4 Key Takeaways From This Year’s 4A’s Stratfest

4 Key Takeaways From This Year’s 4A’s Stratfest

My agency was kind enough to register me for this year’s Stratfest.  Maybe because of all the hours I had poured into writing Jay Chiat award entries? Regardless, I was more than happy to leave the office to hear what other planners in the industry are saying.  Here are my four key takeaways from the two days of stratfest-ing: 

1. Planners who use data are cool again

I often get asked what kind of planner I am. “Are you a data-led planner or a creative planner?” Do I really have to choose one or the other -- a poet or a numerate?  For some reason, I feel judged when I admit to loving data.  The truth is, planners were born from research and data. Stanley Pollit, the so-called founder of planning, said that when people realized more available data was leading to sharper advertising, agencies started to recruit researchers to become planners.  But they were unsuccessful, as research had grown comfortable in their back rooms.  So the planning father decided to breed planners, from numerate and broad-minded, graduates.

Tom Morton, SVP Strategy, R/GA, led a workshop on Monday afternoon, “Data for Storytellers,” which renewed my self-assurance about being a data-led planner. He showed us how to use the right data points to pivot our strategies and shared case studies on how brands like Nike Fuel Band and Mountain Dew leveraged data as the raw material for creativity.  He also shared this quote from Saatchi & Saatchi Chief Strategy Officer Richard Huntington that proved there is false distinction between a data-led and a creatively-led planner: “Separating the poets from the quants will be a disaster for strategic planning in particular, allowing some planners to exempt themselves from the data they can't be bothered to investigate, and allowing other people to think that they are a strategist though they haven't a brand strategy or creative bone in their body.”

2. Media planners now have a seat the table

It used to be that the topic of media was only covered during the last five minutes of our meetings, but now it is coming up earlier in the conversation. I noticed this same trend at Stratfest this year. Jane Lacher from Zenith led a workshop on how media is the new creative and Jamie Power of Modi Media talked about bringing the power of data to television.

I know there are many reasons for this, but my thought is that it’s a mix of the rapidly shifting media landscape plus the shift of many media agencies starting to make the creative work themselves. For example, just look at Mindshare’s Invention Studio, their “media as creative unit,” or how media agency Initative hired a Chief Creative Officer.

3. You cant just plop video on mobile

By some estimates, people have added one more hour of media into their week in the past 12 months -- all of it being mobile video. We are all making more videos for mobile.  But the way it is typically created is by starting with a 30-second ad, and then editing it down for mobile. But that approach is wrong. Ben Jones, Google’s creative director who runs the Unskippable Labs team, gave a talk on Monday about his team’s many in-market experiments with mobile video.  He said: “If you want to see how the lion hunts, don’t go to the zoo – put your work out in the world and see what happens.” The experiments found that longer is actually better than shorter, and quicker is better than slower. It’s about delivering more information faster. He also gave some tips on what people are most receptive to when watching videos from their mobile devices. People prefer faces to places, grainy to smooth finish, and front versus angled views. Pacing and movement is more important than orientation.  And no matter what – keep it weird.

4. I’m not the only planner who questions my existence

I can’t tell you how many days I come home wondering what impact my thinking has on this world or on a much smaller scale, my agency.  I thought I was alone with this thought and decided to keep it to my therapist. But it turns out I am not the only planner who questions my value add. This topic actually came up twice during Stratfest. The first was at the end of Day 1. Jann Schwarz, LinkedIn’s Global Director of Agency & Channel Development, shared some survey results revealing that more agencies are losing rather than gaining planners.  And the next day, Chief Cultural Strategy Officer at Sparks & Honey Sarah Da Vanzo pointed out that many planners feel they would add more value on the client side than on their agency side.

I think this feeling comes with the territory. In the meantime, I will continue to be a poet and a numerate and help my agency create sharper advertising. 

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