IPA|ED:three, planning

Clive Woodward. Why every client should have one.


“Integrated Communications are like weapons of mass destruction. Everyone knows they exist but no one has ever seen it done”
David Jones, writing in Contagious Magazine (Is your work Spongeworthy?)

“My role isn’t to do players’ jobs for them. My job is to ensure that every player
performs to their potential and as part of a team”.

Clive Woodward, BBC Interview

“A coach is not a teacher and does not necessarily know how to do things better than the coachee. A coach can observe patterns, set the stage for new actions and then work with the individual to put these new, more successful actions into place.” [1]

A whole new ball game

Media fragmentation; consumers with less time, little attention and no patience; an infinite amount of broadcast and on-demand content; digitisation rendering channels irrelevant [2]; technology to control and filter demanded content [3]…

The last decade has seen the emergence of a whole new ball game. The collective response of the communications industry has been twofold. Firstly, diversification into a multitude of different and varied operations [4]; secondly, generalisation …historically all props had to do was scrummage; now they expect themselves to run, catch, pass and lift in the lineout too!

With so many new players and such a new and more complicated ball game, how does a client – our bewildered [5] Chairperson – approach who decides tactics? Who does Communications Planning on a brand?

What’s the aim of the game?

What do we need someone to be in charge of? Jim Taylor defines Communications Planning
(CP) as [6]:

“The discipline of developing a holistic plan, across marketing and trade marketing functions … beyond simply selecting channels and allocating monies … defining the proposition … identifying the best consumers … creating a ‘big picture’ … weaving together every aspect of a brand’s communications” (Jim Taylor, Space Race).

Fundamentally CP is about uniting budgets, and subsequently allocating that unified budget across specialist disciplines, based on the extent to which each agency can deliver on their particular aspect of a holistic strategy; so CP is:

  • Establishing the match strategy
  • Deciding who – of the 22 man squad – is on the pitch at any one time
  • Ensuring that everyone plays as a coordinated team

Who’s in charge?

One of several different models is generally adopted. The client may opt to do it themselves, but clients are limited in what they can achieve without agencies [7]. The chairman has, at some point, to relinquish control to the team, generally via a lead or all-agency model [8]. However there are two key flaws to both.

One, individual agencies can never know enough about other disciplines to ensure CP they derive consider every perspective. It’s like asking prop-forward to plan a game strategy incorporating the nuances of the role of fly-half; the knowledge required is too broad and getting broader all of the time [9].

Two, Buckminster Fuller’s principle: “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” (as quoted in John Grant’s After Image). A player will never take
themselves off the pitch; the very concept that any one agency can comprehensively and without bias write CP that excludes themselves is fundamentally compromised.

A new Approach

Given this fact, its little wonder CP as a discipline hasn’t found momentum [10].

It’s time for a new approach…

The Chairperson lacks the resources to implement CP, but tasking any – or many – of the players to be in charge is flawed. Yet the pitch is packed with a team of talented and skilled individuals, many of whom excel in their individual positions. The client’s problem isn’t a lack of players; the client’s problem is lack of a structure to ensure that the positions all play as, and in the best interests of, a team.

What the chairperson needs …is a coach.

The Mantra of a Communications Planning Coach

  • Coach is not a communications planner; coach does not dictate a plan.
  • Coach facilitates the establishing of match strategy and negotiates who’s on the pitch at any given time.
  • Coach is independent and neutral.
  • Coach is ‘T-shaped’; with historical grounding in one area but with a broad extent of shallow knowledge across a range of disciplines.
  • Coach captures the Communications Plan without composing it.
  • Coach work alongside agencies, coordinating their collective input.
  • Coach is independent of execution, and remunerated by client based on an annual fee.
  • Coach comes from anywhere; from within the client, from an auditor, from a management consultant, or from agency holding companies.
  • Coach doesn’t set objectives but champions them once agreed.
  • Coach utilises a ‘Connections Wheel’ [1] ensuring no consumer touch point remains unexplored.
  • Coach’s success is measured by the collective success of the CP agencies.
  • Coach is mobile but operates a shared workspace available to all agencies.
  • Coach is gatekeeper to the unified budget.
  • Coach’s perspective is from the view of the entire team, thereby keeping an eye on competitor CP, as opposed to the most visible and measurable aspects of it.
  • Coach talks to the trade as well as consumer marketing.
  • Coach only expresses an opinion when they have to.
  • Coach highlights incongruities and abhors contradictions.
  • Coach maintains a position of independence by virtue of the fact that at no point will Coach ever step on the pitch; that’s the agencies’ territory; across which each position is free to play their own role by their own rules.

