Monday, 2 March 2009

Tonal Planning

I guess mainly because I am so bored with the question: 'are you more of a commercial planner or more the creative planner type?' I've begun to think about whether there might be meta-tones that exist within the planning community. 

The very dull question above presupposes that you can either be a planner who has a rational and logical approach,  forensic about the commercial cause and effect of your communication, or you can be a planner who is creative, intuitive and whilst possibly inspiring to creative teams, pretty breezy about the commercial effects of your strategy. It's assumed that one planner is a good match for a hard-nosed sales driving task; the other for the creation of a brand image impact, and that never the twain shall meet. 

We all know that is nonsense and the job of planning is both holistic and forensic, but it did start me thinking about planning approaches, and whether each planner has a genre if you like, that he or she plans within. A way of looking at the world that provides a lens for the way they might see the problem, or the way in which they might express a solution. Or to put it another way, to make a distinction between a commercial planner and a creative planner is to miss the point. The question I'm asking is 'what kind of creativity do you bring to commercial planning'?

When I read, but also when I look at the visuals and the organisational structure of Adliterate, it's  the closest thing to editorial. It's opinion, and point of view strongly held. It's as if Richard Huntington is a journalist, investigating the consumer and commercial landscape for insights, uncovering them with the powers of an investigative journalist. Is it surprising then that he talks about insights as 'revelations'. I think of him as the journalist/editor planner .

When I listen to Paul Feldwick and his clever use of language, as well as his inspirations from poetry, it strikes me that he is pretty simply the poet-planner. His papers on digital versus analogue communication takes us right back to an understanding of how language is used but how meaning is conveyed, how the two are interrelated, and the possible ways we can use language as a way of showing rather than telling, if we truly want to communicate. 

John Grant has to be the political planner. His theories and arguments are always have huge policy or political contexts; innovation, environment, ethical production and consumption.

And what of Mark Earls and Russell Davies?  Is Earls not our social scientist of planning? Tirelessly uncovering new and fascinating ways in which we are social beings, and if he sees us as super social apes, perhaps we should see him not unlike the Attenborough-type explorer. He's the explorer-planner. Russell Davies on the other hand, is to me anyway, the Martin Parr of planning. He can pull out of what is on the surface the most ordinary, and perhaps dull everyday scenario, something truly enlightening and as he might say, interesting. The tension between the interesting and the ordinary is less about 'exploring' and more akin to 'engineering'.  What's really going on behind the stuff of life, how does it work, and how could it be better? When I read his blog I think of design both in terms of its visual sense and in terms of the mathematics of design.  I say he's our engineer planner.

No doubt these planners would probably be recoiling at some of the 'labels' I've given them, some of which could be debated, and improved upon, but it's not done to give labels, it's done purely to make a point. That each planner with a view, a viewpoint, or a point of view, has a way of meeting the world, that they will bring to the discipline of planning. And thank goodness for that because each brings an artistic lens to the science of planning. And in that sense every planner worth his salt, has a signature tone to their thinking. What's yours?


  1. I think i'd be an explorer or a poet. I'm not sure which - I like to discover new things, but I also love analysing language and how it affects organisations.

  2. Great post. I esp like the Martin Parr of planning and the social scientist of planning. I'm not a planner but I work with lots of different 'tones' of planner (as a researcher). There is also the 'landscape artist' planner (broad sweep); then there's the 'frighteningly smart' one - who is actually an account director not a planner (that's what's frightening).

    See planners and researchers (estranged siblings?) at

  3. i think it's funny that you're trying to distil these different people into types or tones. you know as much i do, that these exercises of distilling things down, can cut out all the nuance, the diversity, the inconsistencies...but guess what? they're fun to do. Which brings me to another type of planner / planning that i've thought about before. Planner as reducer. Rick Rubin of Def Jam records used to say that his job as a 'music producer' was more a 'music reducer'- to take the essence of a musician's vision, cut out all the excessive stuff, and make it simple and compelling for people. I kinda think that's what some planners do - boil things down, problems, ideas, audiences, into very probably over-simplified, but much more understandable pieces. There you go, planner as reducer.