16 December 2007

Why agencies should employ more fish: Guy Murphy

Excerpts from Guy Murphy’s talk at Provoke 2.0, the JWT India Planners Meet 2007

A Planners job is to help create great brands. In so doing, a Planner should help create opportunities for great creative work, and help inspire the creation of that work. Or at least increase the chances of those things happening.
Networked Creativity
The most successful global entertainment properties on TV started life as successful local entertainment properties that were exported from country to country. Sex and City, Survivor, Big Brother are global successes that started life being right for the US, Sweden and Holland respectively. It is hard to imagine what ‘Sex and the City’ would have been like if it was originally conceived as a global entertainment property. Certainly the name would have changed. Global focus groups would have re-titled it ‘Sex, but not before marriage, and never unprotected, in the city, and in rural areas’.
But when a TV production company sets out to create a global success formula from the start then the result is creatively weak. Miss World, the Eurovision Song Contest and It’s a Knockout are global TV formats that tend to be creatively weak.
Great global ideas start life as great local ideas. The trick is to encourage local ideas, spot the great ones and export them to other places. We call this ‘Networked Creativity’.

Vision rather than Insights
The second area in which I sense we are narrowing our inspiration is to do with a thing called consumer insight. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says this phrase.
Consumer insight is becoming some kind of Holy Grail for marketers and Agency people. The current belief is that you can’t have a great strategy or a great creative brief or a great piece of advertising if it doesn’t contain some insightful thought about the target audience at the centre.
We have gone insight mad. I sensed that things had gone too far when last year I was asked by someone, who’s job title was ‘Head of Consumer Insight’, to speak at their conference, which was entitled, ‘Consumer Insight’, and her brief to me was, ‘Could I speak about, ‘my insights about consumer insights’.
We seem to have forgotten that consumer insight and insight generally is a means to an end and not an end in itself. The quality of consumer insight is entirely dependent upon the quality of the creative work it can inspire.
But there is a bigger point here. Great creativity does not require consumer insight. Consumer insight can sometimes help but it can be completely absent from the creation of something wonderful. There are many, many other things that can help great creative work than consumer insight.
But I am trying to make a bigger point than simply cast doubt on consumer insight. I don’t dislike consumer insight at all. Like many others these days, I am concerned that the role of agencies is increasingly seen as a narrow one. The more we are reduced to ‘insight spotters’ the more it negates the bigger role we can actually play.
Our creativity must be used to help businesses and brands take huge leaps forward. We should be creating big, new, delicious futures that provide creative opportunities in abundance. If on the way we unearth a consumer insight or two then marvellous but let’s not get dragged down into the level of insights at the beginning. The question should always be, ‘what vision do we have for this brand?’ not ‘how can we get the right consumer insight?’
Stephen King spoke about the importance of Planners being ‘Grand Strategists’. Men and women who could look to the long term, create a view for how a brand could be, and map out what solutions would be needed - communications, product, distribution. Be ‘Brand Designers’, he said. From this wide perspective creative people can graze on the finest opportunities that are just not afforded by an insight or two.

Long term brand ideas vs short term execution
In times of great change we all have to spend time learning all the new things. And right now those things are very executional. How should we best use interactivity in communication? What’s the right way to advertise on mobile phones? How should brands communicate on social networking sites? How should we integrate our use of different media channels? What is the right balance of budget for on and off-line communication?
These are all very important questions to ask, and difficult questions to answer. But we must keep asking and keep trying to answer these questions.
However, there is a danger that we are getting trapped in execution. We try to solve the problems of all the bits and pieces of communication but never look to see what it all adds to. Adding a great new on-line game to a campaign can often be a source of pride but what is it doing to the make the overall effect greater? We can often get excited about a great execution for YouTube that secures millions of views but what does it add up to when viewed alongside the rest of the communication for a brand?
We should not just be creating executional greatness for the bits of a campaign we should understand what the sum of the bits could be.
Stephen King wrote back in the 1970s that brands were becoming diced up into separate parts as different agencies were getting their hands on different aspects of the brand’s marketing. He pointed out that a brand is a holistic entity that must be planned as such. I think his fears are ever more true today.
The most consistently brilliant creativity that I see these days comes from brands that seem to have a very clear sense of what they are and what they want to become. It is no surprise that we see great work from clearly defined brands like Dove, Apple, Playstation, Axe… They have brand ideas. Long-standing, creatively fertile brand ideas.
Having these ideas makes it so much easier to know how to navigate all those difficult questions I mentioned. The question becomes not ‘how to advertise on mobile devices? but – in the case of Nike – ‘how to use mobile devices to encourage a sense of Just do it?” A different and much better question to be addressing
Better creativity will come from getting brand ideas first before diving into the executional bits. They will provide a clearer guide for using all the new media channels, allow for more creative opportunities in the long term, and hold the creative work together to build a coherent and exciting brand.

