The re-birth of communications planning in advertising…

In a way, my experience as a communications planner draws a lot of parallels from my experience as a Wexford hurling fan – there used to be a lot of us, we felt we were important for a while in the last century, and there might be a glimmer of hope that we’ll return in the future.

It wasn’t always this way (for comms planning at least!).

Coined as a term within the BMP agency in the 60s, the discipline evolved organically – media planners and buyers were given office space next to creatives and were encouraged to think “creatively” about comms problems. This marriage of creativity and message understanding seemed to work well, and the unit subsequently evolved into PHD’s sister Omnicom agency OMD.

It was a simpler time, there were less media channels, lead times were longer and TV, though growing, didn’t dominate to the same extent that it does now.

And then, like the dinosaurs, all the comms planners became extinct. TV became the dominant medium, media companies began to break away and creative thinking was either owned by creatives or outsourced.

The role’s value to clients waned as more upstream brand planning became critical.

But advertising is a strangely circular business. It looks like trends have converged to make the comms planner role increasingly critical.

People’s rapidly declining attention spans mean tolerance for advertising in its traditional form is low. To make things even more complicated, media consumption has mushroomed and fragmented. The average American now consumes 31 hours of media every day for example. And no that’s not a typo, multi tasking means we consume more hours than there are available.

So despite all the talk of ‘big data’, sophisticated econometric modelling and personalisation, the old apocryphal quote about ‘half my marketing spend is wasted, I just don’t know which half’ has never been more apt.

It’s because of the challenges of a multi-device, second-screen savvy world that the communications planner is rising again.

The value of integrated creativity

Ever noticed the amount of long winded un-engaging brand Facebook posts, confusing print ads, TV ads shoehorned into YouTube pre-roll, and how much money is wasted on awful ‘content’ that’s both off message and irritating?

In an time when distribution, experience, platform choice and channel planning are crucial, complicated areas and media budgets are being cut, shaping the most effective execution of a campaign is as important as ever.

And yet, most marketers are ignoring all of this.

An incredible 30% of brands are still only advertising on one platform, while 62% of campaigns are not integrated across channels or creating channel specific executions.

That’s why we need more comms planners in Irish agency land.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Because there’s plenty of data to back up the value of reprising this role.

Starting with the seminal advertising research by Binet and Field in 2007, a succession of weighty adland data has supported the need for multi channel campaigns. That particular paper measured years of IPA winning case studies and found that adding an online response element to a TV advert boosts the efficiency of TV by a factor of 4x, amongst other nuggets.

Elsewhere, it’s been proven that multi-channel campaigns actually make the same budgetwork harder in and more efficiently, that advertising across platforms delivers a higher ROI, and that integrated campaigns build better brand associations and more brand equity.


Still not convinced? Well if logic won’t sway you, how about a shiny gold lion?

According to research, the best, most awarded campaigns at Cannes, in Warc awards and in IPA/ADFX tend to be those that use a variety of media to communicate their message.

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Even Facebook, a company that’s inherently biased away from traditional advertising because of its business model, agrees that integration is best. According to recent research from Nielsen, a 19% increase in targeted reach was instigated when TV and Facebook ads were combined versus TV alone.

So what role does comms planning play?

A comms planner is a rare, valuable, often handsome beast (of course I’m highly biased here!) usually found sitting either within a creatively led media agency or a media savvy creative agency. The role of this discipline was born out of the need to think strategically about the integration of a campaign and to marry great creative with smart implementation.

It’s essentially about acting as a choreographer (normally with more spandex). Working closely with media buyers and creatives, a good comms planner exists to provide rigour to the implementation of an idea, and create the best rendition of a campaign rollout. They’ll use insights from data and observing behaviour to optimise and edit messaging helping it fit credibly within channels. Comms planners are responsible for the mechanics of the campaign, and for identifying and overcoming communication barriers for brands.

Sounds complicated right?

It’s not really.

If brand planners are about uncovering consumer insights and synthesising knowledge, and creatives are about communicating ideas, the comms planner is focused on helping bring those ideas to life. To do that, he/she must understand how advertising works but also be an expert in every channel. There’s also a lot of collaboration involved, so a positive, ego less and humorous attitude also helps. I’m working on that bit.

In a landscape that’s defined by multi agency accounts and plenty of agency skill set overlaps, it’s also about making sure that agencies bring forward an integrated campaign with the right message in the right channel.

Adland forgets its history

I’ve seen Irish advertising legend John Fanning speak on numerous occasions, and one of his most salient points is that modern adland seems to forget its history. While technology is changing what we do, it doesn’t make what’s gone before irrelevant. Brands have faced similar challenges for decades, and and the truth is we ignore the learnings of yore.

Often, adland’s future can be taken from its history. And thus, I’m expecting to see the rebirth of the communications planning role in the Irish market in the next few years.

By my research, at Target McConnells we’re one of only two agencies in Ireland that employ dedicated comms/connection planners. In our case, that’s in tandem with an interactive team that specialises in optimal creative and technical execution. Our model certainly isn’t perfect yet, nor am I, but it’s getting there and integration and collaboration are areas that we’re investing heavily in. With award winning, creatively recognised campaigns like An Post 1916, Vodafone Centre Stage and Topaz Play or Park in our back pocket, this seems to be bearing fruit.

Just like the mighty men in purple and gold, the discipline will rise again.