Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

It’s “the run-up to Christmas”, which means that the stupid requests from Clients are coming thick (sometimes, so staggeringly thick that “dumb” might be a better descriptor) and fast. There is something about “getting it done before Christmas” that makes Clients feel reassured and in control – the fact that they won’t review the work until mid-January (“the post-Christmas pile-up”) is, of course irrelevant: they want it then, they pay the bills and so there it will be.

Needless to say, this is complemented by their own behaviour of treating any entreaty to review something “as a matter of urgency” as a light-hearted joke on the part of the Agency: a “take it or leave it” indication that their point of view MIGHT be needed at some point in the next couple of weeks, but not to worry unduly about ACTUALLY doing anything.

Oh well: I’m just bitter and angry because they’ve just asked us to prepare a fairly comprehensive review by lunchtime tomorrow (the scale of which makes it explicit that what they’re really saying is “Work all through the night to do this”), while our pleas for them to look at scripts, storyboards, edits, etc fall on entirely deaf ears. I’m flying off to Milan (to spend the night in the A.C. Milan Hotel – which promises much football-themed fun and delivers precisely nothing in the line of “fun”, football or otherwise) where I am going to present some thoughts on a target demographic. As part of the morning’s task, I have been asked to “describe her in such a way that we think we might know her” – which is OK in itself, but actually means “describe a woman with whom I feel familiar, would like and would probably want to marry” from this male team. Detailing the concerns, the insecurities and the injustices that these women experience (and sometimes inflict) may be the most useful job I could do – but they don’t want that, they want a pen-portrait of a woman they feel happy to be selling brands to: a very different thing.

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I was talking to Matey Planner, about how things were going at work.

Having spent the first half hour of what was meant to be a friendly and relaxed discussion over a coffee sounding off over the terrible experiences with Travesty of All Things Gay and various other wounds, we turned to things that I might be interested in pursuing. I mentioned my book, and how I wouldn’t mind some time off to do that (which he didn’t respond to with hollow laughter – so that’s a win…), but gave me the usual (and expected) “You Should Talk to Kind Boss about that” – as indeed, what else could he say?

But then, he asked me if I would be interested in “adopting” a region to focus on and help nurture the network’s Planning talent in. I felt that I couldn’t suggest “London”, and probably should steer clear of other highly developed markets (as saying that I’m fascinated by the challenges of bringing Planning rigour to the wild and untamed shores of North America rings false even to my ears), but then my mind went blank – or nearly, because all that my mind flashed to me was “Not India. Just Not India. Don’t Pretend That You’re Interested in India. You’re NOT.” And I’m not – specifically, I am not interested in landing at Mumbai airport and going through to Arrivals, as this is one of the experiences that I have done many times and is as near as feasible to the central circle of Dante’s Inferno that one could find on earth.

So: the upshot is that I am to become Grand Emperor of Planning for China – which is far better, but far from what I actually WANT to do (but given that what I actually WANT to do is go on expensive holidays with my family, and out with Wife, that’s not that surprising, I suppose). So, I am off to Shanghai next week, where I shall meet the throngs of people who are infinitely better qualified to be Chinese Tsar of Planning(not least because most of them are Chinese and have worked in the region for the last ten years), but do not have the immeasurable advantage of having been born in a tiny island on the other side of the world. This should lead to a harmonious and happy working relationship, with its exciting echoes of imperialism, colonialism and racism: I shall keep you updated.

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So… for the ninth time in nearly three years, I am moving offices.

Normally, there is a specious, meretricious justification for the move. “Planning and Creative need to sit together!”, “Planning needs its own identity!”, “Worldwide should feel like part of London!” (the unintentional hubristic comedy of this point still eludes those people who run the – unsuccessful – London office), “London needs its own identity!” and so on.

The latest reason behind my bad-tempered hurling of books into big blue crates is “We need to design a more creative, energetic environment.” This is such a lame one that I’m not even going to bother to unpack my stuff – it can only be a matter of months before the next one comes along to take its place.

There’s a terrible sense of rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic about the whole thing – not that the network is doing badly, but I think I am fairly justified in saying that the placement of desks in relation to huge, colourful mobiles, tractors, inflatable animals or whatever other symbol of “creativity” has been stumbled upon, is not going to be the key to future growth… Oh well, I shall keep my mouth shut (for once) and let you know what the reason for our reversion back to the old set-up is.

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I’ve just returned from the Malaysian island of Langkawi: a ludicrously idyllic spot where we held a conference – or what American Diva Planning Friend refers to as “Fearless Leader’s Prom” (and it is true that Fearless Leader approaches it with all the excitement and soon-to-be-disappointed expectations of a young girl trembling on the doorstep before Mitch comes to collect her, dance with her, and have a damned good go at fingering her).

