Planning Myopia – John Bartle

John BartlePlanning Myopia is something of a classic – probably the best remembered planning paper issued at this time.  John Bartle whose agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty is little over a year old when he gives this paper weighs into what he sees is the complacency of planning as agencies scramble to install their own planning departments, demand far outstrips supply and planners can get away with just about anything.  There’s a useful aside that the APG membership is running at 400 by this point. And John is giving the paper at a 1 day conference in November on the theme Planning: Philosophy or Function?

So the first thing you need to do is to get your hands on the pdf of John Bartle’s famous paper Planning Myopia which you will find here:  Planning Myopia John Bartle Nov 1983

The title of the paper is chosen to echo Theo Leavitt’s famous paper about Marketing Myopia when companies were becoming so soaked in the language of marketing they might be mistaken for thinking that they really had become customer centric when their operations were still very far from that. Bartle argues that a continual climate of expansion drawing in practitioner who know almost nothing about how to plan. With agency managers with only the sketchiest understanding of what account planning is – planning was in danger of falling flat on its face.

John Bartle’s worries about account planning

There are 3 barbs in John’s critique.

The dangers of succumbing to process – where planners just become another level of approval and are not adding value. Interesting to see how process driven agencies were becoming at this stage. And also that Bartle thought that planners should make sure they were not to be contained by processes and box ticking. But also that this leads to formulaic thinking. A standardised way of producing advertising. Implicit in Bartle’s criticism is the notion that advertising isn’t and can’t be standardised. That’s why planning and planners are important.  Systems give those who run them power. And that corrupts.

The dangers of gurudom. There’s an aside about how a stream of planners are heading for the USA by this time on telephone number salaries.  The risk is that planning judgement was simply not being challenged. In Bartle’s understanding planners should always be challenged and should be able to give an account of themselves.  Not if your guru throws a hissy fit and threatens to leap to the next agency up the road. And Bartle warns against planning having some kind of divine right.

The dangers of standing still. In other words to keep doing the same sorts of things. By this stage account planning had been through a time of continuous growth. AT the time of writing IPA effectiveness awards had only run twice.  It seems from another comment that Bartle makes that agencies had cleared out their agency researchers – or simply rebadged them as a planning department. So there were many planners who were researchers in training and orientation who simply weren’t cut out for the proactiveness which the planning role requires.   Planning can never be an end in itself. If it can’t subordinate itself to producing great advertising then it shouldn’t be there at all.

There is a last plea for planners with human relationship skills deployed within the account teams inside the agency.  It is about making a contribution within the team and not imposing a point of view.

This paper is badly needed today in my judgement. There is far too much process thinking. And that is counter to the way planning was designed to work.  The lack of boundaries in the planning role is an issue – a planner really can’t do everything but that is why it comes down to using good experienced people. And allowing them to define the role.  And not sit on their laurels.

John Bartle and 98% Pure Potato

cover of the bookWe interviewed  John Bartle for the book 98% Pure Potato. And John very kindly wrote the foreword for us. As the very first planning client working as a research manager at Cadburys John is uniquely qualified to talk about planning.  In the late 1960s he would meet with Pritchard Wood and then BMP planners on among other things Smash Potato from where we got the title for the book.  In the 1970s John went on to start the planning function at TBWA. And then became planning director in 1982 of his own start up Bartle Bogle Hegarty.  It was a privilege for us to have John  involved with our book and to be so supportive of it.

There will be another paper in a week or so.

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