Welcome to Planner Parley, the show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. This week, our panel dug into what it means to be a comms planner. They dissected the role, its challenges, and shared tips to avoid the most common pitfalls, as well as exploring trends and insights into the way comms planning is changing today. Join our guests, Eric Pakurar from Dirt Worldwide, Melissa Walker, a seasoned veteran of the discipline, and of course, John Roberts, CSO of Truth Collective in Rochester, New York, as they dig into the changing world of comms planning. Pull up a chair and listen in.
John Roberts: Communications planning, connections engagement, contacts planning, the list goes on. We all know it’s important, but just what is it, and what’s your favorite expression or name for it? Eric?
Eric Pakurar: I think it’s really simple, actually, and I suspect that it has a lot more to do with just plain old marketing strategy. You have business problems that you need to solve. You need to talk to a certain group of people in order to solve them. You need to get them to change their behavior in a certain way. How are you going to do it? That’s what it is, I think, in a nutshell. And then in answering that, you need to use certain channels in certain ways at certain times in certain moments, and putting some sort of rigor behind that and making some sense of that is the job of connections planning, or communications planning, or whatever the heck you call it.
Eric Pakurar: I’ve sort of moved away from calling it any of those, just call it strategy. You know, how are we going to answer your business problems through marketing communications and try not to call it anything? Because as soon as you call it something, then somebody has a different conception of what it is, and so many different people within different disciplines doing different things have co-opted all of those names that you just gave it. So, it’s sort of problematic to give it any of those names, I think.
John Roberts: That’s interesting. I want to come back to that in a minute, but first, Melissa, how would you answer that question?
Melissa Walker: I agree. I agree on the name, and for so many years, this was this discipline that nobody really understood, and so we would try and slap a name on it like engagement and connection. I have found exactly what Eric just said, that as soon as you slap one of those names on it, people have a very defined definition, then, of what you do. So, engagement has tended to be … You would think of that as at a creative agency connections, and sort of now owned by media agency.
Melissa Walker: I generally call it communication planning because it is just the wide berth of all communications, and how clients are looking at the full spectrum of what they’re putting out into the market.
Eric Pakurar: It’s a personal point of ire, I guess, what Melissa just said, that media planning agencies, most of whom are predominantly focused on paid media, are calling themselves connections planners, when in my mind, a connections planner is, as Melissa just said, a little bit of everything, all channels, not just paid channels. So, it’s personally galling to me that media companies have sort of co-opted the term.
John Roberts: So, the tricky part for me, then, would be, how would we explain your role when you, for example, are working with someone like me, okay? I’m a brand strategist, a generalist, but really understanding the role of brand and customer. How do you feel it best works when you’re working with other planners or strategists?
Melissa Walker: You know, I really look at it as one piece of the pie, and so we can hone in on that one piece. So, if you’re talking about paid advertising, but not necessarily, John, because I know that you at Truth do a lot of content pieces. You do a lot of social. And those are all different pieces of the pie, so as a discipline of what Eric and I and people like us are trying to do, we’re trying to look at the pie as a whole, and then hone in on individual pieces of that pie and really figure out how that specific piece is going to do its job best.
John Roberts: And how about you, Eric?
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I can’t beat that as a definition, but maybe a metaphor is one of a sports team. Have you ever seen a bunch of six year olds play soccer?
John Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric Pakurar: Football for you, John. Soccer.
John Roberts: Thank you.
Eric Pakurar: Bunch of six year olds are out there. They’re on the field. The ball goes over into one corner and every single kid, on both sides of the ball, just swarm after that ball. And the ball goes over here, and all the kids, even the goalies, are out there trucking after the ball. If you don’t do the due diligence that Melissa’s talking about, if you don’t sort of carve out the specific roles that each specific channel is meant to play that are separate and distinct from each other, then you end up playing soccer like a bunch of six year olds.
Eric Pakurar: If you play soccer like grownups, certain channels play offense, certain play defense. Certain of them aren’t applicable against this business problem today on this field, and others are just bit players, some are stars. And so that, as a metaphor, works well for me.
