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There is no such thing as a junior planner

Merry’s resume reads like an old steamer trunk with career enhancing stints in London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, and Brussels where she has worked with a raft of blue chip domestic and global clients, particularly in fmcg, travel and fashion categories. After several years as one of the industry’s top ad agency planning directors (including running the UK’s largest planning department at JWT and America’s coolest at Chiat/Day/New York), she founded her own strategic planning consultancy, Baskin Shark (where brands move forward or die!) in 2000. Recent clients include Unilever, Glaxo Smith Kline, Nestle, Goldman Sachs, De Beers, Kimberly Clark, Berry Bros & Rudd. Praised by clients for being insightful, energetic and ‘refreshingly direct’, Merry specialises in helping clients develop their communications strategy, brand positioning and consumer insight as well as offering brainstorming facilitation, focus group moderation & craft skills training (the latter in partnership with Jane Newman).

Her planning efforts come highly decorated as a winner of two consecutive Institute of Practitioners of Advertising Effectiveness awards in 1996 and 1998, the UK Market Research Society Conference Best Paper in 2001 and several US Effies (86/87/88).

She has been extensively published; most recently as co-editor and contributing author to a new APG book called Brand New Brand Thinking (published in September 2002), also as a contributor to the APG book How to Plan Advertising II; and the author of a revised millennium definition of Account Planning which can be seen on the APG website.

In Romania, planning is at its beginning but for sure it is on a developing trend. We do not have any specialized organizations or any awards for excellence in strategic thinking. The only efficiency award we have is Effie which is at its third edition this year. However, in UK nobody talks too much about Effie. They talk about APG Awards or IPA awards. Is there a top of the awards in advertising efficiency/ effectiveness?

I don’t think the Effies exist in the UK except perhaps in a (pan) European format. (EMEA awards?). They originated in the US and are generally despised and derided by the UK planning fraternity, because they are far less sophisticated, less rigorous, far easier to write and relatively easy to win, especially when compared to the 5000 word essays, well argued case histories and econometric modelling required by the IPA effectiveness awards – the Gold Standard worldwide. Charles Channon who conceived the UK IPA awards about 30 years ago went to America to try and convince them to adopt our more serious version but failed. If I remember correctly the Effies entry form consists of a four page format, with prescribed boxes you have to fill out, and the back page dedicated to ‘Results’, most of which fall into the Rosser Reeves fallacy category – we advertised and sales increased, ergo the advertising is responsible. Very simplistic format, and far too superficial to actually be credible. Perhaps that is why they are not published?

How should a traditional planner evolve so that he could able to plan a 3six0 campaign? Or how the organization of an advertising agency should change to meet the challenges of a 3six0 campaign?

I am afraid that I believe there is no such thing as a ‘junior’ planner. Which may seem harsh, but generally, the more experience you have (grounded at the very least in market research craft skills) the better you are going to be able to service your client’s brand. For me, the ideal planning recruit would have spent 2-3 years in qual research, 2-3 years in quant, and 2-3 years in a media planning agency before they came to me.

In Romania econometric measuring is at its early beginnings and the measurement of efficiency of advertising is mainly based on “educated guess”. Which are the first steps we should take for establishing a rigurous measurement thinking?

Hire a professional econometric modelling consultancy to do it for you and teach you. Personally I have always viewed it as a black box technique best left to the experts. Neither of the IPA awards I won used it. What both those cases did have was sound test markets/control areas against which to compare the advertising activity and deduce its effect.

Sometimes creatives expect even the Creative Idea from a planner. They tend to understand more this concept than the single-minded proposition. Where should the limit between the strategic process and the creative one be?

I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule on this one. It depends. It depends on the agency culture, the briefing format that they use, the relationship between the planners and the creatives, the individual style strengths and weaknesses of each side, the experience of each side, the confidence and/or insecurity of each side and so on. I once worked on a brief for an instant coffee powder that was partly made from chicory, i.e. not 100% coffee, whose benefit was that it was mild and not bitter tasting. The client brief was ‘the mildest tasting coffee you can buy’. (In fact it was the only mild coffee you could buy, which was how they could make the claim). Most people thought it wasn’t very good, and those that did were embarrassed to be seen buying it. After some concept research, we came up with the proposition ‘Just because you drink Brand X doesn’t make you a wimp’. The creative team loved it, and came up with some great executions. Some might say that the brief was too prescriptive, that there was too much of an idea in it. Discuss……!

One thing for sure is that writing the brief/delivering the briefing is a creative act, and the more effort and imagination that goes into it the better it will be for the creatives. Jay Chiat said ‘Creative is not a department’. John Steele of Goodby Berlin Silverstein also observed that ‘a planners job is to make ideas happen, not necessarily to have those ideas themselves’.

Which is your favorite case study that proves the excellence in strategic thinking?

Any of the IPA award winners are impressive, but the Tesco ‘every little helps’ and the Orange the Future’s Bright campaigns are worthy of particular praise, not least because of how much value they added to the brand, over and above basic sales.

Which is your favorite planning case study you have been involved into?

I was very proud to work on the British Airways ‘the world’s favourite airline’ campaign at Saatchis, which won a lot of creative and planning awards. Also the Arrow shirts, Very Fine fruit juices and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines when I worked at Chiat Day in New York.

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