A Brief History of Communications Planning

James Mullally
Jan 17, 2017 · 3 min read

Since the turn of the 20th century, clients began tasking advertising agencies with developing wide- reaching “marketing plans” for their brands. Historically, these plans took into account very broad elements of what is now called brand strategy, but without a strong interest in consumer research.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that two innovative minds, Stephen King of JWT and Stanley Pollitt of BMP, established Planning’s seat at the table in the creative process.

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King and Pollitt’s goals as pioneers of Planning, however, differed from each other:

Stephen King’s Approach

King’s approach sought to introduce a system to guide the process — known as the Thompson T-Plan or ‘Planning Cycle’, which was implemented into the work by account executives until 1968, when agencies began formally building their Planning departments.

Stanley Pollitt’s Approach

Pollitt’s approach, on the other hand, put a heavy emphasis on data. Pollitt was concerned with the level of discretion Account Management was given in writing the creative brief, along with their use of data. He emphasized the importance of Planning, not just as a process, but as a specific research role that partnered with Account Management in the creation of the brief. Pollitt wanted a researcher alongside the Account Manager.

The Evolution of Media Channels

While marketers had a good grasp on the media channels at their disposal for many years — think newspaper, magazine, outdoor, radio, television — the rise of digital technology changed everything.

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According to the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), from 1997 to 2010, internet advertising revenue jumped 2788% — from $900 million to $26 billion.

The number of media channels available grew rapidly, giving agencies a wider digital canvas for their messaging. In addition to the increasing number of platforms, each one became more complex. Social media and other innovative channels added nuances that required intricate strategies to properly and effectively reach consumers.

The Rise of Communications Planning

Communications Planning first became popular at Michaelides & Bednash in 1995. The agency saw that marketers wanted to add a strategic media dimension to the planning process separate from media buying itself. They noticed that Communications Planning added value to client work, and began championing it to win pitches.

The value of Communications Planning increases as brand messaging and platform selection become more complex. We become all the more important when the numbers of channels to choose from and brands to compete against grow exponentially.

“Our objective must be a certain state of mind in the potential buyer, not a certain type of advertisement…It must be essentially a consumer system because advertisements are means, not ends. Until we know more about how they work and what sort work best, strategy should be about ends”.

Stephen King, Author of a Master Class in Brand Planning

Communications Planning attempts to reconcile and explore the final line from King’s quote above. Our job is to push the effectiveness of our work by uncovering how advertising works, which types work best and why they work best on a given channel.

Comms Planning

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