John Roberts: Can extend that metaphor … It’s interesting you apply the metaphor to the role of channel, which is a really smart way of thinking about it. Could we also apply that metaphor to the role of strategist and the team together? So, Melissa, when you and I work together, or when you work with other strategists, that understanding our strengths, we’re all on the same team, but we have slightly different strengths or different focus. Does that make sense?
Melissa Walker: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.
John Roberts: So how would we apply it? When I think of this as planner parleys for all strategists, but with a definite focus for us in terms of the small agency world, strategists within small agencies, where we are limited as we all know with our resources. How can we take, in your mind, the skills of people like yourselves and understand the role of communications? How can small agencies apply it in their world, with more limited resources, perhaps?
Eric Pakurar: But isn’t that a blessing, more than it is a curse?
John Roberts: Tell me more.
Eric Pakurar: If you were at a big agency, odds are you are built around the production of a certain thing, PR say, branded video, say, social content, direct response or CRM work, experiential work, whatever it happens to be, the bigger you are, the more likely you are to have become dependent on the production of that thing. That’s where the majority of your profit is made, in the production part of it, and you have a lot of specialists who are really good at making things happen in that channel, specifically.
Eric Pakurar: When you’re at a small agency, you’re not encumbered as much by the production of one thing or the other. And because the business structure that you sit in isn’t beholden to the production of that thing, you’re not forced sort of down that road for your client, and you’re free, freer I think, to think more broadly as a result.
John Roberts: Love it, and certainly from our perspective, what we tend to see is, the briefs don’t come as the narrow swim lane that you’ve just talked about, Eric. We don’t get a brief saying, “This is an advertising brief,” or “This is a social brief.” We get clients that have a business problem that we’ve got to try and figure out how to help solve.
Eric Pakurar: Well, ideally, ideally-
John Roberts: You mean that’s not the reality?
Eric Pakurar: No. I mean, it’s not at all. It runs the gamut. In an ideal world, and sometimes, with some clients, you get exactly that brief, “Here’s a business problem. Help me solve it through marketing.” And other times, I’d argue more often, you get a, “I need a blank. Make one for me.” Maybe Truth is that beautiful Eden where all you get is marketing … business problems to solve through marketing. I hope, I wish that for you.
John Roberts: I wouldn’t call us Eden, but I know what you mean. Let’s come back to what we were talking about earlier. How can communications planning and specialists like yourselves help clients and agencies with their paid media component, paid media both in terms of the channels, but also the agency?
Melissa Walker: Yeah. I think that our job often is helping paid media look outside of itself a little bit, because you can tend to get so lost in data and click-through rates and reach and frequency and impressions that you forget to think about how every touch point is sort of affecting what you’re doing. So, I think our job is to lift it up a little bit, and realize that a TV spot, or a content partnership, that’s not the whole brand story. And so, how does that fit in with the other pieces, and what’s the connection back to the brand, and what’s the user experience like for consumers? And really pushing them to think more outside of the box, and not get lost in the day-to-day numbers.
John Roberts: Got to accept … It’s also helpful, the conversations we have here as well. It’s also thinking about, what I love about the role of connection planning that we’re talking about, I use that as the title, forgive me, Eric, but it also means that we’re thinking about it from customer out. We’re not thinking about it from channel first. Does that make sense?
Melissa Walker: Yes. That’s right.
John Roberts: How about you, Eric?
Eric Pakurar: I think the reality is, paid media occupies an outsized portion of our attention, because, as marketers anyway, because we spend more of our budget on paid media. More money goes there, and it’s fairly intricate to get right, and therefore, you want to pay attention to the place where most of your money goes. And that’s all well and good.
Eric Pakurar: The issue I have with paid media is, assuming that that’s going to be the right answer for any given problem. I think a lot of times we sort of rush past whether paid media is good or not, and go straight to, okay, how are we going to do paid medias, not asking whether but how, which is a mistake.
John Roberts: Really good point. Good point. So, when you think about this crazy world we’re all living today, and actually, both of you having come from, as we talked about earlier, the world of Naked, the learning, the training, and the voice that Naked had, what’s changed for you in the work that you do?
