Coffee with Promoseven's strategist, Talal El Kateb
D: Every planner gets the same first kick off question, is planning undervalued in the region or does the region lack value in planning?
T: Chicken? Egg? Huh? In my modest opinion there seems to be two tiers of planning in the Middle East. Firstly… planning for marketing savvy clients (usually the sexiest brands out there) and secondly… planning for the clueless sales guy who just landed an undeserved promotion.
For the first grouping, the region lacks real planning talent. It lacks those strategists who love getting their hands dirty. The ones who know their “consumers” so well, they can tell you what brand chewing gum they use, who they chew it with, why they chew it, what they believe the chewing process says about them, how chewing alleviates a certain deep-seeded psychological urge for oral stimulation and what ‘hip’ chewing styles are in at the moment. On a personal note, this is what I aspire to become but I’m nowhere near that level of omnipotence regarding my targets!
The second grouping is where I feel more at home, but unfortunately it is also where “Planners” get professionally abused. At this tier of planning, we act as marketing consultants. And although, the job satisfaction of building your clients’ strategies from scratch and seeing the fruition of your efforts is ecstatic… it’s also not what you’re paid to do. When you have more clients like these, who look to you for every aspect of their marketing strategies and plans, you start losing your edge with the first, more focused job description of a planner – “The Voice of the Consumer”.
Either way, planning is becoming a cornerstone that no agency can afford to overlook, and despite the vagueness of our responsibilities, there’s always two things I love to remember… 1. I’m always learning something new. 2. My colleagues from our international headquarters are always flabbergasted at the kind of work we do here, and who doesn’t like showing up the big bosses?
D: So Talal Promoseven are known to have the most comprehensive planning department in the region, could you tell us a little bit about it and how its built into the communication process.
T: It’s true that Promoseven has one of the largest and most experienced planning networks in the region and I think the biggest strength of that is internal. It’s always stressful when you have to fight within an agency to prove your worth, but when planning is so deeply embedded in an agency’s corporate culture, it’s a walk in the park (Hyde not Safa). What’s even more impressive at Promoseven is that everyone values your opinion as a planner, from client servicing to media, and … wait for it… yes, low and behold, even the creatives value our input!!! We’re always the starting point for any major brief and we get to live through the entire communication process.
But what’s even better than enjoying these bare necessities that should automatically come with the title?
Of course we have our own proprietary tools, processes… blah blah blah, but what my favourite trait about planning at FP7 is that any planner has the means to pursue any new idea he or she may have and is fully supported, both laterally and vertically. If you’re sick of writing a brief, you can act one out! If you’re tired of coffee U & A research, you can go camp out in a Starbuck’s! If you’re bored out of your mind with bland PowerPoint, you can edit your presentation movie! When an agency is so comfortable with its planning philosophy it can afford to push past the conventional and experiment with new ways to get creative juices flowing (that always sounded so sick to me).
D: So what's Talal the planner's brand Philosophy, One word equity, Brand idea, brand connection, brand appeal, brand essence (or whatever the up to date jargon is) ?
T: What defines me and my working methods is: attention-span. I can only be productive and truly generate good work if a project has and keeps my attention, otherwise I just ‘get the job done’ for the sake of closure. Attention-span doesn’t only apply to me and what keeps me interested, it also applies to my audiences. My communication strategies are crafted in the hope that they are so unruly they will keep target audiences interested. My client presentations are injected with moments of lunacy to keep meeting attendees awake. My creative briefs are written in pseudo-creative speak (meaning I use a lot of profanity) so that they’re not crumpled up and thrown back in my face. Attention is everything!
D: We have been discussing the possibility of having some sort of a quasi APG for the region, some think that an APG is the result of good planning others argue that it's the means to elevating planning. What are your thoughts on the matter?
T: Honestly, I think your blog is the first step in setting up something like that. I couldn’t care less whether or not an APG-esque is set up for the Middle East. Who needs them? As long as we have an outlet to share thoughts amongst ourselves, just like this one, we will be feed off each other and subsequently better our intellectual products.
D: Lets face it planners are somewhat expected to carry a crystal ball in their pockets, so what do you see in your ball when asked the question 'what is goanna be the job description of a planner in the year 2016?'
T: “Um”… “hmmm”…
Great question, particularly after having poured my heart out about the obscurity of planning in the first question! At the moment I believe there to be a “back-to-basics” global movement amongst planners. We’ve become researchers and consultants rather than “Consumers”.
But 2016, huh? How about this…
There will be a clear demarcation of territory between the marketing side of planning and the consumer side. We’ll have marketing planners and consumer planners! The marriage of the two would culminate in true Brand Planning. Wow, they should really call me in on the Middle East peace talks… what an epiphany! Honestly though, our workload by then will be too unbearable for one mind to fathom, so we’ll probably have to rethink the current planning division of labour. I don’t want to regurgitate what I’ve mentioned previously but as planning becomes more and more vital for successful brands in the region, it will envelope a lot more responsibility. We will be looked upon to share some of our clients’ duties on a purely marketing level and their research agencies’ on a consumer level. I, personally, can’t wait!
In conclusion… thanks for giving me an opportunity to vent my professional frustrations to the world and pass on my few words of wisdom (if you didn’t catch them, they’re the opening statements in Q5). I’d also like to apologise for the disproportionate length of my answers… as you can see my attention wandered as I neared the end – not your fault, the questions were grrrr-eat J
D: No worries Talal I can assure you it has been one of the most interesting coffee sessions so far. Thanks and good luck.