Who Should Lead Communications Planning?

Media used to be the last five minutes in the meeting.

In an era where creative ruled the roost, selling the big advertising idea was the stuff of legends. "Just Do It," "Priceless," "Where's the Beef" ... great slogans and great ads in a time where advertising and brands were more easily able to penetrate the consciousness of the consumer on mass. Today, we live in a more personalized and connected communications landscape that has blurred the lines between analog and digital; content and context; and audience and editor.

There are just so much more media and tactics that marketers have available at their disposal. As a result, agencies and clients have elevated the media agenda. And this is why communications planning is now a hot topic of discussion and was the subject of a panel I chaired at last weeks 4A's Transformation 2011 conference.

Communications planning has become a fertile battleground for the media agencies. It is seen as a critical area to increase their value proposition to clients. Media buying and execution, while important, have become more commoditized, or at the very least, less differentiating.



Comms planning encapsulates the shift in role from delivering the creative message to exploiting media to creating more relevant, memorable and interactive occasions with the brand. It has become a chief ingredient to the integrated marketing communications recipe.

Speaking on the panel, Jacki Kelley, UM's Worldwide CEO summed up this shift by describing communications planning as a more consumer-centric approach to planning media, describing it as "a holistic approach to understanding key behaviors that a consumer is taking in order to better connect with them and the brand."

Communications planning isn't just the domain of the media agencies.

Creative powerhouse, Goodby Silverstein & Partners has embraced the function for many years. Joshua Spanier, the agency's director of communications strategy, believes that bringing together creative and communications planning strategy offers powerful synergy. He argues that the separation of creative and media was a set back for agencies.

A recent development we've seen is the interest in communications planning by the digital agencies, in part, due to them branching out beyond their digital realm. As the general agencies have digitized, many digital agencies are now massaging their positioning as more rounded communication agencies.

What they are able to bring is a heavier leaning on analytics, adding more rigor to the planning process. "The integration of previously disparate data-sets and tools are moving into one common language and currency that can break boundaries," commented Scott Hagedorn, CEO of Annalect, who was previously CEO of PHD.

Founding partner of Naked Communications, Paul Woolmington argued that any agency that was tied to execution [presumably creative, media or digital agencies] couldn't truly be media neutral ... a critical criteria in developing a communications plan. He added that in his view "everything communicates" and therefore, marketers need to consider all their options rather than lean towards a particular channel.

While the panel couldn't entirely agree on which agency should lead, they were all in agreement that clients ultimately were responsible for owning the communications strategy.

The panel felt that media owners can play an important role in communications planning. One considerable area is in helping them to better understand the latest consumer trends and how to engage their audiences. For example, what doesn't MTV know about GenY? The editors at The Wall Street Journal know better than anyone else what's keeping CEOs up at night.

UM's Kelley candidly confessed: "One reason I came to the agency side of the business ... is that I found - while being a seller - there are very rarely people at the agencies unlocking the insights that I could have provided."

Spanier added that "content has gone beyond just advertising." Access to co-branded content by media partners is proving a powerful strategy for some advertisers.

Communications planning is increasingly becoming a requisite discipline in the agency world. There remain contrary views on how it might be executed, and who should lead. But what appears clear is the need to provide a solution for clients to help deploy their budgets and navigate across the plethora of media channels and platforms.

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