Melissa Walker: Sadly, not too much. I think that the most shocking thing to me in this discipline is how little things have changed. Now, certainly, our day to day looks different now than it did 10 years ago, but as far as brands and how they are engaging with human beings, the same silos that were siloed 10 years ago, I find are still the same silos that we’re living in day to day. Do you find that also, Eric?
Eric Pakurar: It’s so true.
John Roberts: So how can we change that? When you think about this notion of parley, of what do we believe is true today, and what can any of us do to change that, what are a couple of things that you would recommend that all of us strategists could do to help change?
Eric Pakurar: Well, I don’t think it’s rocket science. I think it’s as simple as doing the right things in the right order, asking yourself whether promoting a post on Insta is the right thing to do before you go and promote posts in Insta. And if it is the right thing, then how is the consumer going to interact with it and see it? Those are really simple questions. They’re process questions, you know? Do the right things in the right order.
Eric Pakurar: Here’s a story. In my previous job, a big agency was readying a Super Bowl spot for the launch of a new subline of products. This is a massive CPG company, and they’re getting their Super Bowl spot ready, and it’s November, December before the Super Bowl in February. They show the spot very proudly, a rough of the spot, very proudly, to all the rest of the agencies, including the shopper agency, and say, “Everybody needs to get behind this campaign, this idea. Everything, everywhere needs to have this new tagline,” and whatever else. And the shopper agency says, “Wait a second. Walmart set their shelves nine months ago. There’s no way, physically, to put a new campaign in Walmart now.”
Eric Pakurar: It’s just doing the right things in the right order, understanding the production timelines, understanding the reality of doing things in the world. It’s really simple stuff, but nobody bothered to stop and think about it.
John Roberts: And I feel as though, just adding to that, there’s the functional process you’ve talked about, which is absolutely right. There’s also the process of making sure we’re really clear what our goals are before we leap into the execution. Are you finding you’re having the right level of goal-setting and goal discussions with clients, or … Because I find, quite often, frankly, we play catch up. How is it with you?
Eric Pakurar: Play catch up how? What does that mean?
John Roberts: Playing catch up in terms of the goals were set a while ago, and now we have the speed to actually try and meet those goals, or the other way ’round, which is actually we’ve agreed a strategy moving forward, and now someone’s introducing new goals, so the two are not aligned.
Melissa Walker: I think it depends on what the client is. I work on a lot of financial services clients, and so that’s a really long tail buying cycle. And so clients, like a financial services client, their goals tend to be a little bit more marketing-driven, which is helpful, things like growing awareness, or metrics that are easily quantifiable with marketing. Other clients, like a travel client, is a little bit harder. If you are pushing sales, it’s harder to look for that big picture if they’re expecting paid media just to drive quick sales. So I think it just depends on the client category and how sophisticated they are with what marketing can and can’t do.
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think it also depends on the success of, usually, a strategist sort of pushing at the point where you’re negotiating a scope of work, or a project plan, with any given client, sort of pushing and making sure that that scope of work is written properly and has the right inputs and that you’ve made those decisions, exactly what you’re talking about, at the upfront part. I found in my history, at least, that project plans that were written by the account people were really efficient and got things done and you had the right people scoped at the right times, that sort of stuff, except for the parts that you’re talking about. They don’t always leave the right amount of time, or scope the right amount of people, for the strategist to do their job and to sort of pick at the questions that you’re talking about, John.
John Roberts: Yeah. It was interesting to me, Eric, on that, would be this connection from goal to measurement, okay? Let’s make sure in our future Eden that we’re all really, really clear about what the goals are we’ve agreed, okay, and the time frame and steps forward, but what the goals are of what we’re trying to achieve before we start leaping into a timing, or creative execution, like your story, or the process itself.
John Roberts: When you think about the most successful application of understanding the role of all channels, and the part they play, should there be a singular owner of the role of measurement, or a champion of measurement?
Eric Pakurar: Ah, measurement of what, I guess, is the question.
John Roberts: Good question. Measurement of how we are doing to achieve, ultimately achieve, our goals.
Eric Pakurar: So, I think owning the business goal, success of the business goal, is one thing. Understanding the success of marketing’s impact on a consumer and consumer behavior is another thing. And then a third thing is all the tactical crap that you kind of have to measure, but the trick is understanding its impact on the previous two things.
