Explaining account planning through soccer

 Gustavo de Mello

Gustavo de Mello

Gustavo de Mello, SVP Planning Director of DDB Chicago, explains the role of planning in Soccer terms. 

As the biggest sports event in the world approaches – The 2014 Soccer World Cup – and as a good Brazilian, I’ll summarize my thoughts using a soccer analogy: 

Planners don’t score the goal 

Our job is to leave the ball bouncing at goal line so the creatives can score. However, a bad strategy leaves the ball bouncing at mid-field and…how hard it is to score from that far? 

What I call Perceptive Planning is about finding the best path to the goal line using anticipation, improvisation skills and teamwork. 

Let’s play ball: 

1. Focus on the audience. 

Strategists are vain people, and, by being so, are attracted towards creating elaborated and complicated theories that showcase their supposed intelligence and sophistication. We, many times, put more emphasis on these theories than on the impact the work will have in motivating human behavior. We fall into the trap of loving to be applauded after a complex and erudite thought process. 

What I try to prescribe is that these thoughts mean nothing if we can’t get creatives to understand it or clients to see how it makes the work better. We, many times, talk to ourselves. 

Make sure your audience knows what to do when they leave the room. 

2. Don’t over-process it. 

A process is not an objective in itself, a good process is the one that informs, facilitates and improves the outcome. Planners, sometimes with the excuse of being “rigorous”, spend much money, time and effort in unnecessary steps, created either to shine a light on the planners’ skills or to justify a “pointless” point of view. Processes are good and everyone – even creatives – have their own. We just can’t follow them without questioning whether their steps help or not our goal. 

Ask yourself what really is necessary to prove, validate or explain. Throw everything else away. 

3. Be Flexible 

One size does not fit it all. There is not one only way to solve every challenge. 

Getting the right information upfront will allow you to design the right approach. Commonly, because we have been successful before, we try to force fit same approaches into completely different situations. 

We should also understand that is our job and responsibility to provide expert recommendations to our clients so, in that sense, we should question their strict processes when they seem wrong. 

Anticipate where you want to go. Take the proper time to decide the course of action, don’t jump into doing before knowing whether it is the right direction. 

4. Spend money on Discovery, not on Validation. 

This is not an original point but such an important one. In the creative process, research is an extremely helpful tool so Planners should know when the information is more useful: Upfront, finding things out. 

Most Validation work puts too much pressure on consumers who, most of the times, have no idea what they want. We should advice clients to limit that spend and, instead, put the money in discovery research. By doing that, we will become so knowledgeable about the problem, the hypothesis and the behavioral triggers that we will be more comfortable with the idea of not needing validation (focus groups are good when used for discovery, not validation) 

Get uncomfortable upfront. Don’t leave the tough conversations for when it’s too late to fix it. 

5. To Data or not to Data 

There is a intrinsic link between Planning and Data. That is a fundamentally good thing. It doesn’t mean, however that every data is good and that every data should either used or trusted. Many times we, planners, clients and others, use the information without questioning its source, its methodology and its integrity. Many times we do it for convenience, speed or because it is sexy but, in my perspective, it’s recipe for winning a battle but certainly losing the war. I see as planners’ responsibility to welcome all data but curating and interpreting its implications carefully, even if it results in disagreements in the process. Without the dialogue and the questioning, our hypothesis will reveal weak and our role in generating influential creative won’t be reached. 

Misused Data is creative’s worst enemy, good Data is creative’s best friend. 

6. Take responsibility. 

“They didn’t like the creative” might be the most heard phrase in our industry. My view is that if a Planner sells the strategy but the agency didn’t sell the work, the Planner also failed. We need to understand our role and accept our responsibilities. This is the only way we will have “skin in the game” and fight for the best work instead of saying “I did my part”. 

Even if the creative team doesn’t share the credit, separating yourself from them is recipe for failure. 

Care about the work as if it is your own, because it is. 

7. The brief is a living creature: it changes as it grows. 

Most planners are proud of their briefs, and correctly so as a good brief is something to be proud of. However, we, planners, should allow and welcome its natural evolution as a normal step in the creative process – one that starts with the client brief and ends only when we ship the film or publish an ad. (In the “digital” world, it actually continues as we optimize executions on the go). 

Refusing to do so, in my opinion, is like hiring a director and refusing to hear his/her point of view on the script at hands. A good brief is as a solid starting point, but not necessarily the final answer. Good planners appreciate and welcome the dialogue. 

Every step of the creative process should improve on the previous one. 

So, what I call Perceptive Planning somewhat demystifies common behaviors in the industry to support the notion that account planning should be simple and useful, strongly emphasizing problem solution and collaboration. 

As in a soccer game, we can have nice dribbling and the “jogo bonito” but, without scoring, it’s all useless. As a Brazilian, I know it