Spent another delightful morning with Gareth Kay of Modernista, Jeff Flemings of Digitas and Lesley Bielby of Hill Holiday earlier this week evaluating 20 or so entries for the planning awards. Last year, we all agreed that the entries were pretty lame, lacking some of what Jeff called "craft skills," like clearly identifying the target.
Everyone agreed that the batch this year was a lot more solid, with plenty of planning fundamentals on display. Business problems were defined. Targets identified. Brands and products differentiated from competition.
At the same time, we all felt that most of the entries didn't go far enough. The majority of entries didn't describe how planning had much of an impact beyond identifying an insight that informed the creative strategy. All the NDA's I signed prevent me from me coughing up the details. But by way of an abstract example, you could say that many of the entries helped define a new way of looking at a product or brand (e.g. wine isn't about flavor but about smell) but then didn't help inform how we might powerfully communicate this new perspective (kinds of scent that resonate with consumers, moments when you notice scent, the emotional power of scent).
In other words, each of us--as planners in very different kinds of marketing co's--all agreed that good planning needed to help create and inform the development of ideas beyond the basic creative idea, identifying details that create and guide executional possibilities. I think it was Jeff who described the batch as marked by "missed opportunities."
We all envied the assignments and would have been happy to get them. And we all longed for the planners involved to be--in Lesley's words--a little more "brave." The core of an original idea either failed to develop beyond the strategy or ended up in a conventional execution.
Still missing too from most of the entries were any innovative research techniques (though the entries often worked hard to position their shop-alongs as breakthrough) or research findings that directly fed into the work or much in the way of interesting new media applications. We're hoping that the entries from all these hot digital shops we keep hearing about ended up in some of the other committees.
Of course, we all know what happens to our bravest ideas in practice. And it's easy to second-guess the hard work of our colleagues from the comfort of an air-conditioned room in Chinatown. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to take advantage of all our opportunities with the bravest ideas possible.