John Roberts: And how well connected are those three things that you’ve just described today?
Eric Pakurar: Well, I think we tend to measure the things we can measure in isolation of whether the marketing is having consumer behavioral impact, or whether the marketing is having an effect on the business. And I think work needs to be done at the beginning to sort of look at the connections between those, and at least, if nothing else, put a stake in the ground on the hypotheses about how they are connected, that you can prove or disprove on down the line, and you can look correlations on down the line if you have those hypotheses set out from the start.
Eric Pakurar: But in terms of whose responsibility is it, any given agency doing work in a given channel should be responsible for measurement of work done in that channel, and I think it’s either … We can talk about whether there should be AORs or lead agencies in an IAT, or not, but it should either be the client, the brand manager, or it should be that lead agency in the integrated agency team.
John Roberts: Makes sense to me. How about you, Melissa?
Melissa Walker: Yeah, I agree with that. And I agree-
John Roberts: We’re having a lovely agree-fest, aren’t we?
Melissa Walker: Oh, Eric, well, we said it in the beginning that we do have a very similar philosophy on … But I think that, I mean, exactly like Eric just said, it’s measuring each of those individual channels, and then laddering them all up to a business goal. That should be owned both by the client or on the brand side, and by each of those individual agencies.
John Roberts: So, when you think about, we’ve talked about the role of agencies generally and strategists generally within this, what about the role of client? What would you say … It’s come back to what we were talking earlier, about the state of communications planning now, versus when you guys began, and the thought of the role of Naked, as an example for that? What do you think’s the biggest client barrier to having a nirvana of communications planning?
Melissa Walker: Silos. Yeah, I mean, it’s just really hard, especially at a large organization, you know, CPGs, or even some of the bigger financial institutions, when there is one client responsible for paid media, a different client responsible for corporate communications, PR. Everything is very siloed, and so that makes it hard for number one, to have a point of contact as the comm strategist, or as the person who is supposed to be looking across platforms, to have a point of contact of somebody who has their eyes on all of that. It still tends not to happen. Younger companies, I find, that it happens more and more, but I think that’s the biggest hurdle for me.
Eric Pakurar: 100%, silos are a pain. The other killer is everybody seems to have more and more responsibilities. Clients especially seem to be stacked up with meetings from 8:30 in the morning till 6:00 at night, and the work that we’re talking about requires lateral thinking and imagination and creativity, and there often just isn’t time in the day to do it.
John Roberts: So true, right, no matter which side of the fence we sit on, client or agency side. And we’re built, on the agency side, we’re built to deliver some of our imagination and creativity and lateral thinking, that our clients don’t have the time for when they’re in one meeting to the next.
John Roberts: So let me segue smoothly from that to one of the challenges we know within smaller agencies is talent, finding and nurturing talent. What would you describe, or how would you describe, the ideal communication planner, Eric?
Eric Pakurar: The person doing the job, you mean?
John Roberts: Yes.
Eric Pakurar: The ideal communications planner? I think systems thinkers, people who think in systems, in how little pieces join together into a bigger cohesive experience or system, are very good at that. The struggle I’m having is there’s the need to put things in boxes, so to speak, to look for connections between things, to understand the gestalt of it, the sort of bigger picture of it. And at the same time, the best ones have creativity within those boxes. So, there’s a bit of a push and pull. There’s sort of a mismatch.
Eric Pakurar: And often, some of the best results happen when you have to systems thinker interacting with the creative teams, sort of pushing and pulling, so you have both of those things represented. And then the systems thinker talking about, “Well, here’s consumer behavior at this time and place. Here’s what we know is going on with them. Here’s what their needs are. Here’s how they’re behaving. Here’s how we want the behavior to change.” To start applying the creative idea into that specific time and place, I think, benefits from having lots of different points of view banging on it together.
Melissa Walker: I also think that … I used to call myself a frustrated media planner, which is only to say that, my very first job was at a standalone and independent media agency, and I was just dying to break out of there. I just wanted to knock the walls down and find out what else could I touch and what else could I help to manage? And so, that type of a person that really wants to look outside of their own discipline, I think, and have that awareness of a bigger picture.
