Whither Planners?

Monday’s post seemed to loosen up a certain amount of anti-planner vitriol:

‘Planners are a waste of bastard space. Everyone says “Yeah, but the good ones are worth their weight in gold”. Bollocks to that, I’ve yet to meet one. I’ve had the repeated misfortune of working with ones who worth less than their weight in shit.’

‘Re: planners. 99% of commenters seem to agree: they’re a waste of space. So why are clients hoodwinked by their bullshittery?’

‘They take a huge piss into clear running water and make it dun and opaque.’

So I thought the issue was worth an entire post to itself.

I should just say that I have worked with/known some very good ones, such as Jeff, Justin, Jonathan and Will. These guys have offered perceptive briefs with simple propositions, and are good for a chat, too.

However, many of the rest have veered far too close to the dictionary definition of ‘patronising cunt’ for my liking, and all too often their little houses of cards seem to collapse under the merest of scrutiny.

Three examples:

I was briefed by a very senior planner who went on for a while about the brief. He appeared to have spent ages getting it exactly right and was, of course, very confident and supercilious. At the end I asked him, ‘Does the proposition mean X, or Y?’ His response? ‘It’s up to you?’ I then said that surely his research suggested that one was better than the other. ‘Not really,’ he replied. Then and there, I thought that the whole process was bullshit. Someone spends months thinking something through with a client and then ‘distills’ it to an entire page of A4, and yet I can make al choice about its fundamental meaning at my own discretion? (Sorry if the example is a little unclear but rest assured, I was being told that I could alter the entire essence of the brief one way or another with no research or client agreement.) What was the point of the brief?

A planner briefed me, my partner and a junior team on a big project. The brief was very good, with a clear, simple proposition that could lead to some excellent work. We did two days on it and the planner surprised us by coming in with a completely new proposition that none of the four of us creatives could understand. I mean we literally had no idea what the new proposition meant. The planner did, of course, sigh as if we were all quite thick and it was therefore a bit of a chore having to deal with us. Then I told him to fuck off so we could work on the original proposition.

Finally, there was a brief I worked on that smelled of weak bullshit. The problem when you work to such a brief is that your ads don’t stand up at all, and it’s hard to work out whether or not they are right. I went to talk to the (very senior) planner who, after an hour of prodding admitted the brief was rubbish, but it was all he could come up with, so that was what we were going to work to, bullshit or not.

There have also been many comments on other posts lamenting the primacy planners now seem to have in agencies. They get to decide, often above the CD, whether an ad is good enough to leave the building. I imagine that this is a symptom of the uber-primacy of the client: if he has approved the brief then the ad had better stick to it like glue, so the planner becomes his representative in the agency. Management do not want to piss off clients, so no one gets to go against planners.

There may be odd/wrong/dumb briefs with any number of propostions in the proposition, but I find the problem with many planners is the attitude. I have a theory that because planners have done all the research, they consider themselves to be complete experts on the client/product. This then leads to a tone of condescension when they deliver the brief. It’s never that they’ve explained it wrong; oh no. You, the creative, have been too stupid to understand.

For example, I once had a chat with a planner where I asked an (I thought) innocent question based on something I had heard him say: ‘why do you think all planners should have a blog?’

His reply began with the words that epitomise the fucking annoying attitude of so many of his profession: ‘Please don’t misunderstand me…’

When did I misunderstand him? There was no problem of communication, but if there had been, why should it have been a misunderstanding on my part?


Then again, as one of the last of Monday’s commenters said:

‘I accept that there are planners out there who sit around word bending and being useless, but if that’s their remit then that’s the agency’s fault. The bunch I worked with until recently were brilliant.’

I hope that’s right, and I hope that’s the direction we’re going in.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts.