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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – The Communications Challenge

Review of The Communications Challenge ed. Julian Saunders 2004 APG

Well a year after brand new brand new thinking we have another APG book this time sponsored by the Royal Mail. On the subject of media neutral or channel neutral planning take your pick.

This book has all the hallmarks of despatches from the front. Which derives in large part from the way it was put together. Following a half day conference on integrated planning in May 2002 – you can read the paper I gave on that particular occasion here there was a request for papers from agencies on how they saw channel neutral planning. The responses have been edited into this volume and breathed on. So the writers of each chapter have been editing together a mass of different material written from very different points of view.

There are 5 chapters with the following headings

An Introduction and context setting first chapter by Julian Saunders the editor which explains how channel neutral planning came about in the first place.

Chapter 2 on audience segmentation and how insights are created is by Roderick White editor of Admap. It includes a couple of methodologies by two clients Diageo and Unilever – this chapter concludes with a collection of workshop ideas.

Chapter 3 by Janet Grimes (who has an impressive set of credentials in digital and new media) is about creativity with a host of casestudies attempting to resolve what a campaing idea is and where it belongs in a media neutral world.

Chapter 4 by Peter Crawshaw on Channel Planning gets into the meat and veg of how to actually select and use channels alongside one another.

Chapter 5 on Evaluation is written by Tony Regan – one of the new breed of planners working within media planning and Marie Louise Neill chair of the APG

I would love to write a detailed response to each chapter (but I really need to get to bed!).

This is really quite a brave book for the APG to publish. Earlier volumes from the APG have been able to present established theory and practice for advertising planning for which there has been largely agreement and stability. Media neutral planning is very different. This is the first time that much of this material has been in the public domain. Much of it is covered by non disclosure agreements as individual agencies have tried to keep their magic box of tricks under wraps. Now a lot of the thinking is out in the open – which is high time. And what a mixed bag it is too. The trouble with keeping something to yourself is that you can’t critique it properly. Much of the theoretical stuff is rehashed marketing thinking which if you have read some of the latest literature is plumb out of date given what is emerging on the neuroscience front. The great thing about this book is pulling it all into the open so we can pick over it and pull out the good bits. And there are plenty of those. I enjoyed the material on workshop techniques and within the space constraints the evaluation chapter had some useful material on how far the modellers are able to isolate the effects of individual channels.

I also want to comment on the selection of the chapter writers/editors. This whole area is a minefield and I needed to check the credentials of the chapter editors before starting to read it. And I was reassured by how varied their experience was covering integration, media independents, and new media. But you need to be clear what their background is. Working in media or DM or new media there will be clear biases based on the prevailing methodologies within each area. There can be no grand theory at this stage about how everything works. And pehaps there should have been more recognition of this. For example I have read the Unilever system in full which is dominated by the need to justify budgets top down and bottom up. But this is very different from a media driven system where the output is a media schedule or how a new media agency let alone a PR agency would lead a so called channel neutral campaign. These differences need to be flagged because they aren’t going to go away. So we need to be mindful of the biasses.

The frustration is that the book is relatively short and that the casestudies are relatively brief – so it only conveys a flavour it doesn’t really settle anything. However as a cauterising process this anthology is long overdue. So please no more secret squirrels and trademarks on schematics – After all where would account planning be if Stan Pollitt and Stephen King had made everyone sign an NDA before they told them about it? But now there’s everything to play for. This is a book for practioners rather than theoreticians but there isn’t enough space to tell you how to do it for yourself. You’re still going to have to work that bit out.



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