Melissa Walker: I had this theory for a long time that I used to ask people when they were interviewing to be a comms planner if they had any musical background. So, someone who has been in a band, or in a theater production, or any type of a musical background, they tend to be able to understand their part and what their part means, but also have that sort of spatial awareness of a lot of little things coming together to create something.
John Roberts: That’s really interesting, and in fact, that was mentioned in one of the other podcasts where we were talking about finding talent generally in terms of strategists, that looking for musicians, because they seem to have both that system thinking that you talk about so well, Eric, in terms of how everything comes together, and attention to detail in the role of music, as well as some of the freedom to be inventive and express themselves.
Melissa Walker: I also have a pretty strong opinion that I actually think Eric would disagree with when it comes to comms planners, because I think that we as a discipline need to have some media training under our belts. I think that that understanding and that rigor of doing a down and dirty media plan and understanding what an impression is and what reach and frequency mean, I think that that’s really important to the whole discipline of comms planning.
Eric Pakurar: I don’t entirely disagree. The part where I will push back is I think that’s true of all channels. I think a good comms planner has a little bit of knowledge of paid media and shopper and experiential, and any other sort of potential route that marketing could take. And I suspect that the better ones have some overlap with brand planners, because understanding all of that actually is about understanding consumers. It’s about understanding behavior within the context of a given moment, and then sort of the channels and ways to use those channels fall out of that. So, you need to be able to come to some sort of insight about a consumer.
Eric Pakurar: I think that’s where many comms plans that I’ve seen sort of floating around the internet fall down is a lack of any real insight, anything that’ll sort of turn a creative person’s head around and make them think about that moment differently.
Melissa Walker: Yeah.
John Roberts: And just adding to both, actually, I’ll come back to your metaphor, the football team. For me, I’ve found that the people that have a grounded experience enables them to bring something to the team, but also we don’t want to constrain them. So, a defender is there to primarily defend, but can also score goals. It’s just that you don’t expect them to score many goals. A forward can defend, but that’s not primarily their responsibility.
John Roberts: I’d love to put that into American sporting analogy, but I get confused. But does that make sense?
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, and I think the things that you’re asking of any given channel is going to be different today than it will next time out for a different client and a different audience set.
John Roberts: Very true. And when I think about this in the conversations we’ve had with clients, and Melissa, you’ve been in the room for some of those, and Eric, so have you, where the paid media weight, rightly or wrongly, the paid media weight always feels as though that’s a foundation for any communication planning discussion. Granted, you’re absolutely right, Eric, that it shouldn’t be the assumed answer, primary answer.
John Roberts: So, we’ve got to be able to find a way, I think, to have the people that we want to be able to talk about best about the role of all communications, all channels, to have an understanding and an experience of what the role of paid can be. If anything, to be able to speak the same language as a paid media specialist, but also to be able to understand where its role should be, the point you were saying earlier, Eric. Does that make sense?
Eric Pakurar: Right. Yes. And to let consumers be our guide. If we live in a world where consumers get to choose what they watch, when they watch it, what’s most interesting to them, then it stands to reason that brands have to be interesting enough to earn that attention, all right, the attention economy sort of argument. If we are going down the paid route, paid media route, assuming that we can just bang messages down people’s throat, first of all, you’re just wrong. You don’t have the money to do it. There’s no way you can get any kind of decent share of voice.
Eric Pakurar: Second of all, there’s so many other options for people to pay attention to that it’s a fruitless exercise. So, thinking about it from the consumer-first point of view, what is interesting to them? How do you earn their attention? How do you do things that are interesting enough to warrant earing their attention? That seems to be the trick, so starting from the consumer first.
Eric Pakurar: Now, within that context, within the context of what’s interesting to these people and their current behavior, now, what’s the role of paid? It puts it in a completely different light, I think, than sort of standard issue, “Oh, we’re going to spend this amount of money on this platform today in return for X amount of impressions.”
John Roberts: So true. If I think about that as, that’s a common mistake that we passionately wish everyone to avoid, the common mistake being thinking about it as a paid media answer first, and then what’s the question? And your point is that the way to overcome that is think about it from the customer first, about their needs and their need throughout a journey. What would be two other common mistakes you’ve come across, and how can we solve them?
