planning conference

This week's AAAA planning conference was my first, and I really had a fantastic time... hope to go to many more. I've finally gotten settled in and had a chance to get some thoughts down, so I hope it all makes o.k. sense.

Chuck Porter, CP+B
A couple of things that he talked about resonated with me. One, that they KNOW it's advertising, so talk to people in a proper tone of voice... don't take yourself too seriously as a marketer.

Two, cuddle up to the audience, find them when you can really talk to them and give them something they'll love... the Virgin airlines 7-minute adult-like film came out of this CP+B belief.

Ann Hand from BP - a client's point of view:
Some advice she gave to us: "We never did a brand book or anything like that... I didn't even know what they were until a year ago... our agency never asked for it". So the lesson for us: if you want to do something more interesting than the usual, ask. It reminded me of the old junior high cliche to shy guys - "if you want to go to the winter dance with _____ (in my case, Sarah), just ask her".

More planner advice was for us to be the glue, to help make your client's life easier. Internal battles like "who's idea is it?" between media companies/creative teams/ etc. are no good, and we should of course keep the client out of this stuff. This is one of those incredibly-tough-to-implement things, because getting attention from the client is important, esp. if several agencies or interests are involved. Who's going to be willing to be the glue and make the client's life easier, but not get credit (and would the client even know if you "protected" them from the battle?)

She ended with the comment that she wants her agency to make her uncomfortable, she should be pulling the agency back in rather than pushing us - a great thing to hear a client say.

Andrew Deitchman, Mother NY
A highly entertaining talk, about what you'd expect from Mother. Mixed into a treatise on selling a new fake product called Dogmatic (portable customizable gourmet sausages -- was it real or fake??), he touched on several excellent points.

For a Coke energy drink, Full Throttle, they went out and in the research process thought to ask how many of the product users had ever been in a fist fight. They found that people who drink 6+ energy drinks a day are 40% more likely to get in a fistfight than people who drink 1-2 a day. What a great way to talk to the creative team about the target, rather than the usual "...25-28 year-old men who like to party. They enjoy hanging out in clubs and bars, and occassionally get into trouble. They need the energy in Full Throttle to stay pumped up for their active lifestyle..." That fighting stat is really all the inspiration they need.

Another thing he talked about is that solutions aren't as easy as "let's write a blog about it", or "whatever brand: The Podcast". Another fine example - for Virgin's One-text (texting for a penny), they started a campaign to save the penny. (Some background, a Senator in DC is trying to kill the coin as it now costs 1.4 cents to produce a penny). Mother hired Britney's baby-daddy K-Fed for a day-long event/concert in NYC, and coverage flowed in from all those gossipy TV shows and more, getting an obscene amount of PR impressions.

Next up, Russell's talk with the oia folks (wishing them wild successes). He put us into action -- we broke into teams for 2 different activities. One was to build a marshmallow-supporting tower out of a limited supply of spaghetti, floss, and tape. After many futile attempts, we felt like idiots when we found out the "answer".

Then, our team drew these 4 cards out of a deck and had to come up with an idea tying them all together. We pulled:

Loads of fun. And it was great to get out of the straight-backed chairs and feel like a kid for awhile. Lesson learned -> creativity isn't random, but what sparks it may be. Hope posting that pic is ok, Russell.

Richard Tait, founder of Cranium was the big speaker on the first night, and he didn't disappoint. He showed such passion for what he did, it was infectious to see him so animated.

He talked a lot about internal culture, making it fun for people to work. They also believe in the power of Craniacs -- registered lovers of the game, who number 400,000. Cranium goes to great lengths to make customers happy, they write games specifically for marriage proposals, basing questions on the customer's life and relationship.

He wrapped up with this quote/advice: "Orville Wright did not have a pilot's license". Challenge the norms, get out and experience life, look everywhere.

