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The Planner / Creative Relationship: Results

19th July 12

Posted by Mel Exon

Posted in Events, People

Authors: Fran Hazeldine, Head of Strategy and Pelle Sjoenell, Executive Creative Director, BBH LA



A few weeks ago we asked Planners and Creatives from a range of agency backgrounds to fill out a short survey about the Planner / Creative relationship.

As promised, we’ve got some results to share. If you like your slides with added innuendo, our Planningness presentation is available here. But it’s quite minimalist and really needs the voice over, so we’ve summarized the main findings below.

A few notes on the sample

The 324 respondents were a mixture of self-selecting BBH Labs readers, people from our extended professional networks and anyone else we could persuade to take part. So there are probably all sorts of research effects that mean you shouldn’t take any of the results as hard fact – more food for thought and discussion.

What do we know about the survey respondents? Not surprisingly, we had more Planners than Creatives. And the Creatives tended to be more experienced and male. There was also a heavy North American and European skew across the board.

But despite collecting a mass of demographic info, the results we’re sharing are not split out by gender, age or region. We tried cutting the data along these lines, but any variation was remarkably unremarkable. So instead we’ve focused on the simple comparison between Planners and Creatives, which turned up some much juicier stats.

1. Previous relationships

We started by digging the dirt on respondents’ previous partners. 62% of Planners felt that most of their past relationships with Creatives had been positive. But only 37% of Creatives felt the same way about their Planning partners.

Next we asked how many of these positive relationships could be defined as “special relationships” (i.e. working together closely on a number of projects and forming a close bond in the process). We calculated that the average Planner has enjoyed 2.15 special relationships per five years in the industry, while the average creative could only count 0.88 per five years.

So on the surface, at least, the Planners we surveyed had a rosier view of the relationship than their Creative partners.

2. Real vs. ideal partners

Here we compared what Planners and Creatives thought of each other with what they wanted from each other. Do real partners live up to ideal partners?

Relying on the data-crunching might of Wordle, we found that Planners see the Creatives they have worked with as “funny”, “passionate” and “inspiring” but also “challenging”, “defensive” and “stubborn”. No surprises there. However, what the same Planners really want is for Creatives to be “collaborative”, “open-minded”, “curious”, and even “strategic”.

Creatives, on the other hand, see Planners as “smart”, “insightful” and “analytical”. But while these qualities were all desired, the trait Creatives most wanted in their Planning partners was… “creative”. Also popular was “collaborative”, a characteristic that both sides valued strongly.

It seems as though Planners and Creatives both want to work more closely – with someone like themselves.

3. The relationship in practice

We asked Planners and Creatives what they thought made a great creative brief. Just over half of each group agreed that richness was more important than precision. For Creatives, that richness included media guidelines – 69% felt they should be specified in the brief. So the common perception that Creatives want briefs to be as simple and open as possible wasn’t true for most of our respondents.

In line with their desire for greater collaboration, both sides were keen to work closely throughout the process. 79% of Planners and 85% of Creatives agreed that there should be an opportunity for creative input before the briefing, while 96% of Planners and 79% of Creatives agreed that Planners had an important role to play in creative reviews.

Perhaps most surprising were the views on where ideas come from. 65% of Creatives agreed that Planners were as likely to have the Big Idea as they were, but only 16% agreed that they were likely to have more original ideas without Planners.

So despite giving previous partners a mixed review, the Creatives we surveyed were generally a pretty humble bunch who valued and respected what Planners had to offer.

4. Casting the future

One of the things we talk about a lot at BBH is how to cast projects – especially interactive projects, where the permutations of old and new skills can seem infinite.

The final part of the survey asked Planners to select their ideal cast of one or more Creative people for an unspecified interactive project. The most popular pick was “Ideas Guy” with 78%, although all roles were well represented, including “Copywriter” (49%) and “Art Director” (43%).

Then we flipped the question and asked Creatives to select their ideal Planning cast. “Brand Planner” was most popular, getting a vote from 46% of Creatives, but none of the six roles offered gained a majority vote. Interestingly, “Digital Planner” and “Social Media Planner” were the least popular picks with 23% and 21% respectively, which suggests a preference for generalist over specialized roles amongst the Creatives we surveyed.

We used the same data to calculate the average number of partners that Planners and Creatives wanted to work with on interactive projects. The clear preference was for multiple partners, with 67% of Planners and 50% of Creatives selecting three or more.

So if interactive projects are anything to go on, the future of the Planner / Creative relationship looks less like a two-way axis and more like a networked team. But classical, craft skills are still a vital part of the mix. Which sounds about right to us.

Getting practical: how to have a wonderful Collaborationship

“Collaborationship” is one of Pelle’s favorite Swenglish phrases. It’s also a handy abbreviation for what Planners and Creatives seem to be looking for: a truly collaborative relationship.

But what do the survey results tell us about how that Collaborationship works in practice? One finding jumps out of the data: Planners and Creatives both want to work more closely – with someone like themselves.

People who know about these things often say that “the best Planners are Creatives – and the best Creatives are Planners”. What they really mean (we think) is that the best Planners understand how Creatives think, and can see things from their perspective. They possess a sort of Creative empathy that allows them to cross the divide without losing their edge. And vice versa for the best Creatives, of course.

Maybe this is what our respondents were getting at. They don’t want to be the same as the Planning / Creative partners they work with, but they do want to find common ground – a place where they can reframe the problem creatively, come up with rounded, strategic-creative ideas, and find the perfect rationale for great execution. A place where intelligence meets magic, and they hang out for a while before going their separate ways.

Sounds great. But how do we get there? Nick Kendall, BBH Global Strategy Director, has a suggestion we like a lot. He says that Planners should train in creativity, even before they go off on better briefing courses, or learn about effectiveness models. Not so they can become Copywriters or Art Directors, but so they can learn how to inspire, judge and shape creative ideas. Maybe there could be a similar but opposite programme for young Creatives? And a catch up course for the rest of us.

We’ll leave it there for now. The survey was intended as a bit of thought-provoking fun, so we don’t want to over-analyze the findings. But please tell us what you think – which results are least / most surprising? What makes a great Collaborationship in your experience?

Thanks for joining in!

// Fran & Pelle

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