MORNIN’ RICHARD. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
Well... I used to read the Telegraph. Then someone told me to read The Guardian, which had an arts jobs page. That gave me some hope (I was never going to be a mathematician). I was reading History at Oxford and all my friends were going off to join management consultancies which I was never going to be any good at. It got down to me looking at a couple of employment brochures. One which was for a swish advertising agency in central London that was full of beautiful people in a beautiful office – that was JWT in 80s. And another was a direct marketing agency called Christian Brann over in Cirencester. Their brochure had a little tear away coupon in the back that you could fill out to apply for the job. Naturally I applied for the job with the coupon... I started off as a Copywriter.
After a few years I took a job as a Creative Director at, the now defunct, GGT. I only became a Planning Director after I was taken off the Vauxhall account for unthinkingly, unconsciously, writing a headline on an ad for their new van: ‘Britain’s Largest Load Swallower’. It was technically true but… Yeah, they told me I was a shit writer so I became a Planning Director. Now I'm just round the corner at BBH.
HOW DO I WIN ARGUMENTS WITH MY CREATIVES?
Become close to your creative colleagues until they become friends. When that happens they’ll always listen to you even if they don’t always do what you ask. But your win rate on arguments with them will improve.
And if out of the client brief that you’ve been given there’s a whole forest of possible directions you could pursue, remember that it’s not always your job to say ‘That’s the tree’ and draw a ring around it. Sometimes you should circle 20 trees for them. Give them some wiggle room.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULAR PLANNING PROCESS THAT YOU FOLLOW OR RESPECT?
I generally agree with Trott’s three questions (click here to read more about the Binary Brief)…
1. Are you trying to grow the market or steal market share from competitors?
2. Does your product have a particular rational advantage over the competition? If not, can we find/create an emotional reason?
3. Will growth come from new users (drive trials) or from existing users (drive usage)?
And beyond that, I always find it helps to start with the business problem. Clients tend to disagree with your arguments less if you start from there.
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HOW EARLY SHOULD YOU START TO SPECIALISE AS A PLANNER?
Well it’s important to start thinking early on if you want to be a triangle or circle shaped PowerPoint planner…
From my experience you should have some sort of specialism in so far as possible at the beginning. It gives you credibility in the room with all the smart people that have been doing the job for a long time, and it’s in that room where you learn about all kinds of things. When you talk, talk about your specialism as your unpeachable point. Over time you will be able to generalise as you learn more.
BUT IF YOU SPECIALISE EARLY AREN’T YOU IN DANGER OF BECOMING ‘TYPECAST’?
If you let it. It’s up to the individual to listen and learn – I still think that listening is the most important skill (just like I’d consider the ability to work really hard, a skill), so as I said, get in the room, listen to the other stuff, learn from it so you can develop a wide range of capabilities.
Plus, it always helps to think of your ‘specialism’ laterally. For example, Ad people often listen to me because of my DM background, but it’s because that background allows me to talk about customer journeys and because it means that I have always had to understand and use data – something of a relatively new obsession in advertising.
HOW DO I GET MY CLIENT TO BE BRAVER?
Yeah, it’s often the case that you can’t outspend the competition so you have to outsmart them. It’s an old cliché but often true. Being braver is often part of that. With the brand you’re talking about, traditionally they were always one of the brave brands that had a lot of personality – use their brand as an obligation for them to commission brave work.
Also, the whole 70, 20, 10 model, (70% of budget is devoted to delivery, 20% tactical tests, 10% for innovation) that 10% which should be carved out for the risky stuff, put it towards solving a very specific problem. If you find and solve a very specific problem by innovating, rather than trying to use that 10% to boil the ocean, you’ll get other people in the business wanting you to do the same for them on their problems. That’s often how you start to get to do braver stuff, by being proactive and smart with that 10%.
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF COMMENTARY AROUND US AS AN INDUSTRY AND HOW ‘WE STOPPED LISTENING’ – WITH BREXIT HIGHLIGHTING THIS. WHERE DO YOU GO FOR A MORE HOLISTIC VIEW?
We’re so lucky to have things like Toluna, OnePulse. We have these tools now. But some people think they’re as robust as a YouGov omnibus. They ain’t. You’ve got to take them with a pinch of salt.
