#CS Presents: Hold on, your Planning’s showing. Why we still need ideas. 11th June

What’s the plan Stan

Our most recent CS presents revolved around our favourite Einstein-brained colleagues from Strategy – and Creatives’ working relationship with them.
Too much strategy, too little, too obvious, too boring, too restricting, not restricting enough. What should strategy look like and what’s the ideal way to go?


The lovely Becky Power set us off with her Manual for Working with Planners. It’s not always easy. Them with their data and facts, filling Creatives with boring strategy. Or is it really that way?

  1. Look at the relationship differently. Planners aren’t there to tell you what the work should be, but what it COULD be. They open your mind to all the things that are possible for your problem, with your audience.
  2. Step away from the brief. Don’t just make your relationship with a Planner about a piece of paper. Actually sit down and have a chat about the brief. And voila: It’ll instantly feel more human and engaging.
  3. Ask them to mess with your head. They can do that, Planners. Put you in the audience’s shoes and make you question what you yourself thought to be the case.
  4. Learn to love the swivelling eyes. According to Becky, planners can smell a creative review from a mile away. They always know when to creep up and join in. But hey, why is that a bad thing? Better to get their feedback EARLY.
  5. Sell your exploding bionic leg together. Clients love Creatives. But they can also be a little intimidating with their kookiness. So if you’re presenting with a planner, the results will be a lot better.


Second up was Chris Bayliss who says ‘Some of my best friends are planners. (But only the good ones)’.

What separates a good planner from the rest is realising that strategy is a creative process. You can turn it into paint by numbers and stay within a category, but that’s not going to inspire brilliant Creative. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I want what she’s got” – but in the end the strategy needs to be tailored to the brand and its audience.

You can stay in your category like all those fried chicken shops imitating KFC, and you might be fairly successful… OR you could break out and make something entirely new, like Nandos.

Or take fragrance ads: Google the term and you’ll get a seemingly endless stream of the same picture over and over and over again in different executions.

What’s this got to do with strategy? Well, there’s strategy that results in interchangeable Creative and is, frankly, unoriginal and ineffective, and then there’s exciting strategy that produces gobsmacking results.

Like with Mini. It borrowed from fashion and positioned itself in a much more original and groundbreaking way than any car before it. Gone were the windy roads and wide landscapes. It took the typical car type ad and turned it on its head.

So, good strategy is far from paint by numbers. It’s a collection of paint pots and brushes that turn up something new every time.


Next up, Sam Ball  talked us through James Webb Young’s ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ from 1940 wherein the author deconstructs the ad process into 5 steps:

1 Gather materials

2 Work materials in your mind

3 Incumbent stage: do something else

4 Birth of the idea

5 Final shaping and development of the idea

The problem with ad people today is that 3 gets completely forgotten, 4  and 5 merge into one and between 2 and 4 you get loads of bollocks like copy changes, rewriting the brief and nagging clients. But mainly, stage 1 should be much much longer.

There are two types of ‘materials’: General materials, which you accumulate just by living life, and specific materials, which are the reason Planners exist. They chose their job because of the pleasure of finding things out about people.

Unfortunately, the process of ‘finding things out’ is seldom done properly, because it’s hard and it takes time. And when this phase is too short, the creative brief is like a blunt axe: the tree will get chopped down eventually but it’ll take a lot more time and effort and it’ll rarely fall where you want it to fall.
Which is why Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend 4 sharpening the axe.”

So, where does this leave Creatives? If the brief isn’t sharp enough, give it back and ask for it to be refined. It’ll make the team stronger and give the client more confidence.


Tim Palmer from Inferno was next up to share his wisdom. His thinking on strategy is this: You can have a successful campaign without great Creative, but not without great Strategy. Because when you look at it more closely, Creative is just the icing on the cake. It’s a bit like the striker in football. They get celebrated as the hero, but actually would’ve been completely lost without defence and the other members of the team.

Some examples:

Spotify. Terrible logo and interface, but the strategy is so insightful about music that it doesn’t matter.
Apple. Nothing particularly exciting about Creative in their ads. The strategy on the other hand is brilliantly simple: Show the product working.
Facebook. Terrible design. Apparently the only reason it’s blue is because the ID working on it was colourblind. But the strategy behind it: flawless.

On the other side of the spectrum you’ve got the new Myspace. It’s looks lush, but nobody knows what it’s meant to be for, or how to use it. In fact it may go back to the old version to get people on board.

His sweet spot is this Landrover ad:

But who cares anyway. Just sell stuff.


Last, but definitely not least was George Prest from R/GA. The Planner lady sitting next to me (who shall remained unnamed) almost threw her bra at him in admiration. So needless to say he’s figured out how to have a beautiful working relationship with planners.

George hates planning.  Because it represents a period of advertising where the process was Planning – Creative – Technology. In that order. It’s a linear process we should’ve left behind ages ago because there is another, much more sensible, way. Strategy happens before during and after Creative; the two move forward together. Because there can never be a point where our work can be more or less strategic.

If your strategy is showing: good. We need it. It should be so simple that people get it easily. Not in a horrible “I just saw something I shouldn’t have’ way, but in a way that just makes sense, beautifully. The main thing to remember is that people are people. Not clients, consumers or users. They’re just people. So we need to make stuff that’s going to stick with them and add value to their lives.

To be the very best at this, Strategists have to be good Creatives. They have to be Technologists than Creatives, and better human beings too. If you think about, strategists are pretty bloody genius.

In this industry we have a way of saying that a good idea can come from anywhere, and that’s true. But even more so, George thinks that a good idea should come from everywhere. Because disciplines like Creative, Strategy and Technology working separately simply doesn’t cut it anymore – everything needs to be orchestrated in unison.

There is an opportunity to genuinely make a difference in people’s lives today, which is incredible. These days, often it’s not governments that empower change and reform, but brands. They have the potential to yield more power than governments if they only have the right strategy – And that’s a pretty inspiring thought to work to.


And finally, take a peek at our presenters’ slides:



As usual, a massive thanks to partners:

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Because Source is all about Connected People, Connecting People, Creative Social is the perfect platform for people to network whilst benefiting from leading industry knowledge.


We would also like to say a special thanks to our venue partners LBi for providing us with ‘The home of Creative Social Presents..’ a top notch venue for creative thinking.’



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