I would urge us all to find greater creativity in looking more broadly and searching more widely. We need to have fish-eyes, seeing the whole picture.
Let’s push ourselves to take a proper look around the world for inspiration and not get stuck thinking that great ideas must come from certain cities.
Let’s push for Grand Strategies that open up big new creative opportunities and not just fiddle with consumer insight stuff.
And let’s use the power of brand ideas to drive us to bigger creative campaigns rather than getting stuck in one-off execution.

13 December 2007

Murphy's Laws: Interview with Brand Equity

Murphy's Laws, The Economic Times, by Ravi Balakrishnan, December 12, 2007

Guy Murphy is bit of an anachronism in the world of planners - where the mere mention of 'consumer insight' makes many of his contemporaries all misty-eyed, his take on this most-beloved trope of account planning is decidedly contrarian. The planner who swears by JWT's Stephen King (regarded as the originator of account planning) finds himself in the agency his icon helped build, charged with the task of driving its creative agenda. Murphy aims at building the industry's most networked team of planners, and has them pinging each other with suggestions and information on pitches via a dedicated group on Facebook. Taking time out from a day spent inspiring and evaluating JWT India's clutch of planners, Murphy, JWT's global planning director, speaks his mind on research, creativity and lots more.

For an agency that was grounded in strategy, how was the creative resurgence received by account planners at JWT?
I think the creative resurgence has been received very well by everybody, especially planners; it's the reason we joined the business. The bit that was less clear was what the role was for planners in the new agenda. It's not a complicated answer - planners are fundamental to a move for a more creative agency. The options for how a brand can communicate are so many that you need someone to make sense of it all. That's the preserve of the planning department - to guide us through a complicated world and do things with a proper sense of 'why' rather than just to be trendy and new.

Do you believe part of the reason you were brought in from BBH (where he was deputy chairman) was to reassert the importance of planning at JWT?
It's not that they needed me or any head of planning to apply to a certain recent initiative or issue. But you are not a complete management line-up without a head of planning. One of the reasons why I was an acceptable candidate is I'm a firm believer in the quality of creative work, and the role of planning to help deliver that.

In a lot of agencies, with planning taking the centrestage and arrogating for itself the thinking part of the business, what is the future of account management?
The future of account management… that's a $64,000 question! My belief is we are seeing equality of relationships. What I see in the emphasis of creativity is a re-balancing to ensure the creative voice is heard. I don't think anybody knows what the role of account management is in the future. Something I'd point to is that nowadays there are many, many agencies involved in a campaign. And one of the skills is to help know how to handle multiple agencies and lead them in a kind of collaborative force to create a great answer. Account management could be the specialist in becoming the lead agency pointing others in the right direction and helping them work together.

There are several definitions of planning in vogue - from Stephen King's conception of the planner being a combination of a marketing person and a media person to the idea of a planner being the voice of the consumer within an agency. How would you define the role?
Planners help build great brands and in so doing provide exciting creative opportunities for the agency. King spent no time really trying to define what planning was. One of the dangers of the discipline is that it becomes too obsessed with itself. There will always be many definitions, but that doesn't mean people are unclear on what it is. It's just that we do things in so many different ways.

There was a feeling even among the Account Planning Group a few years ago that planning was becoming a bit too esoteric and self indulgent…
As an industry, planners have to stop worrying about what they do and whether it's helping. In some way, it's a reflection of our intellectual honesty and integrity - being constantly concerned about adding value. We don't have an obvious metric. Creatives have awards and account management has client satisfaction surveys and budgets. Those are false metrics anyway, but people rest on them. I really don't have much time for the question - the answer is clear and we should just go on and do it. Besides, I don't think we are arcane…

In many advertising case studies, planners switch between debunking research entirely and using it to ratify their strategies - there are enough examples of both approaches having succeeded. How do you decide when to go with research and when to disregard it?
You should never see research as an arbiter of a decision. It's just one of the tools and inputs. There are many other factors to be considered - what you believe internally, what the sales force considers appropriate… But for many, it has become the yes/no gate, which shouldn't be the case. If you have a strong enough vision of how the world should be and have a well-founded belief in that vision, then it's fine. Most of the time, when we've done a good job, we change the world a little. Research is never going to come back easy on those answers.