Eric Pakurar: Oh, I think maybe a mistake is the journey construct.
John Roberts: Ooh. Tell me more.
Eric Pakurar: I think everyone says, “Oh, journeys, journeys, journeys.” And yes, it is a tool to understand what’s happening in a consumer’s life. There’s other tools. A day in the life is not a journey, but it is … or maybe it’s a type of journey, if you want to argue that, but it’s a different tool. And I can imagine many others. The problem that I have with journeys is you need to know when and how to use them.
Eric Pakurar: But second of all, more importantly, that it is not something that you just fill out, that you assume you have to have marketing effort at every single part of that journey. There are points in that journey where you’re going to have an outsized impact, where you’re going to have more of a right to win, where you have more of a chance of actually reaching a consumer, and/or changing their behavior. And to go through the process of assessing which points in the journey are more ripe or more right to focus on than others is, I think, a mistake that … or, a step that gets skipped often.
John Roberts: I’m smiling and nodding, Eric, because I have a passionate hate for the [inaudible 00:32:00] that says, “We have a 360 plan.”
Eric Pakurar: Oh, my god, it’s the worst.
John Roberts: Right? Exactly. I once said to a client, “The problem with the 360 degree plan is, the only people that do 360s are stalkers, and I don’t know any brand that wants to be known as a stalker,” to find the right entry point. [crosstalk 00:32:19]
Eric Pakurar: And odds are you don’t have enough money either, you know? Your budget’s not big enough to do the entire journey, even if it were right to do the entire journey.
John Roberts: But it looks so good on the circle on a keynote, on a PowerPoint slide. How about you, Melissa? Are you a passionate defender of the 360 degree plans?
Eric Pakurar: [crosstalk 00:32:36]
Melissa Walker: I’m not, I’m not. I mean, I think as you know, John, that we have almost stepped away from the journeys as well. I was going to say that one pain point I think is there’s not always one answer or one strategy for every channel, right? So your paid media strategy might be different from your PR strategy, and that’s okay. They don’t have to be mirror images of each other, but they have to work together in some way.
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, maybe not even just okay, but desired, I would argue. They’re fundamentally different. They should work in different ways, I would think.
Melissa Walker: Yeah. So, I think that sometimes, what people think that Eric and I are talking about is a lookalike, or like he just said, the example he gave earlier, of the Super Bowl spot, like, “Okay, now, every discipline has to stand behind this one idea.” It just doesn’t work like that. It just doesn’t always work like that, and it shouldn’t.
Eric Pakurar: The old matching luggage trick.
Melissa Walker: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
John Roberts: So, how do we get people, creatives, account people, even planners at small agencies that don’t have your depth of skills and experience and understanding, what are a couple of tips of what would you suggest that a planner in a small agency can do to get his teams or her teams to start thinking more like you?
Eric Pakurar: I think a few things. One is, well, I’m going to make an assumption. I’m going to make an assumption that at your agency, account planning and connections planning are two separate disciplines. In an ideal world, both of those processes are done at the same time, together, up front, because it’s about understanding the consumer, understanding the insights behind what drives their behavior and what drives their motivations. And it’s the same process with different outputs. One is a creative brief, which is about how the brand should come to life through creative, and the other is about once we have a big idea, how does it start to manifest in different ways to this audience in a way that’s compelling and interesting and behavior-changing to them?
Eric Pakurar: But the understanding the consumer is a single way in, so step one, to me, is forge an alliance with the account planning people, and move the connections planning process to before creative development, not after it. Or, to be more accurate, it’s both before and after, because a good creative idea is going to change the nature of your comms plan, or should. Unless it’s the old school, “Here’s a proposition and a tagline, and we’re just going to run that tagline with as much media weight as we can put behind it,” that sort of old school bang it down their throats kind of idea.
Eric Pakurar: A real creative idea impacts the communications plan and vice versa, and that sort of push-pull, the back and forth thing, between you and the account planner up front, understanding the consumer, and then after the creative idea’s developed, the push and pull between the comms planner and the creative team getting it right, getting the tactics right, getting the expression of the idea right, seems to be a good first step.
