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Relationship counselling for planners and data planners

By Chloe McMahon

Relationship counselling for planners and data planners

When most people think about creative partnerships in agencies, the first to mind tends to be the creative team – the most successful of whom recognise each other’s talents, support each other and work independently and collaboratively as appropriate to get to the best ideas.


But there’s another relationship in the agency seldom thought of in the same way. One that isn’t (yet) formalised the way creative teams are – but I think it’s just as important to get right. And when it is, it can have a huge positive impact on the creative output of the agency.


The area of marketing we operate in has always needed experts who understand data, how to translate it into genuine insight and then use it to help shape strategy. But the exponential growth in the volume and types of data available to us (as well as the tools at our disposal to manage that data) means that now, more than ever, we should be extracting as much value as possible to give our strategies and resulting comms the best possible chance of success. To me, part of the key to that is a really tight planning and data planning relationship.


I’ve worked with data planning in previous agencies, but never as closely as I have at Proximity. Maybe because the work didn’t demand it, or maybe because the right talent just wasn’t there. Though I have a feeling it’s more about the partnerships not being cultivated and nurtured properly.


So, having now had a couple of data planning relationships broadly deemed as successful (as far as I know!) I’m sharing my words of wisdom:


  1. Don’t step on each other’s toes


Do a bit of each other’s jobs and trust each other to do it well. Only when you know a little about how to do each other’s roles can you properly understand how to make the best use of each other. And if you don’t feel you can – shadow each other for a while!


  1. Never show weakness


Ask questions! Numbers are mystical to many of us (especially if you’re naturally more of a ‘right-brain’ thinker). But understanding and getting comfortable with them is a core part of planning, not just data planning. Mining for insight doesn’t just mean the softer, people-based insights, but also the business-related ones. Getting under the skin of clients’ annual reports and picking apart performance data to get a true sense of the business challenge as well as the marketing one ensures we’re focussed on solving the right problem, giving us credibility in the eyes of our clients.  


If this seems daunting, don’t worry – help is at hand! A good data planner won’t expect you to get it the way that they do, but they should expect you to be inquisitive and try to get your head around what they’re doing. Then you can use it properly and add your own insight in the most complementary way. And hopefully when you do, being more comfortable with data yourself will make your insight as comprehensive and multi-dimensional as it should be.


  1. Look out for (the other) number one


It’s not always about you. Sometimes (actually, a lot of the time) data is the hero of the story. A good planner needs to be able to firstly identify when data planning is missing from a project and should be brought in, and secondly when they are the lead and planning can take a back seat. Enjoy it! Put your feet up, be a sounding board and add your own magic when necessary.


  1. Don’t gang up


When you’ve cemented a good relationship with the data planner you’re working with, you’re each other’s best allies. You should be using what you can jointly offer by way of ‘hard numbers’ evidence, teamed with rich insight (whether that’s cultural, psychological, physiological etc.). This will create watertight strategies that not only offer an indisputable answer to the client problem, but also a fertile creative launch pad. And from a more practical point of view, backing each other up when timelines are being crunched or scope of work is creeping way beyond expectation will mean less midnight oil burning… or at least some good company if it does end up that way!


  1. Never mix business & pleasure

Just because they love a spreadsheet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t also love a pint. Even if it’s a proverbial one. Get to know them on a personal level – what drives them? How does their brain work? What are their goals, worries, daily annoyances? The better you get to know each other and understand each other, the more comfortable you’ll feel offering up your ideas and challenging theirs. Ultimately, it will lead to better work from the both of you (and a lot more fun along the way).