H.Y.P.E. - Anatomy of a strategic planner: from young to good to great.

by Jorian Vanvossel - July 15, 2015

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"What is a strategic planner and what does it take to be (a great) one?”

For 7 weeks, this was the central question at the 3rd edition of H.Y.P.E.:  a training programme organised by ‘Young Planners Belgium’ in cooperation with the ACC and APG. 

H.Y.P.E., short for Holistic Young Planners Education, stands for the sharing of knowledge across agency borders. Initially this programme was set up at the request of several young planners who needed a training that incorporated all the aspects of strategic planning that they were faced with in their budding careers.

This led to the H.Y.P.E programme being presented in a fixed format: based on a specific theme, a strategic director of one of the participating agencies and a carefully selected guest speaker are invited to share their knowledge and talk about what a great planner is in relation to their expertise.

The objective is to determine how to help professionals under 30 with less than 3 years of planning experience develop from promising young planners to good - and preferably great – planners.

Let me start by stating the obvious: strategic planners like to talk about their business. To a planner, the sharing of knowledge is an essential part of his job. Regardless of whether it’s a colleague, a client or a counterpart from another agency, it’s in the planner’s DNA to continually share and discuss insights. In other words, he isn’t afraid to share. This is the main factor that sets him apart from the creative mind who must at all times guard and protect the intellectual property rights of his idea.

Illustrative in this regard is the fact that each of the 7 HYPE sessions takes place in a different agency. Boondoggle (Kristel Vanderlinden), Mortierbrigade (Vincent d'Halluin) and DDB (Dominique Poncin) are just a few of the agencies who welcomed the young dogs in their midst. The list also included These Days Y&R, represented by Nicolas Moerman. Apart from the added bonus of experiencing first-hand what these agencies look like from the inside, it also illustrates the openness with which strategic departments are managed.

When asked to pinpoint the key success factor to great strategic planning, one would expect a number of different answers ranging from good research, experience or maybe even the strategic toolkit.

Facts, figures & deep understandings of a subject, for instance, define the starting point from which the planner can start operating. Above all, these are the elements that distinguish a factual statement from a personal opinion. But once the strategic framework is laid out, it may come as a bit of a surprise that there is a broad consensus on one factor that determines the strength of strategic choices. Indeed, although the strategic output of many elements, including the ones mentioned above, can be explained on the back of a beer coaster, the difference between ‘good’ & ‘great’ boils down to a single recurring factor: the gut-feeling.

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According to many great planners, it’s the art of mastering when & where to follow your gut-feeling that distinguishes good planners from great ones.

After all, the core of what the strategic planner does evolves around that eternal quest for ‘an insight that fits’: a way of life enabling a brand to get in touch with consumers and play a role in their lives.

For instance, for Guinness it’s the unique 119.5 seconds-ritual of pouring a perfect draught that inspired them to take their stance, telling the world that ‘good things come to those who wait’.

As a planner, claiming an insight should therefore make you feel that you’re solving something or filling a need. This is where the gut-feeling comes in. Not surprisingly, arriving at insights constitutes the biggest challenge of the strategic function and simplicity often plays a key role in this regard. Making complicated things simple is what differentiates great planners from those who make simple things complicated.

“Important in this regard”, says Kristel Vanderlinden, “is not to confuse an insight with neither an idea nor an observation.” An insight differs from an observation in that it is not merely a recording of behaviour; it provides an answer to the question of why certain behaviour occurs. In order to be insightful, the ‘why’-question aims to understand ‘why’ people think the way they think or do the things they do.

A practical example would be the observation that ‘women only wear 30% of the clothes in their wardrobe’. An insight resulting from this observation could then be that ‘to women, clothes are like flowers’: they prefer to let them wilt instead of throwing them away when the time comes.

Conversely, an idea is what you do with the insight. And an insight can be the first step on the way to an idea. But there can’t really be an idea, at least not a great one, without first having an insight.

More than anything else, an insight indicates a direction and defines the playing field within which creative minds can develop their ideas. From a creative point of view, the insight aims to unlock creativity and fuel ideas. Or as stated by Vincent D’Halluin : “It turns the planner into a creator of directions for the creative department.”

The objective H.Y.P.E. has set itself is showing young strategists the way to great strategy and handing them the necessary tools to achieve this goal. Or how, just this once, ‘sharing’ truly amounts to ‘caring’ for the future of our business.

Jorian Vanvossel

Content & Social Marketeer