Also, get out of the M25 and speak to people facing your problem or who you want to attract.
In contrast to that, remember that insight doesn’t always come from people’s mouths. You can have an insight about the market, or through understanding psychology. For example, Tesco had to give its customers a bit of bad news (the removal of free delivery between certain hours, a service customers loved). You’d think that the natural response would be to lead with some good news first before hitting them with bad news. But completely the opposite is true. In terms of what’s effective communication, always lead with bad news and follow up with good news.
Oh, and other resources for insight – JSTOR subscription. And if you don’t have one, join the London Library (it’s a cheap way of getting it). It can also make you look super knowledgeable in front of clients...
FAVOURITE PLANNING BOOK AND GENERALLY FAVOURITE BOOK? I’M GETTING A LIST TOGETHER…
I’m going to answer the second half of that questions first. My favourite book is 'The Remains Of The Day'. The reason that I like it so much is because I feel like over time it’s shown me something about myself. When I first read this book I felt that I empathised with the Butler in the story. But 10 years later I saw what he really was – the anti-hero. When you get older you realise that you’ve met that (kind of) person before. You can see what’s really going on. I like how the book is evidence of that to me over time.
Then in terms of planning stuff…
The whole Ehrenberg vs JP Jones articles (read one published on Adliterate).
Obviously Byron Sharp.
Anatomy of Humbug and all the classic Paul Feldwick stuff.
And then lastly ‘Where the Sucker’s Moon: An Advertising Story’ which is hilarious. A detailed account of how a brilliant idea is pitched by Wieden + Kennedy to Subaru to win their account, only for it to all go to shit. It shows how the agency after a competitive pitch, loses the account within 3 years.
WHY DO AGENCIES HIRE FROM ACCOUNTS? IS IT BECAUSE AGENCIES FEEL THAT THERE GENUINELY IS A LOT OF OVERLAP IN SKILLSETS? OR IS IT BECAUSE AGENCIES DON’T PUT AS MUCH IMPORTANCE ON PLANNING (AND THE SKILLS IT REQUIRES) AS WE DO?
That’s a very insightful question. I’ve never thought about it like that but now that you mention it, it strikes me as true in a lot of ways. A while back there was a term ‘Corduroy Suit’ which effectively referred to a person who had most of the qualities of a Suit in the guise of a Creative. I think a lot of the time agencies want their Planners like that. An Account Person who does the job with a bit more due diligence.
As a Planning Director when I was hiring I went after people from all kinds of backgrounds, from biochemistry to the liberal arts. I remember on the first day of interviews, when these people were all sitting downstairs in the lobby waiting, the secretary rang up to me and said ‘The freaks are all in reception.’ But it’s a fact that you can’t have a planning department made up of just wild cards. It would collapse. However, what I have seen is that over time the smarter wild cards start to use phrases like ‘Well, if it was my money…’ to effectively sell what are still often wild ideas. Haha.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST BIAS WE HAVE AS STRATEGISTS?
Ooooh. Good question. Hmmm. I think it goes back to what I said earlier – we all live within the M25. Agencies may say ‘It’s the difference that makes the difference’ and while we do recruit people of different ethnicities, gender, sexual orientation etc. I don’t think we’ve ever hired someone from Leicestershire. I increasingly hate London honestly. It’s a bubble. Everyone walks around glued to their phone and so we’re all left going ‘Mobile, let’s gamify their experience in order to engage…’ meanwhile in Leicester people seem happier to walk down the street and talk to people. Sometimes what you need is just a bigger sign outside the shop. London is our bias.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ‘DARK ARTS’ – LIKE, ANY SECRET TRICKS OR TECHNIQUES THAT YOU USE TO DO YOUR JOB BETTER OR IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF YOUR OUTPUT?
The Columbo Technique. Hahaha. You know in Columbo, in the scene after the murder has taken place and Columbo meets the murderer for the first time? He always acts like he’s harmless. The not too bright, self-deprecating detective. The culprit opens up to that – they give away more than they would to someone more detective like. So I do that, I basically act really, really, dumb. Haha. People open up to you more if you seem like you need help understanding something rather than asking them questions like a robot. Humility is a great tool. “I’m sorry, I’m a bit jet lagged, just got off the plane and I should know this… but can you just remind me exactly why you do that?” The Columbo technique.
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