As we close out 2013, I find myself thinking about 1998. That’s because this year, Jon Steel’s “Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning” celebrated its 15 year anniversary. 15 years later, it’s still the most referenced and most recommended book for advertising account planning today. There has yet to be a book written for planners, by a planner, that covers the fundamentals any better.
So, why in 15 years has no one written a book that updates these fundamentals in a profound way? Hasn’t the world dramatically changed so much in this time that we, as planners, should be doing our job differently? There is more data. There are more tools. There is online chatter to monitor, Pinterest boards and Instagram content to view, and Twitter feeds to peruse. There are so many more inputs for everyone to get lost in and much more debate about the big idea (and whether or not it might be dead).
The reality is that despite how much the marketing industry has evolved, the practice of planning hasn’t changed very much since Jon wrote the book. The account planner job was created in order to help to interpret what the account guy said to the creative guy. More importantly, the job was also created to ensure that the consumer wasn’t lost in all of that work that we get so hung up on. The two most important functions of a planner’s job are now, and have always been, to a) understand the consumer, culture, and brand (and bring that knowledge to your team and client), and b) use that knowledge to inspire great creative work.
Today, this job (and Jon’s explanation of it) is needed more than ever. It’s just that now we have to do it faster in the post-PC digital age. We no longer can write a brief six months out and leave it at that; not when consumers are empowered to make their voices heard in the moment. The planner’s job is to inspire action amongst consumers; today those consumers have more ways to speak to us than ever before.
The lessons from Steel’s book still apply today—the consumer should still be the focus, now and always. But now we have so many more ways to evolve their relationship with our brands. Brands today have even more of a personality, more of an essence, more of a reason for being than ever before. Instead of the one-time campaign or ad, it’s a continuous journey without a start or end and it moves fast.
As planners, we need to adapt our thinking into how we plan for that creative work. We need to listen, conduct the research, use the tools, search, embrace new media, get our hands on the big data… but most importantly of all we just need to make it simple for everyone else to understand and we need to do it more quickly. 10 page briefs are dead. Who are they kidding with these anyway?
It’s an invigorating time to be a planner if you can embrace these changes and adapt. The fundamentals are the same as they were when Jon wrote about them – it’s just parts of the process that have changed.