What Sound Does Planning Failure Make?
This past Thursday, The APG put on an event that didn’t just draw parallels between advertising and standup comedy, it went beyond and inspired a room of over 80 Planners and like-minded individuals.
There were too many takeaways to go into detail here; like
- The easiest way to finding a fresh perspective is your kid (or a junior planner!),
- That you shouldn’t discard an observation just because you can’t immediately think of a joke (or existing client) to use it for right away,
- And to remember that we can’t ignore the truth (no matter how insistent the client is on forgetting it).
While those points were equal parts insightful and inspiring, there was something else that continued to pick at me even after I left.
What stayed wasn’t a parallel between standup comedians and strategists, but rather the huge difference that one speaker brought up.
Quite simply – as a standup comedian, you can’t hide from failure – there’s one universal metric for success, and that’s laughter.
And one universal metric for failure. Deafening silence.
But what about as a strategist in advertising?
We all know what success looks like. Trips to Cannes, frantic downloads of our presentations on SlideShare, pay rises, legions of Twitter followers, more calls from Recruiters.
What does our failure look like?
Here’s a question I often get when explaining my job to those outside our industry, “What happens to you if you’re wrong?”
My response – especially now after seeing my role compared to a comic’s – is “ honestly, not enough.”
And to be clear – I don’t like it that way. If a strategist gets it wrong, a lot could happen: the brand’s sales could decline, the client could be reprimanded for choosing that creative direction, the agency as a whole may be blamed. As for strategist themselves, we’re far too isolated from that failure. Numbers can be shifted – “there was still a 400% increase in social media engagement!” and blame can be shifted too – the client tried to jam too many RTBs into the final brief, the creative team’s work fell flat, the media agency didn’t select the best channels, and so on.
In truth, a poor strategist can still hide in advertising.
Back to the comedians, laughter is the their universal metric for success. Their failure has a single sound – deafening silence.
Because of this, a poor comedian really cannot hide in comedy.
So what’s our metric as strategists? How can we be more accountable?
What is the deafening silence of our poorly defined strategy?
Perhaps, when starting our next assignment, we’d all be wiser if we started there.