Learning to Plan: A [WIP] Syllabus for Strategic Planning

I'm working on a curriculum and syllabus by which to teach the next generation of baby strategic planners here at my agency. The hope is for my approach and brain to be teachable and repeatable, so that this next generation of planners can forge on and teach another generation if I get hit by a bus or something. It's a work in progress, and will soon/eventually develop into a bonafide syllabus. Here we go.


Strategic Planning 101

I’m sorry, did you think that you were finished with school? That’s a big negative. Welcome to Strategic Planning 101, where you’ll learn to think and work in our planning way. There’s a heavy dose of sociology to understand people and society, along with key readings on ad-making and creative planning, and some deeper cuts on the particular emotions- and goals-based framework by which we approach creative & brand planning. There’s additional reading on the principles of successful ad campaigns, business strategy, and how to grow brands.

Don’t worry, you’re not going it alone. I know that onboarding is already a lot. I’ll be reading and rereading right along with you, and we’ll have check-ins along the way to talk through these books and what you’ve taken from them, and how they fit into our planning approach. I know I said this was ‘school’ in the last paragraph, but it’s really not. There are no tests. Ask any and all questions. The more questions, and the more you question what you’re reading (and why!) the better. We’re in this together to strengthen and grow our team; the more you invest in this planning team onboarding, the better our work will be.

Let’s get to it. [If you're just reading this and you aren't a new planner at my agency, I've done my best to provide links to purchase or read these texts if you feel so inclined.]

Setting the Foundation

Here are some foundational texts that get to the core of your responsibilities and what you can expect as a planner here: what planning is, how to think like a planner, and why this curriculum is steeped in sociology & the social sciences.

The Practical Pocket Guide to Account Planning (Chris Kocek) – I really dig this book. Simple, straightforward introduction to what planning is for the uninitiated. A great guide to how to do your job, and what your job is. Plow through it once, and refer to it often.

A Technique for Producing Ideas (James Webb Young) - A short, snappy guide on how to, well, produce ideas. Maybe not revelatory, but certainly validating. Young was a wonderful copywriter, rather than a sociologist or social scientist, but he gives this strong shout out early on to the importance of social science to advertising:

Consequently, the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas. Now this habit of mind can undoubtedly be cultivated. I venture to suggest that, for the advertising man, one of the best ways to cultivate it is by study in the social sciences. A book like Veblen’s ‘Theory of the Leisure Class’ or Riesman’s ‘The Lonely Crowd,’ therefore becomes a better book about advertising than most books about advertising.

He’s one of the good guys.

The Promise of the Sociological Imagination, Chapter 1 (C. Wright Mills) - An old school sociology cornerstone, whose central concept – the sociological imagination – is key to both social science and creativity, i.e. it justifies why sociology is so important to advertising planning. In short: make the familiar strange, connect lived experience to larger trends, and treat social phenomena like a scientist. The sociological lens. Read it.

Here’s an additional video introduction to the sociological imagination concept

Another respected sociologist’s discussion of what it means to ‘make the familiar strange.’

Metropolis and Mental Life (Georg Simmel) - This one’s a jam. It’s a solid 115 years old, and can be read as ‘here’s what happens to people when they live in cities.’ And I don’t’ hate that, so read it as that. But it’s also a nice primer on how the look and feel of social relations (the city) affect people and how they perceive the world (mental life), and how they act – within those social relations. You see that relationship? Between the social and the self? Get used to it; it’s fundamental to how we work.

Confessions of an Advertising Man (David Ogilvy) - Ogilvy is on the Mount Rushmore of advertising. Here he offers some rules and life lessons on client services and creative, and how to make it in the advertising business. Read and learn.

Small Data (Mark Lindstrom) - You’ve probably heard, about, read about, met, and used big data. And that rules; big data is the cat’s pajamas. But don’t forget about small data, where you observe people’s actions and connect them to bigger trends and relationships. Connect small and big data, and you’re cooking with gas. More methods training to come.


Creative Planning & Creative Briefs

Now we’re getting more into the creative meat of your job. You’ll be doing a lot of industry trend watching and consumer research to add to your assigned teams’ knowledge, yes, but also to contribute to making the best creative possible. We are the Robin to the creative team’s Batman, the caddy to their golfer on the green. Here’s helpful info on writing tight briefs, which you’ll be contributing to. Get stoked.

The Advertising Concept Book (Pete Barry) - How to make the ads. Refer to this book early and often for guidance and inspiration. If it sparks an idea, speak up.

How to Think and Create Better: Brief Anyone and Everyone (My blog) - The creative brief is the most important thing that we do on the creative planning side of things. Write killer briefs, and you’ll be the creative team’s best friend. This is a little read to get bendy in thinking about your job and role of the brief: to put your creative team in position to make the best ads possible.

Briefly - THE video on creative briefs, with interviews from titans from across creative disciplines. Watch it on a Saturday, drink a couple cups of coffee, and study. Pay particular attention to the main message in W+K’s brief for Nike’s ’96 Olympics campaign. It’s a jammer. It’s also posed as a question.

Damn Good Advice for People with Talent  (George Lois) - Another advertising OG, and my guy. Stand out, be bold, make great advertising, communicate, matter. Digest.

