Sunday, July 16, 2006

Coffee with JWT strategist Hadi Zabad

DC: Is planning undervalued in the region or does the region lack value in

H: Before we even discuss what sort of value planning has in the region, I’d ask that we agree on what sort of planning we’re actually talking about to begin with. ‘Planning’ itself is by definition quite a loose and fuzzy function. To complicate matters even further, we’re hampered by how different agencies in this region colour the role themselves. To one agency planners are glorified brand managers, in another they’re new business runners, and in a third they’re creative partners. So, is planning undervalued? Depends on your definition. Does the region lack value in planning? Depends on the planner.

DC: From Leo Burnett you moved to what many dub the founding agency of the
'Brand Planning' discipline, JWT. Could you compare and contrast the
differences between an agency where planning is tied into the account
management role(LB) and an agency where planning is a fully integrated yet
separate discipline in the communication process (JWT)?

H: I consider the time I spent at Leo as preparation for my eventual leap into planning at JWT. I believe the difference is mainly one of dedication and time – and therefore quality of actual ‘planning’. My personal opinion is that if an agency ties planning into another role, planning becomes tied down. After all, planning is a full time job with a whole list of responsibilities – and getting into the heads of consumers represents a big chunk of those responsibilities. Expecting account management, who are already tasked with making so much happen on a day-to-day basis, to bear the responsibilities of a planner sounds to me a bit stretched.

Let’s not kid ourselves though; you’d be hard pressed to distinguish between agencies that employ planners and those that do not by merely looking at the quality of their creative output. But what I strongly believe is that we can and actually do help communications become more effective, which is more likely to happen in agencies that regard planning as a separate discipline.

DC: If you had to hire an ambitious young planner 2 candidates stood before
you, an ex suit and an ex creative (copy writer), this being the decisive
factor who would you hire and why?

I really wish it were as simple as all that but a job title alone just won’t help me in deciding who to hire. I’d have to look beyond that. But between the suit and the creative I would most probably end up hiring the one who is:
1. less full of him/herself, because ones self-image and perceptions get in the way of seeing things with a fresh perspective.
2. more able to make creative connections between things that other people ignore – to think laterally and voice non-cliché points of view.
3. the better listener. This industry is saturated with big talkers, most of whom haven’t taken the time to listen for, and absorb the problem before coming up with solutions. And whether in a suit or torn jeans, I’d rather not work with a know-it-all.

DC: All planners we have had coffee with so far have had their own personal idiosyncrasies on what a planner is and does.
Saatchi Dubai's strategist Brenda saw herself as an
archeologist, Burnett Chicago's Tamer Kattan, a Philosopher. What's in
JWT's Hadi then?

H: I’m going to steer away from prescribed professional roles and say Aspirin.

The Head of Cardiology at the National Institute of Health puts it best I think (except for the cheap and relatively safe part): "Aspirin is a great drug: effective, cheap, and relatively safe. The drug has been used by just about everybody, so it may not have the sex appeal of newer drugs, but it can have a huge beneficial impact if used properly. Looking at aspirin's impact, on heart attacks for example, it may be equal to or better than some drug therapies that cost thousands of dollars." So in short, we’re versatile problem solvers. It’s never one job, but in the end the objective is the same: more effective communication with our target audience.

DC: Name me 2 of your favorite regional campaigns that have 'planner' written
all over 'em.

H: I have to marry two distinct parts of myself to answer this question – the cynic in me who declares “I don’t have any favorite regional campaigns” and the optimist (blasted fellow!) who says “we’ve made strides” and points to some above ‘ok’ campaigns. On second thoughts I object to this marriage taking place. I’m going to cop out and name 2 campaigns that have nothing to do with this region:

VW GTI’s “Unpimp your auto!”
Honda’s “Hate is Good” campaign

Why those two? Exactly because you don’t see the insights (planner) screaming back at you. Even as an advertising exec you can’t help but react to these campaigns as a human first, adman second. The trouble with ‘planning’ and ‘insights’ in this region is they’ve become catchphrases – let’s seek out our target, find out what they’re like (who are they, what do they do?) and then mirror them back in our advertising. Makes sense doesn’t it? To make use of a Jeremy Bullmore analogy - we’re comedians coming on stage saying ‘I’m funny, no really’ when what we really should be doing is telling a joke and letting the audience decide for themselves.

DC: Many thanks Hadi for your time and good luck with JWT.


Anonymous GB said...

I would see more merit in hiring a creative as a planner. The creativity involved in planning, or good planning is not something that comes standard in most suits.

Only impedement would be the creatives difficulty in leaving the development of an idea in someone elses hands.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

VW GTI’s “Unpimp your auto!”

Rumor has it that Crispen actually recruit anthropologists as opposed to planners.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Spoon said...

i think missing out on an answer for the last question answers question 1.

The region lacks value in planning indicated by the lack of regional campaigns involving good planning.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous spoon said...

i think missing out on an answer for the last question answers question 1.

The region lacks value in planning indicated by the lack of regional campaigns involving good planning.

7:29 PM  
Blogger X said...

There are plenty of good planners in Dubai and plenty of good agencys. I think clients also might play a part in Hadis inability to nominate a good regional campaign.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Hadi said...

Crispin Porter package their planners as 'cognitive anthropologists', so the rumour you refer to is half correct. They're still planners nevertheless because the objective of their job is one and the same. Gotta admit though, cognitive anthropologist has a nice ring to it.

Businessweek had an excellent article on the Crispin/VW story. Recommend you read:

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Hadi said...

Link got screwed up for some reason. Here it goes again:

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Hadi said...

gb - I think most people would agree with you. Being an ex-suit myself, however, I would point out that acct mgmt tends to be the purgatory of planners more often than the creative department.

spoon - by choosing campaigns beyond this region all I'm really trying to say is I don't have any favorite regional campaigns. I don't believe this region lacks value in planning. Like I said, it really comes down to the individual planner. The irony is that 'planning' can claim partial credit for some of the worst campaigns I've seen in this region as well as some of the better ones.

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Account people can potentially do just as good a job as a creative person, they know clients, they know markets, they are less attached to the work being produced. Many if these elements are central to planning.

6:36 PM  
Blogger X said...

I think an issue may potentially be the lack of a planning body similair to the APG in the regions,whos job it is to elevate the level of planning through trainings and seminars, published case studies, awards etc...

Planners in this regiona rarely recieve any schooling and have to do most of their training on their own.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous incognito said...

Here's a question building on x's last comment -

Do you guys believe this region is ready for a planning body such as the APG?

I'm sure there's no perfect moment to launch such a body - part of me actually agrees with the point of view that there's never a wrong time for such a body. yet the cynic side of me only wonders if there's much to say so far about planning in the region.

Although it seems we have a lot of potentials and great planners around - we would probably spend most of our time trying to convince the ad agencies we work for that we can add value at all beyond 'new business teams' or 'glorified brand guardians'.

Can anyone think of any great case studies from this region? Hadi struggled, and so would I to be honest. Perhaps someone can share one now...

1:19 AM  
Anonymous Hadi said...

I believe this region - Dubai specifically - is not just ready for an APG, but in desperate need of one. Planners in Dubai are growing in number and there are also many budding planners just waiting for an opportunity to come onto the scene. So there's more to it than just elevating the quality of planning. It's a great networking tool as well.

And on a separate note, if no one comes up with any great case studies from this region, then maybe we should ask for great case studies of what not to do? Just a suggestion. Incognito, I'm sure you're ready and willing.

10:16 PM  
Blogger X said...


4:47 PM  

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