Throwing a Planner in the works

Louise Buckley
10 August 2022

A new client brief lands on my desk. I’ll admit to feeling a little surge of excitement. It’s an opportunity to solve a problem.

And distilled right down to its simplest form, that’s what planners/strategists (not getting into that debate) do: we find solutions to our clients’ problems.

When I started in marketing, I had a vision of Mad Men-esque boardrooms, beanbags and pitching creative ideas for billboard campaigns. The thought of having a piece of creative I’d influenced seen by millions of people drove me. Fast-forward a decade and it’s actually the work that goes on behind the scenes – that Joe Public will never see – that gets me out of bed in the morning.

The insights phase is my favourite part of the whole planning process – handy, since insights and strategy are at the heart of everything we do at Don’t be Shy. Getting under the skin of the audience and the client’s business until you get that penny-drop moment is what planners crave. Often you don’t know what you’re looking for; you’re just searching in the dark for the lightbulb moment.

After countless workshops, insight interviews, strategy decks and presentations, I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way to make getting to the lightbulb moment a bit easier.

Know your audience

This might seem a bit on the nose, but bear with me. Getting the right people in the room for a workshop is key to getting the right information. It can be easy to fall into the trap of having Marketing and Sales involved and leaving it there. But getting a wider selection of people from the business involved can avoid only capturing one perspective and leaving with outputs that feel a bit one-dimensional.

The other thing to consider is: who actually are the people in the room? Doing a bit of research on workshop participants or interviewees ahead of time helps you tailor your language and approach to get the best response.

There are no stupid questions

On the flip side of ‘know your audience’, be aware and open about what you don’t know. There have been so many times when I’ve wished I’d asked someone in a workshop to explain what that acronym stands for, or what that industry jargon means, and haven’t in fear of looking stupid. But we all know people love explaining things they’re an expert on, so you’re unlikely to get a negative response. Plus, working in an agency, we work across so many different industries, you’ll never be an expert on them all, so ask the question – you’ll only kick yourself later if you don’t!

Use your time wisely

There can be a tendency to put all the emphasis on ‘the workshop’, but you’re then relying on the participants being on form (and turning up!), having enough time to get through everything, and the facilitators analysing the information on the spot to come up with follow-up questions in the moment. The approach I prefer is to do an immersion before any interviews or workshops, get your head into the brand, audience, market, competitor landscape and go to the workshop with a point of view or hypothesis. Then you can use the limited time in the session to ask the deeper, probing questions you can’t get from desk research.

B2B audiences are also B2C audiences

Working on B2B products, with corporate clients, it can be easy to forget that the audience – IT directors, HR specialists, engineers or data scientists – are also multi-faceted people that have lives and interests outside of work. When you’re developing a persona for a B2B client, it’s key to remember that, so the output isn’t a very po-faced, corporate piece of copy or creative.

Inject some personality by asking: what personality traits does this persona generally have? What has their career path been to date, and where do they want to be? What influences them: industry publications or peer-to-peer recommendations? What would a typical ‘day in the life’ look like? What media are they exposed to throughout the day, from morning commute to bedtime? Often someone in the client’s sales or customer experience team will be able to answer that and explain in detail what makes that persona tick on a human level. Applying that insight to a creative or copy brief will make the difference between an easily-forgettable campaign and an attention-grabbing one.

Your best friends are an empty wall and some Post-its

Staring at a blank piece of paper can be a bit daunting, and I’ve definitely been guilty of trying to jump ahead to creating a deck so I don’t feel like I’m procrastinating. But actually, the bit in the process where you have a thousand ideas and thoughts whirring around your brain should be savoured.

Find a blank wall (in lieu of one, I’ve been known to start doing this at my desk, before spreading up the walls and window like a contagion, inviting bewildered looks from my colleagues), grab some Post-its and just start writing down any thoughts and ideas that come to mind. Try to give the ideation some structure, align it to key themes from the insight phase, or map them across the buyer journey.

Then, I like to grab someone (anyone nearby, willing or not) and talk them through it. You’ll be surprised how quickly you start to formulate an idea in your mind, and involving fresh eyes which aren’t as close to the work as you can help with clarity. This helps avoid the Planner trap of being stuck in your own head and forgetting that you have a team of talented people around you to bounce ideas off. Involving colleagues from different disciplines makes sure your ideas are do-able and that the wider team – who’ll ultimately be executing the work – is bought-in.

So next time a brief lands on your desk, get your own ideas down, grab a few of your work pals, a pack of Post-its and do some blue-sky thinking.


Louise Buckley

Senior Planner.
Strong strategies. Strong brews.