Dr. Bob Deutsch of Brain Sells
Dr. Bob reminded me a lot of Neal Burns for many reasons. His talk centered around a lot of things, the most important of which was his first point -- a word choice thing: Stop talking about consumers, but think of them as people.
"99 out of 100 people are amazingly interesting, and the 1 that isn't is interesting because of that" - William F. Buckley, Jr.
On chimpanzees: they are creative - why? Because they have the time. They play with a stick until it becomes something useful (a tool). We need to make the time to play around.

On branding and inspiration: current definitions are very textbook-like, and they're no good. Brands succeed when there is a "spasm of sentiment" -> he told a shaman story that is best heard, I feel that typing it up won't do it justice.

This all goes back to an idea that we were talking about at the office a few weeks back during a pitch, that as planners, people are our currency. Account managers have the brand and business knowledge, creatives have the ideas, and we have the people.

TLC and The Martin Agency: Life Lessons, collaboration through creativity
Slambrosia (def.): The slamming pace of life as a thirtysomething and the ambrosia/joy that comes along with that

It's all about celebrating the messiness of life. Martin proposed that TLC lead the way in understanding the lives of thirtysomethings who are in the midst of dogs, cats, kids, work. They worked together to create a book all about the messiness, because that's what is really fun. They were kind enough to hand them out, and I hope to write more on the good stuff inside later.

One of the best quotes of the conference came out of this talk: "Planners spend so much time figuring out the customer, spend some time figuring out the client... the client is your advocate, give them what they need to sell your ideas internally in the hallways." So, should we start developing a "client planning" specialty now? That question was meant to be a joke. I hope.

The head of my department, Christina Raia, led a break-out session on engineering & psychology along with her sister, an engineer. They debated various theories of the 2 disciplines and how they applied to planning. The lesson in all this is really powerful, that we can be inspired by all sorts of things... we should look everywhere for ideas and ideas to apply to what we do. Like Richard H. says, read weird shit, it always comes in handy.

The last day started in inspirational fashion - a coffee morning with the man himself... what a generous guy. It was a blast.

Nick Barham from TBWA/China - a global view
Nick talked about the current tension in China: the dizzying sense of opportunity (kids) vs. enjoying what you have (the adults). Kids over there are swelling with optimism - "like a bunch of Richard Taits".

They really want to beat America in everything we do -- no other country does everything that America does as good as we do. Germany has superior autos. Italy has better food. Sweden has better spirits. The list goes on. But China is trying to be superior to the U.S. on ALL these things and more. They are sending a team to the moon in 2017... the next U.S. mission is scheduled for 2018.

Domenico Vitale wrapped it with the idea that: Inspiration. Just. Happens. And that's what I took home from this conference on the big-picture level - to get out and experience things, go for a run, go to concerts, make myself uncomfortable, read odd magazines and books... get those experiences as varied as possible, I never know when the inspiration will hit.

A great conference overall. Johanna also has some well-put thoughts on it all. Still hard to believe that both of us studied psych together at college and ended up at this conference. Amazing. I also learned I've got a twin in the planning community, so that's kind of exciting. Hope to track him down next year. Steve (driving Brand new for the last few days) has put together a few good posts as well. Nice stuff.

Anyone go to other fun small sessions? How was the Hall and Partners ethnography one? I wish we had three full days to take in more of those. In conversations with others at the conference, having people from all sorts of professions coming in and talking with us was pretty powerful... the committee did a great job of that. The case studies and talking about communications is definitely important, and I hope we continue to expand the emphasis on looking at other disciplines. Bring in the architects, carpenters, dog walkers, bartenders, sailors, fashion designers, cooks, actors, professional poker players, inventors, athletes, scientists, the list goes on and on...

Webcasts of some speeches linked here. Piers has put his presentation up here, and a video here. And thanks to those who made it this far in the post, hope it was worthwhile.


At 9:03 AM , Blogger johanna said...

Thanks for linking to all of my posts, Josh! I am flattered. Most of what I wrote was quick and not very well-written (unlike yours - wonderful). I appreciate it. It was good to see you again!

At 8:56 AM , Blogger joshcarlton said...

you're welcome, and thanks! I got a lot out of your post on Nick from TBWA China, who was one of my favorites now that I'm thinking back to the conference as a whole.


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