— On Comms Design. From London

Back to basics with Jon Steel


Jon Steel is one of the people who made planning what it is today. He started off in the planning department at BMP and was the youngest person to ever be appointed to the board of BMP at 26. He then moved on to lead strategy for Goodby, Silvertein and Partners in the US and is currently working in a global consulting role for WPP. I saw him last week speak at APG’s Nosiy Thinking and this is a summary of that speech.

Entitled Reasons to be Grumpy, Steel’s speech focused mainly on reminding the audience of what planning started as: a research-based skill within the agencies, meant to lay an information foundation to the creative process. He put significant emphasis on the importance of having enough information before applying common-sense and instinct to problem-solving which I think it something we should have etched in the walls of every meeting room in every agency.

Among Steel’s 10 Reasons to be grumpy some stood out for me.

1. Google planners – people who no longer leave the agency and the keyboard to actually meet their audiences, listen to real people speak and attend the F word, focus groups 🙂

2. No training for planners – he rightly observed that planning has become a “murky” endeavor with people not receiving any training in or being asked to have any knowledge of stuff like market research, statistics, group moderation, data analysis etc and everyone coming in thinking that to be able to “think about things” is good enough to be a strategist

3. Blue thumb effectiveness – Steel’s name for the trend to replace real market based metrics with made-up, irrelevant measurements like number of likes, engagement, enthusiasm from bloggers etc.

Some, however, were less interesting, like cost-cutting which I find a necessity in a post-recession world or pitch consultants, of which I have never met one myself, or the need to do good, which seems a more individual choice than a professional one.

I think he is right. The planning profession is losing it foundation mostly because it grew too fast and some of us allowed ourselves to get caught up in the hype of new things without making responsible choices on how we incorporated them in our work. I found Steel’s speech lacking in only one respect: he seemed to show no regard to the way digital had changed the way we work. The only two mentions were negative ones: google replacing actual research and facebook metrics replacing real metrics.

I don’t think I am being too self-focused, asking for too much because I am a digital strategist. I truly believe technology is changing everything including advertising. Not to acknowledge that in a more consistent manner was wrong.

Here’s also some cool sound-bites from the same speech

“We are all becoming Google planners or Wikipedia planners”

“Clients are replacing effectiveness with efficiency”

“At GSP, planners had unlimited leave so they could go out into the world and become more interesting people”


If you have not, you should read his books featured in my Book List