp at Miami Ad School New York. Thanks to the 38industry heroes and instructors that shared their knowledge and coached us in those 3 months, I learned more than I ever could imagine about planning. 'A Planner's Playbook' is my attempt to summarize all that wisdom in 30 short nuggets (or plays, to stick with the metaphor of a playbook) and share it with you. I left out all the difficult frameworks and models and kept in simple by just stating, in my opinion (and in that of my instructors), what a planner should be and do. Enjoy reading. Sytse Kooistra
- 0: Be a strategist, not an account planner. Let's be honest: account planning is a ridiculous name. You would expect more from a job whose title has its origins in the same country that invented the English language. We'd rather be called strategists. Or thought-ninjas. You choose. (For your convenience and confusion I will keep referring to planning and planners throughout this playbook.)
- 1: Make change happen. Planning is all about making change happen. The strategy takes you from A to B by crossing whatever barrier there is. It sounds easy, but it's not. There is always a reason why situation B isn't the current situation. So prepare yourself for endless research, crushed hypotheses, irrational behavior and looping thought-cycles. But also for learning new stuff every day, AHAmoments and all-round awesomeness. That is what being a planner is all about.
- 2: Make the work effective. Making it work is your job as a planner. It's what separates advertising from art. Always define the objective and determine how to measure success. What should the outcome be? Work back from there to come up with a strategy that gets you to that point. Remember: you are there to make the work effective. So you better know what effectiveness is.
- 3: Be and not or. You are probably better and more experienced in certain fields. And maybe your job description decides what tasks you are executing. But as a planner you have to be a lot of different things. Especially in this post-specialist era. Your job description doesn't justify you saying no. Be whatever you need to be to get the job done. Know something about everything that goes on in your company and be ready to learn more .
- 4: Be a trader in doubts and questions. Never just assume. What seems obvious to other people, should raise questions to you. Hunches and gut feelings are good, but you have to back them up. So don't take anything for granted and ask questions. Lots of questions. It's the only way to find the real issue and solve it.
- 5: Spend most of your time on the problem. The problem is seldom as simple as we'd like it to be. And the client usually doesn't know what the real problem is in the first place. Spend most of your time finding out what the problem is. You can't come up with the solution if the problem isn't clear yet. Why is the target group not doing what you want them to do? In the process of discovering the real issue, you will most probably find (part of) the solution.
- 6: Understand the business. Do whatever you can to understand your client's business. How does their business model work? Where does the growth come from? What are the possible opportunities? Try to find the game changers in their category or inspiration from other categories that you can apply to innovate. If the brand is a leader, try to broaden the category. If the brand is a challenger, find a way to steal market share from competitors. And if youre pitching for their business, find out what the reason is for the pitch. There is always a reason and you'll give yourself a better chance by knowing it.
- 7: Dont make shit up. Since it's impossible to know everything about everything, you have to read and do lots of research. It's essential for every single thing you do as a planner. You need data to understand and solve problems. And people need to trust the things you say. Even when there is no budget or data available, you still need to do it. Scrappy research is research too. So talk to people on the streets and ask friends and family. Make the effort and it will pay off, even if it just to confirm your hunch.
- 8: Get out from behind your computer. You won't find the answer by sitting at your desk all day. Planning is about understanding human behaviour and interactions with brands and products. The only way to experience that in real life is by going out in the real world. Don't limit yourself to your computer, go out and explore! (And bring your laptop)
- 9: Distill the chaos. Whatever the project, you as a planner will have to process a ridiculous amount of information. Not every piece will add up and sometimes the essential pieces are missing. It will give you a serious headache. Don't freak out. That's your job. You distill the chaos into something that is concise, makes sense, gives direction and inspires the creative process. Oh and makes the client happy. Again, don't freak out. It gives you the best feeling when you succeed.
- 10: Forget about linearity. The process of writing a creative brief is far from linear. Planning is about finding all sorts of information and inspiration before being able to connect the dots. Maybe you find the key piece on your last day. Maybe you thought of the strategyline on the first day and have been finding evidence to back it up during the rest of your time on the project. Linearity is your friend when telling the story, but gives you the finger during the process of actually getting to that story.
- 11: Aim for a precise target. Men between 25 and 65 is not a target group you can work with. Do your research and make a decision. What are pivotal moments in their life when they are more likely to change their behavior? What are their hopes and dreams? What are they struggling with in life? Find an interesting (cultural) tension that gives you more insight into their lives and is relevant for the brand. Most likely the creatives are not the target group themselves, so bring them to life in a way that makes the creatives get it.
- 12: Find white space. As a planner you have to find opportunities. Find white space that you can make the playground for your client, yourself and the creatives. There is no point in joining the existing clutter; how will you get noticed? A technique to find this white space is 'disruption': to interrupt the normal course of unity. Every category has its own conventions. Define the conventions and find a way to do the opposite. Disrupt, get noticed and gain an 'unfair' share of mind.
- 13: Find a true human insight. If you want to change human behaviour, you have to find a human insight. Easier said than done. Insights aren't just things you find. A finding or an observation isn't enough. That's just the input. It's about connecting the dots to uncover a human truth. Hard to explain, obvious when found. Be aware: there is a lot of thinking involved in this. You will be asking yourselves the question 'but why?' a lot.
- 14: Touch their hearts. Of course rational benefits are still important. But at the end of the day people buy things based on how it makes them feel. That means you as a planner have to find an emotional connection. What do those rational benefits mean to the target group? Or can we find a larger sense of purpose where the brand and its audience can connect? Touch their hearts and their minds will follow. We are all feeling machines that happen to think.
- 15: Explain what it is like. If a picture paints a thousand words, an analogy is worth a million. An analogy is one of the most powerful weapons to bring your idea to life. This applies both for creatives as for consumers when you want to point their thoughts and feelings in a certain direction. Why explain something if the explanation is already in the listener's head?
- 16: Eat strategy for breakfast. Be aware of what is going on in (pop) culture. Try to find the bigger picture by looking for the cultural relevance of the target group, the brand and the category. Use a cultural insight or momentum as a springboard for your strategic idea and it will always trump an idea that isnt based on culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
- 17: Dont keep strategy for yourself. Don't wait to talk to the team until you think the strategy is done. Input and inspiration can come from anyone. But when it comes down to owning the strategy: that's the planner's job. You are responsible for the strategy and its your job to make sure the team knows it by heart. If the final work is not on brief, it's your fault. Not the creatives'.
- 18: Dont separate creativity from strategy. As a planner you have to be creative. In everything you do - your research, coming to the insight, defining the strategy-line, briefing the creatives etc. The solution has to be creative, so you have to be as well. Creative ideas can come from anyone, especially a planner. Always have thought starters and 'bad' planning ideas. It will inspire the creatives and challenge them to do better. And maybe, just maybe, your idea will end up being the winning idea.
- 19: Do your homework, dont show it. To get to the creative brief, there is a lot to be done: understand the brand, know its history and heritage, understand the target group, read up on all previous research, find out what the real problem is, talk to the consume