Sunday, 12 April 2009

Keep Your Innocence And Act Plainly...

This is you. Before your mum gets shot. Photo via Free Of The Demons. Usual rules..

Recently, I had a very interesting chat with a planning friend of mine about planning development.

Unlike most roles, planning doesn't really have defined job titles for each level - you don't go from exec, to manager to director to whatever it is. No no, you are a planner for most of your days. This obviously means that decisions made on your salary and your position are partly made on how long you've been in the business, and what you've achieved (ie, whether you've been involved in pitch wins, whether you've won the odd APG or IPA Effectiveness award).

And it was when we were talking about this that he mentioned something interesting about more junior planners. About how, until you are about two years into planning, you have a glorious naivety which means you can sometimes have the midas touch, before you get a bit more bogged down with the 'right' way to do things.

It's rather like the analogy Scamp was drawing with creatives being like children. Whilst there are positives and negatives to take from this (I personally think it was just trying to say creatives need to have 'innocent eyes' before tackling most problems, which is no bad thing), I do think something similar happens with baby planners.

The chat went on - apparently, between two and say six, you are still formulating your 'voice', and prone to anxiety as you can't be quite so innocent as before, as half theories can't just be dismissed with a hearty 'aaah, he/she/it is a junior'.

Now, this interests me, because I am a two year old planner - and I do look around, and wonder what I'm missing out going forward. Should I be more data driven? Are groups the answer? Should the creatives be involved upstream, downstream or should the boat be overturned? (Yes, i'm being sarcastic).

Well, reading a post that Mr Suit wrote about the importance of writing got me thinking (a dangerous thing) about this.

If we accept that this innocence comes from not knowing any better, then surely what we should aim to do going forward (at every level) is to speak and write as plainly as possible?

I've often ranted on Wannabe Ad Man about pseudo-intellectual bollocks that planning tends to wallow in if left unchecked. Let's be clear, right from the off - when you begin in planning, you aren't writing the next great American novel, and nor are you trying to add another level to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

I think a lot of planners, without any job title inflation to take account of their awe-inspiring intellect, fall into this trap of assuming they 'have' to be clever when briefing, speaking, or behaving in the agency.

This is especially true of baby planners, or midweight planners realising that Bambi's mum has just been shot in front of them, and they can't make the same rash assertions as they used to. I also think that certain industry stereotypes that are put forward further this, along with bad mentoring.

It is easy to do though, given your background in University; for example - I wrote my dissertation on John Milton and Thomas Hobbes's major texts, Paradise Lost and Leviathan. Both incredibly complex, both which were attempted to be simplified; but that didn't stop me (as it was an intellectual essay) from trying to be clever and compare the two.

This absolutely, positively, categorically does NOT wash in adland. You have to be a funnel, to not confuse people - you aren't speaking or writing to a professor with 30 years of understanding a topic - you are talking to creatives who want a straightforward answer that they can use as a springboard to make great work from.

So act plainly. Speaking and presenting is just as important for you as it is for account handlers - and so is writing, presentation and generally being in the agency. How will you know whether you've succeeded? Creatives will seek you out; account handlers will want to include you in every discussion. Someone who dwells in wanky, made up brand terms won't be - unless the agency in question wants to bullshit its clients on an epic scale.


Copybot said...

"...surely what we should aim to do going forward (at every level) is to speak and write as plainly as possible?"

To this end, I'd recommend cutting "going forward" out of your speech and writing at the earliest opportunity. It's one of those wanky middle-management phrases that normal people hate, and I don't think the language would suffer one iota if it disappeared tomorrow.

Will said...

There's always a critic...

To your point; blog posts do, as a rule, tend to get written very quickly. If some management speak finds itself in there, it's as an adjunct to getting the point across quickly. I don't have a problem with 'going forward', to be honest. I overuse brackets, ellipses and dashes, but that's another story.

Also, isn't it incredibly dangerous to presume what 'normal people' like?

At the end of the day, going forward - we should aim to take a helicopter view of what they like, in order to really 'drill down' into their opinions. ;)

Jam said...

That's something of a straw man, Will ;)

Copybot - beware 'Wanky'. It's a phrase that's at least as insidious.

We had several conversations about simplicity and clarity during the APG sessions, and what came out of it was the fear that unless we put the 'planning hours' in, in the form of complexity, our product wasn't really justified. The intangibility of planning means you have to find ways to produce stuff just so you can say "of course I'm busy. Just look at this...", and then produce reams of thought, a big powerpoint, whatever.

The challenge, it would seem, is to build enough respect (and self-respect) to be able to put simple ideas across, and have other people trust that they have a hell of a lot of thought behind them... does one do that, sir?

Will said...

Jam - you are quite right. ;)

I think when it comes to planning, provided you can prove you've helped your client/agency think around the problem (and that almost never means 100+ slide powerpoint).

Often, this can mean being bold enough to reject what's put forward if it's not on brief, or being the lone voice of dissent in a meeting.

(And I don't mean acting like a cock just because you *can*).

When it comes to overlong powerpoint, I use the same analogy as GCSE History - flabby arguments were supported by sheer length of essay; those people who were really on it could write 4 sides and just know it was enough.

I think it takes an awfully long time to have the confidence to do so, but it helps if you have trust from both client and agency, and don't just go in shooting. That trust can be achieved quickly, but I think a lot depends on circumstance and how you/planning is perceived.

In fact James, I think that might just be the topic of another post, so thanks very much.

Sophie said...

Going forward with a wanky statement is ok I think... for a blog post.

Is planning as a junior more about putting the work in so eventually after a few years simplicity and clarity become easier and almost a habit when you do produce stuff?

I think I remember Russell Davies saying that at the beginning stages of your career you will never be able to form simple solutions - it is an expertise, a habit one that will just gradually get better and better. The flabby power points will be less and less and agree with Will that confidence will grow whilst this happens.

I am sure there are grammatical errors in this response but it is a blog so I am allowed.

AdLand Suit said...

Ahem. While 'wanky' language may be subjective, spelling and grammar are not, blog posts or otherwise. (And, if we're totally honest, neither is wanky language.)

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