Planners: Take off your advertising-shaped glasses and solve clients' problems

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 23 April 2015

Planners need to take off their advertising-shaped lenses and get out and solve clients' problems – but not come up with solutions too early, warns CEO of Droga5 Australia, Sudeep Gohil.

Gohil was speaking on a panel as part of Google's first Sydney Firestarter event and he explained that agencies are having their “lunches cut” by big consulting players because some agencies and their planners lack the ability to solve greater brand problems.

“It should be about solving problems and coming up with creative solutions. But part of the problem is – whether it's a strategist or the account person, whoever it is – we jump to the solution way too early,” Gohil said.

“The reason we get our grass cut by McKinsey and the rest of them, is because they spend as much time unwrapping the problem or figuring out exactly what the problem is, and telling the client what the problem is, as they do actually solving it. What we do is: 'You have a brief, you have a budget, it starts to look like a thing we're very good at doing, so we just do that thing'.

“If we're not capable of changing fast enough it will always be the same.”

Gohil was joined on the panel by Simon Small, executive strategy director for Isobar, Jason Lonsdale, executive planning director for Saatchi & Saatchi, and Abigail Posner, head of strategic planning for Google.

Lonsdale agreed with Gohil, saying that agencies have a default tendency to see everything as an “advertising-shaped” problem.

“If we don't change our lens and be less myopic about what our outlooks could be, then we will see everything as a potential TV ad,” Lonsdale said. “We could do way more than that. We have some really smart motherf**kers and we should be deploying them in the pursuit of other cool stuff, not just TV – it's a mindset shift.”

The panel disused that the love affair with the straight advertising model, rather than moving towards making things and offering branding and consulting services. They said that this isn't just an issue faced by planners.

Small said: “A real challenge for above-the-line agencies is when the creative director and the executive creative director are super important and super influential in the agency and they're really good at making ads so it's going to be hard to get them to do something different – it's a problem for strategists.”

While Lonsdale said that some client problems can be solved by TV he also believes that it's something clients need to be gradually steered away from.

“There's two conversations. One's around helping clients do more interesting work in different channels and lessen their reliance on TV, because they are reliant on TV and TV is like crack – the more you use it, it gets less and less effective,” he said.

Posner explained that the fundamentals of planning should centre around the humanistic view of solving problems. She said that if brands put that at the heart of what they do they can move past advertising and solve greater problems.

“If the question is: 'How are you going to make an amazing impact in society?' that's the question we ask of the brand. If all the questions are asking is: 'How do you sell more cheerios?' you won't come up with that answer,” she said.

Gohil said he agrees that some brands should have a greater purpose, but that maybe some shouldn't.

“Let's not fall back into the same trap that were trying to get out of, where we say: 'F**k all that other stuff'. Now it's all about purpose because there are some times we shouldn't. I would argue that yes it's very admirable that the toilet paper brand is going to save the environment – or they could just not make f**king toilet paper.”

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