Creative Planners: the industry’s new X-Men
Whether because of economic circumstances or technological developments, agencies are changing. As we steer into a different genre of advertising, both structures and roles must evolve, says Intermarkets' Siddhartha Banerjee.
It’s a lazy Friday afternoon and, for once, the sun isn't playing its usual game of hide and seek. Instead, it's raining outside - which is very unusual for this time of year. But since the entire world seems to be taking unexpected turns lately, we can't blame Mother Nature for joining in.
Take advertising, for example. All agencies are suddenly suffering. Clients are using the recession to try to reduce fees, and many agencies have made multiple redundancies. Others have enforced pay-cuts and frozen recruitment; essentially everyone is battening down the hatches, pitching like crazy and working hard to maintain their existing clients. And in this turmoil, we will slowly but surely abolish the agency pyramid structure.
The days are numbered for the suits, for creatives who only create spec work, and for planners who fail to think creatively. The latest track from Pet Shop Boys, “Love etc.” aptly epitomizes the future demands of advertising: “You need more…you need more…you need more.” It is a future that will be marked by mutation through integration.
One of my clients once voiced a concern to me about the inability of the agencies he commissioned to fully understand him, his product and the industry operatives specific to them. He felt that account managers lacked the understanding of clients’ business and industry. He further added that he felt it was beneficial to deal with the creative folks directly, since the overheads of management were too high.
I don’t think it is unfair to assume his comments reflect a more widely held opinion in the region. The problem lies in miscommunication through the organizational pyramid of the advertising companies.
To be fair to our ad guys, it's not always an easy task to handle clients, let alone fully understand their problem. Many of them hand over what we term "a brief from hell," which basically states increased sales," or fame for the brand" as a goal. In such a scenario, establishing a good understanding of the client's issues can be daunting (though not impossible). As advertising professionals, what we need to do is be genuinely interested in the business of our clients, so we can forge a lasting and profitable relationship with them.
In practice, I believe the clients' real concerns are that their problems get lost in translation - by planners who fail to convey a client's objective in their creative briefs, and subsequently by the creatives, who draw solutions that don't translate into sales. In both cases, the problem is not with the individuals or the agency, as commonly perceived, but rather it is differences in the way planners and creatives think.
Thanks to the Nobel Prize-winning research led by Roger Sperry, we now know about the left- and right-brain hypothesis. The problem, then, lies in the fact that planners use the left side of the brain (which is logical and analytical), whereas creatives use the right side of their brain (emotional and intuitive). Thus, a conflict of opinions is created. It would be preferable to arrive at a solution using both hemispheres of the brain, for a more holistic approach.
Back to the Pet Shop Boys' lyric, "You need more." We need more out of our planners and creative thinkers. We need to integrate at every level and dismiss the pyramid system; nothing will hamper work in the new economy more than the limitations of hierarchy.
After talking to some friends in the industry, it seems evident to me that people are looking for a change. Professionals are willing to mutate into a new role. One account planner I know says, "Today there's very little product differentiation, leading to tougher battles for market share. In this case, planners come to the rescue. Not the standard, number-crunching planners, but planners who can think creatively." She started her career as an art director, and perfectly exemplifies the crossover breed of the new advertising professional: the creative planner.
Who will these creative planners be? They will be people who understand the creative process, but also people who can think analytically. They understand the client's market and, most importantly, they can provide much-needed insights. They build a springboard for the creatives to leap forward with profitable ideas, rather than just award winning ones.
In my opinion, creative planners will be the X-Men of this industry. And I see the birth of two types: those who come with a strong strategic background, and those who start as creative purists.
Type 1 | The Creative Strategist
This guy brings to the table his knowledge and proficiency in understanding a client. Strategic thinking is definitely a pivotal part of this new role, but at the same time he can creatively interpret data coming from the client, and create a platform for the creative team. He gets a task from the client for which he creates an insightful brief. Then he briefs the creative team, giving them enough meat to create a campaign. The team then gets back to him with the solution, which he evaluates, keeping in mind the client's requirements and also the creative aspect. If satisfied, he presents the work to the client.
This type is suitable to handle brands where planning plays a dominant role, for instance skincare brands, financial companies and automobile brands.
Type 2 | The Strategic Creative
She is infused with creativity. She is a creative director or a senior creative who has upgraded herself into thinking strategically as well. Her prime focus is to design profitable solutions for her client. She takes a task directly from the client, bypassing the suits, writes a brief like a planner, and conceptualizes the idea along with the team before it gets finalized by designers. She then evaluates the work creatively and judges it from the client's perspective. If satisfied, she presents the work to the client.
This type is suitable for brands where creativity plays the central role: for example, mobile phone brands, electronics and apparel.
If you look at these examples carefully, you will notice that they are client specific; each of the two models suits different client groups. So the most effective tactic for an agency would be to assess the client in question and, if possible, to apply the relevant talent.
The only question now is, what will happen to the suits? Well, it's not yet the death of the account managers, since the watchword for the future is integration. They will exist, provided they can embrace the creative planning process in addition to their traditional roles.
The Future Starts Here.
What we have here, of course, is speculation on the way forward for us as agencies. It's evident that clients are getting more demanding and tightening their purse strings, so we as professionals will be challenged for every iota of creative expertise we possess. Meeting this challenge is achievable, but I believe we must all integrate roles, roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.
Ultimately, whether it rains or shines, we must all mutate to survive the new industry climate.
- Siddhartha Banerjee is senior copywriter with Intermarkets Dubai. Via.