Why strategic planning is stupid
‘Strategic Planning’, a term normally followed by a long sigh, an under-the-breathe mutter and a phallic gesture.
July 9, 2015
I just landed this awesome ‘Strategic Planning Director’ job. I am a week in and while this article may lead to the shortest strategic planning career in the history of advertising, I reckon I’ll throw the proverbial caution to the wind and give it a go anyway.
‘Strategic Planning’, a term normally followed by a long sigh, an under-the-breathe mutter and a phallic gesture. Another 98 slide presentation, another deep-dive, another epicentered approach to give some arb rationalisation to a rather left-of-centre creative approach that the creative team have decided (against brief, of course) to put together. Another PowerPoint deck so monumental in its size, that it’s cast-in-stone and immovable; both in the literal and figurative sense. A check box. A hurdle. A mission. A labour, not of love, but of obligation. This is what strategic planning is. This is what strategic planning shouldn't be. And that’s why I took this job in the first place.
I love data. I love research and insights and focus groups and whitepapers. I also love Lolcats and shineshine and sleeping. Which is why, now that I am a ‘strategic planner’, I have already dedicated larger chunks of my schedule to faffing on the Internet (maybe don’t tell my boss that). Because these days, strategic planning, (or at least EFFECTIVE strategic planning) doesn’t happen by looking at the past. It happens by making educated guesses about the future. It doesn't matter what caused someone to change their habit yesterday, it’s rather about what will make them do it again tomorrow…after they’ve seen that video of your staff member washing edible produce out on the street.
Strategic Planning, in its traditional sense, is really a stupid idea. You plan against historic action, data, research, and results. Quantitative information that's collected over months, years, decades. Data that is reliable, solid. Data that isn’t compromised if one consumer once had an outlying opinion and didn't like what you were getting up to as a brand. From droves of data, you derive a few simple strategic directives and send the creative off on a mission to create a through-the-line campaign that generally starts with TV and ends with some poor PR team getting whatever scraps of the budget are left after production has prostituted the margins. Welcome to strategic planning. It’s stupid.
Strategic predicting though – now that has a cool ring to it. You predict against historic action, data, research, results – combined with ACTUAL consumer insights, trends and nuances to determine a likely outcome and do whatever the hell you can to mitigate the grey fuzzy parts. It’s fun. Scary as hell, but fun. All of a sudden, the creatives are pushed because we aren’t simply finding a new way to repeat history; we are finding a new way to shape it. We aren’t looking lovingly in the past trying to replicate success that's been proven already, but rather trying to create a new way make it happen tomorrow. Strategic planning is a retrospective, archaic, stifling concept. A stupid concept. Strategic predicting is a futuristic, empowering concept that encourages gut instincts and responsible recklessness; where every member of the team is an essential part in paving a new way forward in a world where one unfortunate Tweet from the middle of Pofadder can undo millions in TV spend, no matter how much silver is sitting in the reception area of the agency. Where every specialist in every discipline rallies behind one concept and does their part in shaping a campaign every single step of the way, rather than simply rolling out their little bits. It simply works faster, better, more integrated and team members are general happier.
So to hell with stupid strategic planning. And hello to strategic predicting, and Lolcats, and sunshine and sleeping.