Letting go

Agencies – as players on the pitch – need to let go of CP; which won’t be easy. But release brings freedom to do what they each do best; to play and perform in the knowledge that they’ll have a dedicated resource ready and willing to involve them and incorporate their ideas and recommendations into CP.

By letting go, agencies win for themselves the freedom to play their own game as part of a wider culture in which ideas can come from anywhere, and are communicated to everywhere, to the benefit of everyone on their team.

Q: What approach should a client take in terms of who does communications planning on a brand?
A: Hire their team a Coach. Fast.


[1] quote from The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work (Perry Zeus & Suzanne Skiffington)

[2] Once content is digitised, not only it can exist in any digital channel, but move seamlessly across channels. It is this intrinsic that led William Gibson
to first comment that “The remix is the very nature of digital” – ie digitisation of data and content facilitates transformation – remixing – of that content.

[3] Example of on demand include RSS (Really Simple Syndication) which automatically relays content deemed relevant to the consumer, and IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) – TV via broadband, which is currently seeing substantial investment by UK TV companies. To quote Rob Norman in his speech Do Different “In the final analysis the world has gone on demand. That puts it beyond our control”.

[4] And a lot of specialists there now are; WPP Group has 247 companies globally and 194 offices in the UK alone.  All companies relate to communications
services “Through our companies, WPP offers a comprehensive and, when appropriate, integrated range of communications services” source

[5] Reasons for clients outsourcing Communications Planning are varied and well documented. They can’t source quality talent, nor pay for them – their headcount doesn’t justify it. Nor can they justify the investment of purchasing and integrating all the systems and data they’d need to comprehensively implement CP internally, especially for what is essentially seen as a cost centre for the business. Plus they’d lack external benchmarks from other clients.

[6] It should be pointed out that there is still no agreed consensus on what the term actually means, tending to mean different things to different agencies and clients. The IPA defines it rather vaguely as “A holistic planning approach to engaging a brand’s audience to ensure greater effectiveness”.  Source: communication Strategy – A best practice guide to developing communication campaigns (IPA), but this could arguably apply to any disciple; to any player in the team

[7] A In a recent survey, 48% of Chairpersons stated their belief that they were best placed to be in charge of CP. Whereas 31% of clients hand over control
entirely – believing that one or more of their players are best placed to be incharge. 38% of clients and agencies prefer a lead-agency approach, with 50% preferring an all agency model (Source: A best practice guide to developing communication campaigns (IPA)

[8] 31% of clients hand over control entirely – believing that one or more of their players are best placed to be in charge. 38% of clients and agencies prefer a
lead-agency approach, with 50% preferring an all agency model (source: best practice guide – IPA)

[9] The requirements for Communications Planning set out by Jim Taylor’s in Space Race are multiple: “The discipline of developing a holistic plan, across marketing and trade marketing functions, that defines how a brand will communicate with consumers … beyond simply selecting channels and allocating monies … defining the proposition … identifying the best consumers … creating a ‘big picture’ … by weaving together every aspect of a brand’s communications”. It’s ambitious for a team of agencies let alone a single agency to accommodate each of these perspectives

[10] The lack of progress is noted by Tom Morton writing in Campaign; “Comms planning as a standalone department within agencies hasn’t
been a great success”
, one possible explanation is offered by John Grant in After Image who notes that “The in-fighting seems, if anything, to be pulling
some agencies and consultancies back from innovation, towards lowest common denominators”

[11] The Connections Wheel is a tool developed by TBWA, and described by Jean-Marie Dru in Beyond Disruption. I’m not suggesting that the Connections Wheel is the specific solution for every coach, but a tool that enables the Communications Planner Coach to ensure that all potential routes are covered
will be essential.


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