Truth, Lies, & Advertising: The Art of Account Planning  (Jon Steel) - Read it.

Juicing the Orange (Pat Fallon and Fed Senn) - Fallon is no joke and this book is a glimpse into how they’ve approached their work, and how winning (and failed) campaigns come to life. If nothing else, absorb their commitment to experiencing the shit when they’re pitching new business. Live and breathe your audience, and you’ll find the insight that brings the Truth to life in creative.


Putting it all together

We’ve set the foundation for understanding people, your role as a planner, and how we fit into the creative puzzle. Now we’re going to dig a little deeper into the background of how we think as planners here. It’s very sociology-y, along with some goals- and emotions-based psychology. Chew on this as you get settled into your job. It sounds like a lot, and it can be a bit much in your first go around. Stay curious, keep thinking, ask questions, and watch how it comes to life in our creative planning, 


Goals and Emotions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-the-consumer-mind/201302/how-emotions-influence-what-we-buy - A good primer on why the hell we care about consumers’ emotions. We’re not making this shit up; know your audience and know how they feel, and we’re rocking and rolling.

Consumer Emotions & Goals in Creative Strategy: Part I (My blog) - A synthesis of how to employ an understanding of consumers' goals and emotions in your planning work.

Consumer Goal Pursuit - This one’s dope and accessible. I like it. Read it. I’m not a psychology or social psychology guy, but it’s good to understand. See me for a copy.

Further Reading:

Psychology of Appraisal

What We Feel and Why We Buy

Emotion Profiles and Social Identity (maybe)


Field Theory

Consumer Emotions & Goals in Creative Stategy: Part II, or Field Theory and Creative Strategy (My blog) - A deeper discussion of how to employ this particular vein of sociology in creative planning.

Bourdieu and social fields -Watch this video to get a primer on Bourdieu’s theory of fields, and holler if you want more readings. I live and breathe this stuff, and am more than happy to reread in partnership. I’ve been reading and rereading it for the last 6+ years; let’s jam. More Bourdieu below.

What is Field Theory (John Levi Martin) - John Levi Martin is a weird, smart dude. Regardless (or perhaps because of that), this is a piece that I really like, in particular for the reason I call out in my blog post on the subject. Read that blog post. Also, see my for a copy of this paper.

A Theory of Fields (Neil Fligstein and Doug McAdams) - All of this business about fields and field theory is all pretty interrelated, and I like this piece because it deals well with the idea that there are a lot of interrelated fields out there (as explained in that Bourdieu video). Read this one to get deeper into that concept, and refer back to my blog post on the topic for why this matters. Read that blog post. Come with questions, clarifications, and challenges. See me for a copy of this paper, too.

Further Reading

The Plural Actor (Bernard Lahire) - I cover this in that literature review above, but this is a pretty cutting edge book in my particular, tiny vein of sociological thinking. A tough read for the uninitiated, so holler if you want the TL;DR version, instead.


Cultural Tastes

The literature review to a paper I wrote a few years ago- Useful (if I do say so myself) in understanding cultural tastes and why they matter to social life, and how the study of tastes has changed our understanding of them over time. Holler for a copy.

Distinction - Pierre Bourdieu “The social space and its transformations" (pp.xi-xiv, pp.1-8, and pp.97-168. (But don't buy a copy)

Bourdieu is a pain in the ass to read. He was a French dude writing in French who generally tailored his argument to German sociologists, and therefore wrote in French in a German language structure (which makes it absurdly difficult to read in itself), and was, of course, translated to English (which only makes it harder). It’s obtuse and opaque; occasionally, entire sentences will run on for a full page. But I’m here to help! It’s foundational to my approach to understanding consumers and society, and to creative planning. It could help you, too.

Business Strategy

These are longer term reads that will become increasingly important in your tenure. When you’re ready to dig into these, let me know and we can work through reading them together.

How Brands Grow (Byron Sharp) – Here’s the official description of this book from the publisher. I can’t really sum it up any better: This book provides evidence-based answers to the key questions asked by marketers every day. Tackling issues such as how brands grow, how advertising really works, what price promotions really do and how loyalty programs really affect loyalty, How Brands Grow presents decades of research in a style that is written for marketing professionals to grow their brands. It is the first book to present these laws in context and to explore their meaning and application.

How Brands Grow 2 (Byron Sharp) – Follow up book on the subject, devoted more to practical applications and areas unaddressed in the original.

Grow the Core (David Taylor) – Written by a disciple of Byron Sharp, this book provides a practical guide to identifying your clients’ cores business, and strengthening said business. Good advice in general, but particularly useful in times of slowed or even negative economic growth to get back to the basics of your brand and what constitutes its strengths.

The Mind of the Strategist (Kenichi Ohmae) – A business strategy classic that provides a view into the thinking and planning processes of top Japanese businesses in the 70s and 80s. Great introduction to more management consulting-style business strategy. We can also talk about deficiencies in the Japanese approach to business at the time. Spoiler alert: extreme efficiency that led right into a sea of sameness. Branding and distinction matter.

Creative Messaging Worksheet