John Roberts: Yeah. Got it. So, listen, tell me if this fits with your thinking. One of the things that we try and do is we try and make sure that actually not only are the connections specialists and the account planner working together to the brief, but also, I want the connections specialists and the creatives to work together from the brief.
Melissa Walker: Right. Yeah.
John Roberts: In the ideal world, right? So, would you try and avoid the linearity of, now we have an idea, think about the right channels for it. And I think that should, if we can get the channel and the creative and the strategy all as close and tight together within brief, to the brief and then from the brief, surely it’s got to help us.
Eric Pakurar: But Ed, that assumes that your creative brief has certain things in it that a connections planner can use.
John Roberts: True. Yeah.
Eric Pakurar: So, I think it’s worth taking a look at. There’s the format of the creative brief, I think, has shifted over since the inception of the account planning discipline, when? In the ’80s, I guess, here in the States. And it used to be very proposition-led. And I’ve seen a handful formats in recent years that talk more about consumer behavior and talk about how to engage with somebody, not just what to say to them, sort of the content and the context. If both of those things are present, and there’s a point of view in the creative brief up front, then yes, I totally agree with you. And if it’s just an old school, “Here’s the proposition,” then it’s not going to work. It’s not going to pan out.
John Roberts: That’s really a good tip for any of us listening in and thinking about would be, how do we brief our teams today? Maybe a barrier to actually achieving what we’re all looking for about understand the role of channels [crosstalk 00:38:13]
Eric Pakurar: It might be worth digging up a few examples of what a good creative brief might look like. I’m sure I can dig out a few.
John Roberts: Thank you.
Eric Pakurar: I can certainly share the version that Dirt uses.
John Roberts: I would love to, and if so, then we’ll link it to this podcast so we can share that back out. That’d be great, Eric. How about you, Melissa? Anything to add to this?
Melissa Walker: Just going back to what can you do at a small agency, I was thinking back to myself, and aside from the obvious of reading and staying curious, I always used to ask to just be in meetings and to be a fly on the wall. I think I really learned that through … When I worked at Kirshenbaum, the wonderful and amazing creative director, Rob Deacons, would allow a little 24-year-old media planner to sit in on creative meetings, which was one of the greatest gifts that anybody could have given me. And it showed me that you can ask to sit in and listen on things that are maybe outside of your discipline. It just helps to open your eyes and see the bigger picture, so even if you’re working with a media agency, ask if you can go over there and sit in on a few of their meetings, and just listen to what other disciplines are challenged with, and how they’re trying to solve problems.
John Roberts: That’s great, guys. Honestly, a really couple of simple but really powerful tips, both about perhaps we need to change our structure in terms of think about the brief format itself and process, and the other one, Melissa, that you’ve just talked about, which is the attitude. Attitude and behavior will force change as well.
John Roberts: So, one final question. When we roll up everything we’ve been talking about now, who in the world today, which brands do you think are doing it well, why, and how can you tell? Melissa?
Melissa Walker: I think that it’s really easy to look at some of the newer brands in the market and see how they’re doing things that are different from maybe their competitors who are older brands. Last night I received a package from a makeup company called Glossier, and if you’re a woman, you probably have heard of Glossier. It was founded by a woman named Emily Weiss who sought to disrupt a really competitive industry, the beauty and makeup industry.
Melissa Walker: One of the interesting things about Glossier is every single touch point, much like in Apple, every touch point that you receive from them, whether it’s the email that your package is on its way, when you open the package itself, they now have a retail experience down in Soho, everything speaks the same language and has the same aesthetic, and the same point of view about being yourself and being a little bit disruptive. So, I can tell how much thought is put into every single point of communication.
Eric Pakurar: Oh, that’s a great example. They’re an awesome brand, for sure. I’m not entirely convinced that you can tell from the outside whether there’s a good comms plan behind it or not. You can certainly tell, like you say, Melissa, the reaction that you have to the feeling of a brand, that it feels cohesive, and it feels good, but maybe that’s by accident, or maybe it’s just a strong founder’s culture, or maybe it’s a good comms plan. Or maybe you don’t need a comms plan if you have the first two. I don’t know. I think there’s maybe a lot of answers to the Glossier example.
