By Charlotte Freemantle, Head of Communications Planning EMEA, Universal McCann.
At the Media Awards late last year, UK industry leaders declared that Comms Planning is here to stay. It is no longer an additional extra, they argued, clients now expect agencies to have the capabilities to deliver this service.
The debate is no longer about the need for Comms Planning but way in which we deliver it.
But this is London talking, primarily about the UK industry. What about the rest of the region?
Comms Planning is often grouped alongside digital as an additional, higher-order, added-value discipline and therefore mainly suited for more developed markets such as UK, US and France.
It’s not uncommon to hear that certain markets are “not ready” for Comms Planning and that in all but the most developed markets, the focus should be on improving the basics – straightforward “nuts and bolts” media planning and buying.
This view is at best patronising and at worst, inaccurate and misguided – especially given the increasing demand for global consistency from multinational clients.
If we take the purest theoretical definition of Comms Planning – that it exists in order to drive business success by delivering innovative consumer experiences across a whole range of contact points – what markets can not benefit from that?
The fundamental issue is that the success or failure of Comms Planning in any market – the UK included – comes down not to the theory, but to the practice.
We are all very good at the “world is changing” charts: the trends, the unbelievable numbers and the scary pictures of consumer empowerment and ad avoidance. The picture of a man sitting in front of a thousand screens is surely the most over-used image in our industry.
What we have yet to crack is how to make our new vision operational: both on the agency side and the client side. How do we build in the necessary additional resources and insight tools to deliver this vision?
How do we make clients pay for these? And how do we encourage clients to change their own structures and processes?
On the agency-side, we can do three things:
Firstly, make sure we have the right talent – experienced comms planners with a wealth of consumer-brand experience - and a passion to innovate.
Secondly, make sure we have the right tools – both tools to aid rigorous decision-making as well as those to inspire the creativity needed to create unique consumer-brand experiences.
Finally we need a clear, actionable process in place based on an inspiring vision.
Get these things right and great communications can be developed anywhere. For smaller or less developed markets, this may mean importing talent from other markets, possibly via a talent-share scheme.
It also means making sure a range of tools are available – not just top-end “Ferrari” versions for the wealthiest clients and markets, but also flexible tools which can suit more restricted budgets and less sophisticated data and information.
And finally, it means having a great network – for sharing of process and best practice, but also ongoing training to develop and nurture talent.
It is already beginning. In the last few months, some of the best Comms Planning I’ve seen within our network has come from Spain – never considered to be a sophisticated media market.
I have also been privileged to see some real innovation and creativity in Turkey that any London planner would be proud of. Poland is currently leading the way in Econometric Modeling, a valuable aid for the rigourous decision-making required for Comms Planning.
The challenge for those of us in central positions is to continually ensure all markets have the right talent and the right tools – resources that shouldn’t be reserved for “advanced markets only”; and make sure we remain open-minded about possibilities everywhere.
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