Albert Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend fifty five minutes defining the problem and five minutes working on the solution.
For once I had properly defined the problem I could easily solve it in less than five minutes.”
This is how I’ve always seen the proper role of planners.
Defining the problem.
Otherwise why don’t creatives take briefs directly from clients?
They can solve problems, of course they can.
The difficulty for creatives is in defining the problem to be solved.
Edward de Bono said “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
That’s often how it is with creatives.
The answer is an expensive, beautiful, stylish, D&AD award-winning ad, now what’s the question?

Well, an expensive, subtle, artistic, award-winning ad may be the answer to a different question.
I have always seen it as the job of planning to get the question right.
To get upstream of the question in fact.
To question the question.
To be strategically creative.
To change the problem from one that can’t be solved to one that can.
That is the true intellectual creativity of planning.
That is what Stephen King envisaged when he coalesced creativity and marketing thinking into planning.
Unfortunately, a lot of planners have become exactly what Stephen King warned them against.
They’ve become “mere ad-fiddlers”.
Concentrating on the executional details of the solution rather than the big picture.
The tactics rather than the strategy.
Many planners think it is their job to have an opinion about every single executional detail of an ad.
This is in fact the exact opposite of what Stephen King envisaged planning to be.
This is just another person concentrating on the execution, the solution, the last five minutes.
Instead of making sure the problem to be solved has been excitingly and creatively arrived at by concentrating on the definition, the strategy, the first fifty-five minutes.
I think this is because many planners now confuse themselves with researchers.
They think their job is simply to be the voice of the consumer.
They steep themselves in consumers’ lives and believe their own subjectivity is the consumer’s subjectivity.
Their job then becomes to judge the finished work.
IMHO they are looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
They are not doing either job: planning or creative.
This is the equivalent of a general in the middle of a battle going round to every soldier to check his uniform is correct.
No one is doing the general’s job, and he’s stopping the soldiers doing their job.
For planning to truly be a contribution, planners need to recognise the role of planning.
To give the creatives an unfair strategic advantage.
To fight the battle somewhere no one expected us to fight it.
To compete where we are strongest and the competition is weakest.
To spot an opportunity that no one else has seen.
To be upstream, to be original, to be predatory.
That is what planning could and should be.
That is creative.

That isn’t ad-fiddling.

  • debra burke

    fabulous. send this off to every account person accepting client briefs without even a thought to the real issue. true thought about being the consumers subjectivity. . we are sadly not consumers. we ve been ad washed into pretending to be consumers.

  • marie maurer

    If planners planned? If we had 55 minutes instead of 5, maybe we would.

  • Dave Trott

    I think you’re right, that’s a big problem for everyone.
    BBH were the one place that wouldn’t put the brief in until it was right, even if it was late.

  • Tod Norman

    Ahh, Dave. You sound like Adrian Fink all those years ago. Blaming the people who want to be your allies for the sins of the system.

    Good planning is expensive: not just the salaries, the floor space, etc. but the time and challenge that good planning demands. To be a good planner means to look wider, to come at things from an unusual, compelling direction. To succeed in that the planner needs not only to think, but to persuade; internal account teams, clients, etc.   This isn’t easy or cheap. In today’s environment, many agencies would rather deliver the quick, cheap and acceptable solution than push for more.  So what happens?

    Challenging, ‘troublesome’ planners have been the first cost out the door in the last two recessions, and they have been during this one too.   So many – NOT ALL –  of the survivors are the ones that challenge downstream – at the creative stages – rather than up stream – at the budget holders stages.

    If you want better planning, fight to protect the investment in planning: don’t blame the planners who are just trying to hold on to their jobs.

  • Dave Trott

    Hi Tod,
    I agree with paras 2 and 3.
    Not sure about paras 1 and 4.

  • Albert Yeo


    Indeed… So many are so far down the wrong track, they no longer remember what their jobs are anymore.

    What’s worst, is that they’ve begun to think that what they’re so wrongly doing… Is “right” of the times. So they keep doing it… even when they keep getting worse off from it all.


    Advertising… has become so warped. And you know what? No one would stop and accept the blame, so the courses remain unchanged.


    love that, great planner proposition, thanks.
    – be upstream, original,predatory.

    • http://www.cstthegate.com Dave Trott

      Charlie, you like that because that’s how you are.

  • john lowery

    Of course you are right Mr Trott and I would refer anyone reading this to the brilliant ‘Testing to Destruction’, which you can find for free on the APG’s site. 

  • Tod Norman


    Fair enough – para one withdrawn, if only because I can’t remember the exact details of his comments (tho’ I know he used the ‘ad-tweaker’ remonstration – perhaps more in the context of destroying creativity {aka Testing to Destruction} – than believing that planning could be more but wasn’t performing). ). I stand by para four, however; the silo-ization of budgets means heads of department fight for their own numbers/headcounts rather than for a holistic approach to better advertising. 

  • Thoralf Engeler

    Yes, you always need a proper problem to get a proper solution!

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