Eric Pakurar: The sort of thing that leaps immediately to mind, well, a couple of them, I’m not sure these are perfect examples of comms plans. But in terms of getting marketing right in 2019, Lil Nas X with Old Town Road and his different iterations of that have so clearly tapped into popular culture, and captured my imagination, at least. I think that is a little bit comms planned, you know, understanding the direction culture is going and tapping into it and latching yourself onto it and co-opting it.
Eric Pakurar: Sort of in that vein, the Bud Light work in the World Series recently, the guy who didn’t drop his Bud Lights when the ball hit him in the chest? That’s amazing, and to turn that around and make a 15-second spot the next day on the next game of the World Series is understanding the time and place, making content that is exactly right for that time and place, latching onto a cultural zeitgeist as it happens. It might even be better than the sort of classic example of Oreo’s dunk in the dark, because that was planned ahead of time. This one is recognizing the moment that they’re in, Bud Light did, and reacting to it and being in that moment, being fully in that moment, with their marketing, that’s really impressive.
John Roberts: That’s a cool way of thinking about it. And there’s that agility and speed of thought and action that stands out.
John Roberts: You know what’s interesting, is I think when I was thinking of an answer to the question I just raised myself, it’s really subjective, because it’s really personal. With your example, Eric, and yours, Melissa, and mine, I go to … It’s an old staple, but I love it as an example of RVI, all the way back to the origination of OptOutside, of an idea that was founded and grounded in a fundamental belief of the brand that they then brought alive of their archetype of shopper marketing’s closing your store for purpose.
John Roberts: And funny enough now, when I look at it as a consumer, I look at it now and I feel … It starts just to feel a little tainted when I’m on my Insta, #OptOutside, and essentially, it’s a permanent fashion show, not the primary purpose of being. So, I wonder how long it’s got left to live as an idea, but I love that as an intent of, it goes all the way back to the fundamental role of brand to be a essential organizing principle of business, which then impacted their role of channel, and how they brought it alive.
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, yeah. So, the idea came first, right?
John Roberts: Yeah. I’ve actually heard two stories. I’ve heard one story that the idea came first, which led to the action of closing, and I heard another which was actually the action had already been taken. The REI had made a decision, a business decision. They were going to close to be true to their purpose, and what the agency did was a fantastic way to turn that into OptOutside, the articulation of the message. I think both are half true, and it ends up with a great result.
Eric Pakurar: But it just goes to underscore the point that I was trying to make earlier, which is, a comms plan, a connections planner and a connections plan is not taking something that somebody has given you a tagline, a piece of creative, and executing it and putting it out into the world. It is not that.
Eric Pakurar: The best connections plans are the push and pull between the account planners and the creative teams, and it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other stops. Or, to go back to the Glossier example, the founder, and the vision of the founder, and how that gets brought to life, is that a founder’s vision, or is it a great comms plan? It kind of doesn’t matter. It is all of those things, and the sort of big mush of it is probably a signal of success.
John Roberts: And you know, as you just said that, it made me start to think about this, that actually, the better description for what we’ve just spent an hour talking about is what you just said, Eric, in connections. Connection’s more important than communication, because it forces us to think about, as you just said, the two parts to it, the role of customers as well as brand, the role of the creative as well as the media, the role of how and where and why we need to connect.
Eric Pakurar: Hear, hear.
John Roberts: On that happy note, I’m rolling up. This has been a really exciting, really great discussion for me. Thank you so much for both of you, Melissa and Eric, for spending the time helping shape how we should be thinking better about the role of all things connections, the challenges we have, but also, some really good pointers for what we can do better. So, I thank you both.
Eric Pakurar: Thank you, John.
Melissa Walker: Thank you, John.
Eric Pakurar: So good to hear your voice, Melissa. It’s been a little while.
Melissa Walker: You too. I know you two are going to get that coffee thing.
Eric Pakurar: Yeah, no doubt, let’s do it.
John Roberts: See? More connections.
Eric Pakurar: More connections.
Melissa Walker: [inaudible 00:46:57]
John Roberts: I’ll see you guys.