Time for the New Year post. A tidy wrap-up of eight significant things for 2008. I thought I'd avoid adding to the slew of top-10 ads of the year and the like. Instead I'd like to focus on planning and where I see things going.
I've been a planner now for nearly a decade but this last year has seemed so different from previous years. I feel the role of the traditional agency planner is irreversibly altered. Why?
1. Millennial talent
Like a lot of other fields, the influx of new talent is coming from Millennials - the twentysomethings who have been steeped in technology their whole lives. And as planners, they are bringing the same sentiment to work everyday. Their comfort with design and technology means they don't have to unlearn many bad habits; they haven't become jaded or beaten by spending years cranking out :30's. They are people like Daniel, Courtney and Erin, among the new breed of planning voices. They are curious, broadly talented, less inhibited, and they blog about it all. (Incidentally, I've never met Daniel, Courtney or Erin. But isn't that just a greater testament to the changes afoot?)
If you'd like to read more check out Daniel's compilation of Advertising's Young Minds: The top 27 blogs of people under 27.
2. Open-source exchange
This was truly the year of the planning blogs. As I write this there are 138 planning blogs listed on Plannersphere and the list seems to be growing by the week. Planners are melding open-source thinking with technology and it's making us all smarter. And the open planner mentality is growing slowly but steadily. I think the planner's approach to the web will move from simple sharing of ideas (blogging) to greater collaboration on problems and idea-strengthening (forums like plannersphere and Planning for Good). We're realizing that sharing wisdom and ideas - everything short of proprietary client knowledge - can only strengthen our discipline and ourselves.
3. Doing stuff
As a group we're damn good at chewing over things. We provide context, analyze, research, ask big questions and so on. But this year we took strides to connect differently. Coffee Mornings grew around the world thanks to nudges by a slew of planners and likemind, which currently has over 40 coffee events attended by 2,000 people a month around the world (Anomaly pays for the coffee).
And the guys over at Planning For Good started something truly wonderful by putting some structure around a simple idea: As long as planners are getting together over coffee and online, why not solve some problems at the same time? The result has been fantastic with three high profile PFG assignments in the last 5 months and a year-end event with GOOD magazine.
4. Underwear-changing dialogue
While I only attended the Account Planning Conference last year, reading about the Polygamous Marriage and experiencing the dialogue at APG, it seems that the yearly gathering of planners has moved from navel-gazing to pants-wetting (as a result of both gleeful change and fear of being irrelevant).
There is a sobering realization that the traditional planning-in-agency model is broken and new insight & strategy models are developing.
5. Outsourcing execution
A surgical separation of the ideators and the executors. Lowe, Leo Burnett, Saatchi, McCann, Ogilvy and Grey are starting to do it by experimenting with places like The Department of Doing.
Scott Goodson at Strawberry Frog has made a strong case for its importance, arguing that agencies can't define their true value until they decide what business they're in: the idea business or the execution business.
The shift in outsourcing execution has implications for planning. Because when creatives don't have to spend 80% of their jobs executing ideas they can spend more time with planners exploring new ones.
6. New agency models
Emerging and established nontraditional shops like Naked, Anomaly, Zeus Jones, Space 150, Strawberry Frog, ITO Partnership, Poke, and Mother are redrawing the role of strategy and it's often at the center or blurred with creative as a source of value (we're starting to walk a similar path at Integer).
Perhaps even more dramatic is the fact that most of these shops simply expect creative thinking from planners and strategic thinking from creatives. Therein lies their strength: They have internalized a way of working good thinking into their cultures instead of seeing it as an issue to be solved organizationally.
And the boundaries of planning and the agency continue to be explored as Leland and the folks at Collins are set to play with yet a new approach.
7. Changing role of research
Market research - long the tool of the planner - is entering a midlife crisis. Today's environment demands anticipation over measurement. Nimbleness over norms. It's not that planners don't get it; we do. It's just become more important than ever for us to make the case that rigorous learning is different from the dreaded T-word: testing.
Because in a climate that requires innovation it's no longer sufficient to talk
to consumers to find answers. The role of research is becoming more
about knowing your consumers but not letting them lead you. One emergent example that recognizes this is peep, an Anomaly backed research boutique.
8. The flatlining 'line'
The traditional agency caste system, separating those above and those below, is a dying concept. DraftFCB is the most obvious example of a macro merger experiment, and R/GA's establishment of a retail offering to "bring dynamic interactive shopping to the retail environment" has certainly broken a few molds. And the passion to erase the line is felt abroad too.
For the planner this obviously pushes things into interesting territories. Do you focus your strengths to be a 'retail planner', an 'interactive strategist' or simply a strategic generalist? Who knows for sure. But what is certain is that the Planner 1.0 will be a dying breed. Because the landscape is all at once fracturing and coalescing into a lovely strategic swamp, and we all must learn to swim. Or at least to float.
I couldn't be more excited about it all.