What is this digital planner you speak of?

Reading through the comments on one of the new questions this year concerning what exactly digital strategists do, I’m most intrigued by those “in the club” who don’t think it’s all that different at all. The biggest difference is in who drives the strategy, and generally they say that enviable position falls on the above the line agency. The AOR gets the money to do research and they come up with the ideas that the client starts nodding their head to. Digital agencies in particular have to do some significant educating of clients on technologies. But they are benefiting from money swinging toward digital and away from TV and print.

I hope I don’t skew any results by giving my opinions (we’re already at 996 completes so I think 1000 is going to happen today), but I’m finding myself aligning with the few people who identify themselves as integrated planners. I’ve benefited from working at some of the most integrated agencies. Mullen and Martin were very good – I was working along side information architects in 2002 at Mullen. I think both agencies benefited from a couple of believers like Micah Donahue who was at Mullen at the time and Alex Bunch who was and is at Martin. When you have a charismatic evangelist, who lives the word and can bring it to others, they can really help steer relatively conservative (not meant to be derogatory) organizations toward the light.

And CP+B was in a whole other realm. Creatives and producers were/are expected to think across all possible ways of getting a message across and creating content and engagement. Sometimes CDs would want to see first rounds of ideas that were only digital, just to push that to the forefront of minds. This generalist attitude spilled over into planning as well in the way the brief was designed to capture idea starters that could inspire any medium. And with Burger King being a leading digital brand who gets it, they were never uncomfortable producing the best ideas no matter where they land. Crispin had the ethos that best idea wins, and when you pair that with a forward thinking client who is completely beyond “matching luggage” philosophies of TV, print, radio and micro site that all harp the same thing, you can come up with Whopper Virgins that ran along side Whopper Sacrifice on facebook and the creation of Flame, a Whopper inspired fragance that was sold online and in a pop-up retail location in NY.

Now I find myself in a different situation, working with a sister digital agency, Tribal, who is in the same building but is separate in P&L, office space, email distribution list. Because one of their strategy directors recruited me here and is a great friend, there is a lot of integration happening on the Unilever ice cream business we both work on. I’m on the Tribal email distribution list, work on completely DDB projects, completely Tribal projects and those that straddle both companies. But this place has a long way to go to break down all the walls.

I see a lot of evidence of integrated planning happening across many planner friends. And a genuine love for technology, new media, and the exploration of generating content on blogs and twitter that carve out audiences who want to read our thoughts.

Are there other models out there beyond the integrated vs the sister company vs the totally seperate pairing with only a client in common? What seems to be working best?

7 thoughts on “What is this digital planner you speak of?

  1. Hey Heather, nice post for a very interesting discussion. I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about your current experience on helping to brake down the walls at your agency.
    That’s our concern here in McCann Brazil also, but we doesn’t have a model yet.
    Anyways, I wrote something in my blog when I had a nice chat with Mike Follet, a great guy who changed from account (DDB) to digital planning (Tribal). For those interested://ramiroamaral.wordpress.com/2008/11/23/people-first/

  2. Interesting post.

    I always wondered about DDB and Tribal – how do they work together nowadays. i mean, if i’m working on the Tribal side and the campaign calls for, or I have an idea that involves TV / Print – what happens next? Do I get to do it? Do i lose responsibility /credit over it?

    Good luck in Amsterdam. There are some amazing pork ribs in Utrecht.

    Frankelstache

  3. Integrated is best. Look at the work you produced at CP&B when they used that model.

    And tell the poster above I want to know about these pork ribs…mmmm

  4. Nice summary of planning approaches.

    I work in the DDB Vancouver office and my planning is specifically related to the nature of an account. Primarily its scope. If it’s an integrated account – my favorite and typically the best creative because of its breadth – I set strategy across all divisions including Tribal, our design group and other partner agencies. The strategy and creative concept are singular, all encompassing.

    On other accounts, if it’s just “ads” we devise strategy as though it will exist multi-platform. Even a print ad, if we make it great, can become digital. Often by figuring a better way to use the pre-determined medium(s).

    The term digital strategist seems more akin to analyst rather than deep strategy and insight development. But that’s just from what I’ve observed.

  5. Hi,

    yes, its an interesting topic, it has been on my mind as well so thanks for raising it :).
    Im working at DDB as a junior planner and from the very beginning I tried to take part in Tribal projects too just because I thought this is the only way I can have a 100% overview. (Actually I have a similar “problem” with our media agency. We work totally separately, having meetings only a couple of times a year. Crazy.)
    Anyway I agree the ideal set up would be having integrated agencies but changing a structure of long standing is amazingly tough, I can clearly see the barriers at our place. It would require a mindset that (beyond thinking digital) can think integrated based on the problem. Sometimes I see ourselves trying to force fancy social media solutions on the client just to have a Tribal project. (Which is of course understandable too.) On the other hand the DDB creatives, accounts dont feel the need of growing in online topics thus its harder for them to work together with Tribal which makes up frustration which makes it even less fun…Vicious circle.
    However they would strongly need each other its just so hard to find the way to really work together.

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