How did your current mistrust of consumer insights as they are popularly used in the advertising context develop?
I've always believed there are many things that can get you to a good answer - not just understanding consumers. I'm not against insights; they are useful. And I'm not saying don't talk to or try and understand the consumer. I used insights a little, but never particularly stuck to it. My personal style of planning (and that of agencies I've been with before) always prided itself on originality and uniqueness. But over the past two or three years, we've been bombarded with 'what's the insight?' It's becoming a frenzy now, eclipsing other things. Ideas are being rejected because they are perhaps not 'insightful' enough. People seem happier with consumer insights more than the work; they think the creative product is great because it stems from an insight. It becomes a big magnet that everything is drawn towards to the exclusion of other things. Processes are being designed primarily to get a consumer insight.

JWT has a team of trendspotters on board - how does the planning department work with them, considering in many other agencies planners themselves are expected to play this role? Do you commission your studies to them?
There are people in New York, Italy… some in Argentina. Those are the three places I know for sure, where they quite formally do trendspotting work. In South America, 'cool hunting', as they call it, has become a real fashion right now. Trendspotting is just one of our inputs. Their work gets published into the network and sometimes externally too - that's how people have heard of Marian Salzman.
They are involved in two types of assignments - Marian and her team will have an eye out for what future trends might be. They commission work, explore it and maybe publish it. By the end of every year, they'll come up with what's going to happen next year. We have access to that information. The second aspect is when we have a particular point on an account and want to try to understand; for instance, notions of beauty and femininity in the case of Estee Lauder. We used the trendspotters to find what it means at the moment, and how it was going to be in the future… and that becomes one of our inputs.

12 December 2007

All about the King of Planning

"Advertising has many gurus, many professors, many geniuses, and many mavericks. But only one King.” So said the Delhi ad club invitation to hear Stephen King speak in 1992!

Who was he?

Stephen King was a genuinely original thinker. He began his career in JWT (J. Walter Thompson) in London in 1959, retired from the agency in 1988 and spent the next 4 yeas at WPP. In addition, he spent 7 years as a director of the Henley Centre and was a Visiting Professor of Marketing at the Cranfield School of Management. During his career, he pioneered an entirely new organizational structure to support his ideas and philosophy – the importance of a function called account planning and the role of the account planner in creating advertising. It was a structure that was copied by agencies around the world. Stephen died in February 2006, leaving a legacy of articles and books about marketing, advertising, research and brand communications written over a thirty year period, which have influenced advertising people around the world. He is remembered as a leading intellectual figure in the world of communications strategy.

What he did

Stephen King was the originator of the discipline of Account Planning – gave the advertising industry the thinking and the theory it needed, and the organizational structure that exists even today.
He saw account planners on a scale of grand strategists – intellectual, aim to see the big picture, are a little above the fray, and almost economists, to advert tweakers - who peer myopically at advertisements, justify creative work to skeptical clients and are almost qualitative researchers.
He created the Account Planners toolkit: “this manual contains J Walter Thompson’s views on how to plan the most effective advertising. This is what account planning is for; to get the most effective advertising.”
He gave JWT the underpinning of its reputation in being strong in strategy, doing the right thing for brands and building long term brand value.

Some of the tenets which defined JWT Planning and became part of its DNA

"Great planning is grounded creativity".
“Creative imagination subjected to critical control.”
“Planning is about learning and improvement, not proof and magic solutions.”
“Proof/data in not just about the fact that the advertising worked, but how and why it worked.”
“Work out the right problem to solve.”
“Be precise in the role of advertising.”

The principles that Stephen King set out are all the operating principles even today.

