It’s been one hell of a year right across the industry and few would argue that planners have faced massive challenges. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Advertising Council Australia chatted with Account Planning Group Co-Chair Kate Smither about planning in the COVID (and post-COVID) era, her views on what good has come out of 2020, and why the APG categories in AWARD Awards are so relevant to creativity.

With our industry having had to face a year unlike any other, how have planners had to adapt to such uncertain times for advertising?

It seems like 2020 has brought everything into focus. As not just our industry, but the world, has faced the pandemic, complexity has been stripped away. Debates over what people will adapt to or adopt, have gone and it has been a  year of getting back to basics. In this context, the planner’s brain which (above all else) interrogates problems and seeks ways to differentiate has never been more important. 2020 has created brand inertia, brands all got locked down when we did and we are now just starting to see them coming alive again. Just as we saw every brand have almost identical “Covid #” it will be interesting to see how planners help brands now plan out of the sameness and into next year. 

Do you think planning as a discipline has taken on even greater importance since the advent of COVID?

It should have but I am not totally sure it has. Someone once told me, early in my career, that people didn’t remember great strategies, they remember the great creativity that came from them. It’s a bit of a sad thought, and probably not a great one for  a young planner but in many ways it’s true. Strategy is harder to value and harder to recall so its importance in the process can be easily overlooked. In  a year when costs have been top of mind for everyone, strategy is easily reduced to a line item and an agency cost centre. But genuinely, its ability to help business and clients navigate the unprecedented should be of the utmost importance. Maybe, 2020 will be the year that will remind us all of what not just creativity but strategy can do, or maybe given the rise of contingent workforce, and the comfort with outsourcing skills, 2021 will see more strategy operating independently of agencies and direct to clients. Either way, there will be new models for everything beyond this year and strategy will be no different.  

What impact has the recession had on planning thus far?

To the point of refocusing us, 2020 has probably highlighted what all strategists have in common, whether in UX, CX, media, digital, data, technology, creative brand or business, the common core of a strategist is a curious mind and an innate love of problems. Every strategist seeks to define a problem clearly and succinctly so that a creative solution can actually be a solution. It is about strategic usefulness. This common ground should see planning become more collaborative and less siloed where lots of different thinking and different ideas around defining the problem come together.  The recession should create efficiencies in strategic thinking and hopefully result in brands getting the thinking they deserve. 

Given all the challenges of this year, have any positives resulted for the planning community going forward?

This year has forced a lot of initiatives from the APG to be cancelled – competitions, events, grassroots, thought leadership. What is positive is that all  the work has been done so that as a body and a place for strategists to learn and connect, the APG can come out strong in 2021. It has been a year for the planning community of getting ready in their day jobs and their careers for what comes next. This year has created more desire for community than years past, so if anything, it might have knocked a bit of the competitiveness out of the discipline and created a desire to really build the discipline and the sense of community for planners in Australia.  

With the AWARD Awards call for entries now open (and closing soon!), what message would you send to any agencies considering entering the APG Creative Strategy award categories?

The APG Creative Strategy Awards are an essential part of a planner’s CV. Writing them and really honing your ability to distil your strategies into a clear narrative helps build your planners and a culture of planning in agencies. And since the APGs are globally recognised planning awards they are a great way to contribute to the global database of thinking that all planners can tap into. 

Why are the planning categories important in the overall context of AWARD Awards?

The APG got lucky with the initiative [AWARD Chair] Cam [Blackley] led to reboot AWARD Awards last year, it gave the APGs a home after a couple of years off.  Adding the planning categories to the overall awards has really put a focus back on the role of strategy and its importance as part of the creative process.  The APG Creative Strategy Awards complete the commitment to work that works. If the Effies are about the end, the APGs are about the start. They help create the all important context for the work. Just as AWARD Awards is about raising the standard of creativity, the APG Awards are about recognising that part of raising those standards is brilliant, differentiated and insightful thinking.

Entries are open for the 42nd AWARD Awards and will close on Friday 11 December. Final deadline for entries (incurring a late fee) is 22 January 2021.