A planner is the anchor who holds the floating individual brand strings: Ekta Relan

In our new series – Planner’s Perspective – we at Adgully are speaking to some of the brand planning heads who are today playing a key role in agencies. Planning is not rocket science. The advantage of a planner is that he/she brings in special skills and a different approach to thinking by using research and going more in depth with people’s behaviour starting from psychology, sociology, mythology, data and culture. The planner with the help of all this study is able to create better insights and understanding of the consumers, which is very inspiring for the creative teams to come out with successful brand campaigns. The function of planning is highly knowledge-driven and one has to keep a watch on what’s happening in the outside world very closely. As someone said, you don’t get to learn planning in business schools, but it is the hunger for knowledge, curiosity, power of observation and experience that drives to be a sound planner.

For Ekta Relan, National Planning Director, Mullen Lintas, the role of the planner has become more critical than ever. In conversation with Adgully, Relan decodes the world of planners, observing human behaviour, construction of a good brief and much more.

Over the last two decades or more, account planning has become a separate function. How important is the role of a planner in today’s world where planning has become more complex as we have moved to a dynamic medium like digital?

The role of the planner has become more critical than ever. The true brand power today is in the ability to tell a hyper bundled story leveraging all relevant platforms. But the risk is that the brand can look scattered with fragmented identity. Short term buzz will be plenty. Long term memory will be scarce. In such a landscape, the two critical role that a planner needs to play is, one obviously is to identify the brand relevant context and conversations on each platform and then help create stories, experiences and interactions that individually and collectively create one brand world, one story that people want to be part of over a period of time. It’s the planner who has to play a key role in being the anchor that holds these floating individual brand strings.

What is the role of research in planning? In today’s world where there is plenty of data floating and is available, how are planners leveraging the same to cull out great insights?

Fundamentally, planners still need to look for that insight into human nature, one that influences behaviour. But where you find this insight, how you find it, how often you need to find it, what you do with the insight; everything needs to evolve. You often hear planners talking about watching people at the cafes or travel by trains to observe human behaviour. The truth today is that if you enter a metro, you see almost everyone with their heads down into their phones. So, wouldn’t you get to know them better if you actually went to places they were on while they are travelling – be that Netflix, Google, Instagram or Amazon. So, this is where data and new tools help to understand behaviour and conversations on these new platforms.

As a planner, one looks forward to a very tight and focussed brief. So, what kind of expectations do you set with your clients when you are briefed for a new campaign so that there is clarity right at the beginning?

A good brief for me is the one where the problem to solve is rightly identified and well defined. This, if done well, makes the rest of the planning and creative process easier and effective. So, a lot of my efforts go into asking the right questions and triggering a discussion with the client to arrive at the real problem to solve, which is most often not what it first seems. This then organically springs clarity on everything else – the segment you want to target, the mindset you want to target and so on.

One of the most exciting works that a planner enjoys is the new business pitch. What’s your process and approach for the new business on the planning front? How do you bring in the differentiation and add value to the client’s business?

Pitches are fun. In a short burst of time, you have to do a lot, all in parallel tracks. The key thing here is the same, which is in identifying and defining the problem well. At Mullen Lintas, our pursuit is bringing differentiation on two fronts. One is in-depth understanding of consumer & culture, specially the evolution of it in the new media context. The other is in creating a hyper-bundle narrative, by weaving stories, experiences and interactions for one brand story. We have just initiated a new hyper-bundle brief and planning process that enables this in a more organised manner.

If you are a planner, you need to keep your eyes and ears to the ground. How often does one have to do market visits to get to know the real pulse of the market and your audience as the planner is responsible for bringing in fresh knowledge about the target audience into the creation and ideation process?

Everything around you is an opportunity to learn something about people. When you shop, travel, party, dine, gossip, anything and everything can teach you something about why people do what they do. However, today you need to overlay people thinking with eco-system thinking, so we need to keep our eyes and ears open even to that aspect of behaviour. What are people doing in which places/ platforms.

Planners are a scarce commodity. How do you unearth good planning talent and groom them? What does it take to be a successful planner?

Skills can be acquired, passion cannot. So, what I look for is passion, a state of mind that makes them excited and energised for the pursuit of planning. They need to enjoy exploration. Our business can be very gruelling, so if you aren’t enjoying what you do then it can be difficult. Also, every planner is different. I try to understand the unique strength that each person in my team has and then I encourage them to play on those strengths and even strengthen those further. Another thing I try is ensure they are continually inspired, which honestly gets difficult in the current tough times that the industry is seeing. If they are inspired, the rest becomes easy.


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