Point of View

A Simple Plan

by Michael D'Antonio

As the discipline of “Planning” emerged in our industry in the mid-90’s, so did the infrastructure of the Planning Department. It has traditionally been reserved for the highly cognitive individual, usually yielding cerebral or trite presentations. Like many specialties and specialists, I’m convinced some things are intentionally done to preserve their integrity or their value in the food chain.

At its core, planning is simply the process of discovering and developing business, product, consumer and cultural insights that can lead to the development of a knowledge-based brand strategy and/or foundation from which everything follows. This should lead to a brand’s purpose and ultimately effective creative. There are many tools to this trade that may or may not resemble Planning’s precursor, Research, but no matter how planning is approached or applied, it is almost always housed in its own unit – its own fiefdom, silo or vertical on the agency value chain.

This current model is closer to an antiquated rust belt assembly line than a rapid prototype workflow model one may find in the workspaces at Palo Alto. Presently, the Planning Department “does the planning,” and then hands over some sort of artifact to another department to act upon. This artifact may take many different forms – a brief, an insight doc, a planogram – but it is always essentially an input that is dropped off by the planning department for further workflow. This is very much a system Henry Ford would recognize and very much a system Jeff Bezos would blow-up sight unseen.

Perhaps it would make more sense to model the planning disciplines after other creative businesses where intellectual capital, innovation and speed-to-maker reign supreme – like software development or e-commerce – instead of modeling it after the linear manufacturing process of durable goods. In doing so, we wouldn’t have a planning department. Instead, we would have cross-functional innovation cells comprised of forward-thinking individuals across multiple agency disciplines whether it be creative, account services, experience planners, social media experts, etc. This would allow for a richer, broader exchange of ideas, thus increasing the scope of intellectual capital without incremental overhead through additional hires.

It would also allow for instinct, common sense and intuition to have a role in the process – things that have been instituted out of the current planning process. Over time, planning departments, like many departments, have become insular. They have become ghettoized as certain ideas, language and processes have become sacrosanct and others have become unthinkable, as a tribe mentality has exerted a fundamental “this is how we do it” code of conduct over professionals that were originally hired to be original thinkers.

Cross-functional innovation cells are faster and more fearless. They are also more modern and more successful. From Apple to Etsy and Pixar to Pandora, we see this model arise time and time again. In the tech sector, it is called innovation. The core of planning has not changed – gaining strong insights to develop great output – and it has never been more important or more relevant. What has changed is the way planning should be executed. In a dynamic, multivariate and non-linear world, we are still planning like we live and work on an assemble line. My advice – we need a better plan.