*Advertisements vs advertising
*Stimulus vs response: it’s not what advertising does to people but how people respond to advertising
*The role of advertising, and the scale of immediacy that he devised and the theory that advertisements can work at several points in the scale:
- direct (response)
- seek information(tell me more)
- relate to own needs, wants, desires ( what a good idea)
- recall satisfaction, reinforce, reorder (that reminds me)
- modify attitudes (really?)
- reinforce attitudes(i always knew I was right)
*What sort of research to do depends on which is the most important role for advertising
*Toolkit that spanned the planning cycle, consumer buying system, brand objective, unique brand personality, target group, target responses, role of advertising, choice of medi, creative brief as stimulus and the advertising idea
*Advertising must not only get the right response but also stimulate the maximum intensity of response.
*Long term effects can be harder to evaluate but maybe more valuable to the advertiser than short term effects and so must not be overlooked when setting the advertising budget. It can help to have a unique hold over the hearts and mind of consumers.
*Measuring added value and long term effect.
*Advertising budget setting and market modeling.
*Constant search for what is measurable and what is not, and the need to balance good data with judgement.

What Stephen King means to JWT Planning: Guy Murphy, Worldwide Planning Director, JWT

“Stephen King’s thinking forms a big part of the JWT brand of Planning that I want to pursue. Please read his work and enjoy his prescience and clarity.”
“I first read his work when I was a Trainee Account Planner at BMP, I quoted his thinking on brands to clients throughout my time at BBH, and now I find myself at JWT, where of course, the culture is steeped in his planning heritage, and my files are full of his writing.”

10 December 2007

JWT launches "A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King"

JWT planners converged at their annual meet Provoke 2.0 last week to welcome Guy Murphy, their Worldwide Planning Director and discuss account planning visionary Stephen King’s stunning relevance.

The meet saw the launch of the book "A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King". Prophecies of the King, an evening with the media was a celebration of the life of a man regarded as the father of account planning. In the picture you see Shweta and Vishal, two of the youngest planners, receiving the first copies of the book form Guy Murphy, and Rohit Ohri, managing Partnet, JWT Delhi.

Published by Wiley, the book contains 20 of King’s most important articles. Each one is introduced by a respected practitioner who describes the relevance of the article to the communications environment today. The contributors include professionals from Ogilvy, WPP, Marketing Society, Market Leader, Interbrand, Mindshare, BBDO andJWT among others.

For those who may not know, King was the originator of the discipline of Account Planning – he gave the advertising industry the thinking and the theory it needed, and the organisational structure that exists even today. In fact, when he was in Delhi in 1992, an invitation to hear him speak at the Ad Club said," … advertising has many gurus, many professors, many geniuses, and many mavericks. But only one King”!

What he said about advertising

“Don’t measure what advertising does to people, start at the other end and ask what people do with ads.”

“If advertising is to succeed, it has to involve the receiver and entice him into participating actively in whatever is being communicated about the brand. It has to stretch his imagination and make him an accomplice.”

“ Advertisements compete not only with other advertisements but also with editorial, programmes, people, events and life itself… all of us spend our lives subconsciously zapping what we have decided almost instantaneoulsly , not to be interested in”.

What he said about consumers

“Consumers nowadays are extremely expert in advertising; they see a great deal of it and they have quite precise – and usually accurate – ideas about what it’s for. Again and again research has shown them analyzing advertisements much as agency people or brand managers do, often using the same jargon. They show skills in decoding visual imagery, working out the strategy, picking up clues, seeing the company behind the brand, accepting quick cuts, recognizing the actors in voice-overs, and so on.
What has changed most in recent years is that today they are more inclined to believe that not just the brand but advertising itself should give them some sort of reward – aesthetic, emotional or intellectual. They see advertisements not only as a medium through which company talks to them but also as part of the style, skills and personality of the company itself. To them, the style of the advertising is as much a part of a brand as the pack is.”

All this he said in the 70s!

Glimpses form the book flap

“The book tells the modern young planner in these pressed times who they are and what they should be.”
- Malcolm White, Planning Partner, Krowe

"What is a Brand?’ by Stephen King was one of the most influential pieces of work ever and has had a lasting influence on the way in which I think about brands. A few years ago I had the extraordinary experience of re-visiting the video of it made by Stephen and Jeremy Bullmore and the stunning thing was how prescient they had been some thirty years previously.
- Hamish Pringle, Director General, IPA

"King’s relentless thirst to understand, rigour of questioning and breadth of learning remain an inspiration. A profoundly rewarding, and rather humbling read.
- Adam Morgan, author of Eat the Big Fish, and The Pirate Inside

Media coverage on the book launch