Joyously, neither Travesty Of All Things Gay, Smiling Assassin Planner, nor Planner With Austrian Hair were in attendance, so I had a great time with The Smallest Media Planner in the World, Enthusiastic Account Guy, American Diva Planning Friend, Old Friend at Work and many other thoroughly good sorts. The only down-side was that the first day of the conference fell on Ash Wednesday (a day of abstinence for me and my Church of Rome followers, as well as many other Christians) – so I approached this with commendable even-headedness and decided to get absolutely twisted on Shrove Tuesday.

Reader, I managed it. I got absolutely cunted between the hours of 7pm and 3am, crowning the evening with a 3am swim in the (apparently) jellyfish-besieged bay with French Account Guy Who Wants To Be Spanish, Planner As Tall As I Am, and The Smallest Media Planner in the World. I then went back to my villa and fell asleep, waking ten minutes before the start of the conference programme, which I attended, looking like Mickey Rourke in “Barfly”.

Rather worse, though was the fate of Old Friend At Work, who had come on a different flight and arrived much later – so she had spent about 32 hours travelling. She believes it was this exhausted state that contributed to her sleepwalking that night: and it was her sleepwalking that contributed to her falling down a flight of pebble-dashed stairs, waking up outside her room, covered in blood, naked and terribly bruised. Needless to say, it was the strangeness of the location and her vulnerability in it that scared her most – but then the pain and the extent of the damage she’s done to her face and body took over.

She’s a remarkable woman and displayed huge courage and bravery in how she coped with the pain and the fear, attending every interminable minute of the conference and joking about her plight and appearance:. She saw a doctor and will be fine, but the startling combination of bruises and grazes and cuts on her face were painful – and painfully noticeable: sometimes the worst thing about an event like that is the endless repetition of the explanations to well-meaning, but eventually exhausting on-lookers… She’s home now, with her husband – and it’s a mark of her humour (if not of her political correctness) to record that she intends to make him take her to the supermarket tomorrow, specifically so that she can flinch every time he makes a sudden movement towards her, or puts something in the basket…

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Saying “Yes”

Two new Planners have joined my team – and the difference that their arrival has made has been staggering.

It isn’t so much the workload that I notice (I have got used to, and then got good at, getting through an awful lot in very little time), it is the difference that it makes to be surrounded by people who say “Yes”.

I don’t mean this in the sense of craven agreement with everything that I say, but rather, when I ask them if they’re going to be able to do something by a certain deadline, if everything is clear to them, if they think they’re going to be able to squeeze in an effectiveness paper, they don’t say “I’ll do my best” or “I’ll give it a shot” – they say “Yes”.

The cynics among you (and those of you who know the story of the sons sent to work in the field) will already be thinking “Saying “Yes” is one thing, delivering on your promise is another.” – and you’d be right. But my goodness: it doesn’t half start the day off right when you’re in a world of positivity, rather than a world of painful effort.

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In the early days of my career in advertising, I spent many evenings moderating research groups. One of the most memorable was in Oldham, Manchester where I was investigating attitudes to Mates condoms amongst 16 year old males.

Before any piece of research, one receives a fairly thorough briefing on the products and the brand (or one used to, but I am going back about fifteen years…) and in the Mates briefing, I learned two key facts. The first was that the Ultra Safe condom was IN NO WAY INTENDED TO BE USED FOR ANAL SEX. The second was that these particular condoms were so stretchy, safe (and presumably, sensation numbing) that they could accommodate an adult male’s arm, from fist to shoulder.

Imagine my surprise, therefore (and, knowing me, the look of barely disguised mockery) on hearing the boys in the groups protesting at how condoms were never big enough to fit their hefty erections. Maybe there’s something in the water in Oldham…

Anyway, some time later, and there is a movement afoot to ensure that I spend yet more of my time at research groups – but this time, I am expected to view them. I have to say that this dicks me off in the extreme. It isn’t the fact of giving up my evenings (an inevitability when one works in advertising, and a regular occurrence when one’s job involves a lot of travel) – it’s the apparent lack of faith shown in the craft of moderating research, twinned with the impotence of being stuck behind a two-way mirrors, troughing on Hula Hoops as a bunch of people who want to get home console themselves with every increasing quantities of wine, while opining “It’s stupid, innit. You’d never do that. Who’s ever seen a gorilla playing the drums?” as they consider the fruits of your last six months. 

Travelling to Milan, Paris, Jakarta or Slough to sit in the background of a remodeled sitting room as consumers chat about advertising isn’t useful. Running the groups oneself, is. If you’re a Junior Planner, then there is something to be learned from observing a moderator’s technique, picking up tips that you can replicate when you start doing them yourself – but the whole point of having a debrief is that it allows the moderator to synthesise and report back on what has not just been said, but on what has been learned.

So, I fear there is going to be a frank exchange of views with New Client fairly soon – all I know is, if someone wanted to sit in on my creative briefings and creative reviews, I would be in a whole new world of fucked off. Actually, I wouldn’t. I just wouldn’t be there.

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