A Planner’s Day Of Things To Make

Two really interesting posts were written in close proximity recently, about Planning.

NB – By which is meant Account Planning, an advertising term for a specific role in an agency. If you want to know what it used to mean, before the jump, then read this APG definition introduced by Merry Baskin from 2001. I have never been an Account Planner, but reading that definition back realise my work comprised a lot of the skills and activities listed whilst in Adland. So, you know, these are my thoughts, YMMV.

There, that’s the small print, up front, in bold.

Firstly, there’s Heidi Hackemer’s post on Planning’s Lost Generation. It points out that, through that perfect storm of increased complexity, not enough time, reduced tenure in the labour market, and so on and so forth, agencies aren’t really training the next generation of planners anymore. Which causes even bigger future problems, as how do expect a geneation who hasn’t been trained to do any training themselves when the time comes. As Heidi says:

“When these young planners do threaten to leave, instead of having a hole that needs to get filled by another hop-along young planner, which is painful for everyone involved, we promote them beyond their skill set and give people that have no business having the title Senior Planner, Planning Director or even Head of Department these titles. And because they don’t have the skills, they can’t teach the next generation.”

Secondly, there’s Richard Huntington’s Can Any Planners Still Plan? He questions whether this younger generation even want to plan anymore, to understand what that is:

“I have long argued that while there are many ways strategists add value to their agencies and the business of their clients, the greatest contribution that we make is taking those brands to new places in the lives and minds of their customers. It is our ability to help brands and businesses re-invent the future that makes us most useful.

And yet I am beginning to lose count of the number of planners I come across in my wanderings that don’t want to do that. That either are not interested at all or who have little idea that this is what they are supposed capable of doing.

These planners seem to want to do one thing and one thing alone, something that they call making things.”

In short, the two posts together suggest a generation who Can’t Plan, Won’t Plan.

Of course, there followed a massive twitter exchange as happens in Planning when anyone mentions Planning and its inevitable worth/decline/reinvention/hopelessness.

But I thought I’d just stretch out a couple of points that can’t be made on twitter.

Firstly, if there’s no time and resource to teach a new generation what Planning is, there’s undoubtedly a complex variety of reasons, all of which are at odds with each other yet all true.

But reading back on that APG list of what roles a planner should play, you realise that so much of what actual Planning consisted of is now being done elsewhere:

  • market researcher
  • data analyst
  • qualitative focus group moderator
  • information centre
  • bad cop (to account management’s/client service’s good cop)
  • NPD consultant
  • brainstorming facilitator
  • target audience representative/voice of the consumer
  • soothsayer/futurologist
  • media/communications planner
  • strategic thinker/strategy developer
  • writer of the creative brief

In a way, perhaps Planning won. It raised the importance of all of these requirements for companies, and so now there a multitude of specialists that do them instead. Planning happens everywhere, just not by “Planners”.

Secondly, on Making as Thinking.

For the last three years at Smithery, and for several years before that at PHD, I’ve been using making as a way to explore things, to find things out. It’s a different sort of learning approach, one that helps you bridge the gap between ‘novice’ and ‘expert’ by playing with and creating different things in the spaces you find to aid understanding of the spaces themselves.

For the ongoing background research for Artefact Cards, I’ve recently fallen down the rabbit hole of “Constructionism”, a brilliant learning theory. If you want a useful place to start with this stuff, this post by Steve Wheeler is the shorthand version, then this talk by Edith Ackermann from MIT will give you some ideas of how you might set up learning structures like that:


However, it seems a bit disingenuous to talk about the value on “Constructionism” vs “Instructionism” by writing blog posts, debating on twitter, and largely doing nothing but talking lots. This is a part of Planning’s problem, perhaps.

It all made me think of a talk I did years ago at an IPA course, which I called The Planner’s Book of Things To Make.

It was an exhortation for young planners to make more things; not because these would be the things that would become a central campaign idea, or sell a million units, but because they would inform thinking, draw in users, reach out to niche interest groups, create feedback loops to steer brands and so on.

But, in hindsight, it was a talk, and talk is cheap.

So as I wind my way up to London on a train towards Playful at the Conway Hall, I’m wondering if it would be more useful to put on The Planner’s Day of Things To Make sometime in the New Year.

It would be an exploration of how to use making as a route into a lot of the things that Planners need to be doing to Plan properly.

Sounds niche, huh? Well, yeah, maybe. So here’s how I’m going to gauge demand.

If it sounds of interest, go here and sign up.

And when you sign up, sign up to “yes, I will buy a ticket to this woolly sounding nondescript event and not show up”.

Price wise: no idea. We will pay all people running sessions, and the required materials, and refreshments, and lunch. So whatever that’s going to cost.

Anyway, that’s it at the moment. Let’s see what people make of that, and we’ll go from there.




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