Why agency planners are like papayas

September 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

You know? The big, tropical fruit? The one with the yellow-green skin? Bright orange flesh inside? Millions of seeds? Ok, here’s a picture:

Yes, it's a papaya. Actually, two of them. Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah.

Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah


Yes. That’s exactly what an agency planner is like. Sometimes they get called strategists, or strat/planners or even ‘hey, you’, but you know who I’m talking about. As a creative, I find planners to be absolutely fundamental to the creative process. They would be the discipline I’d choose to take to my ‘agency desert island’.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great ones. Here’s how to tell if your papaya/planner is one too:

They are a little bit exotic.


Planners might look different to you and me.
Or they might look normal. Either way is fine.

Papayas are not available everywhere, nor should they be. Unless you are actually standing in Tahiti, papayas always look like they’ve come from somewhere else. When they are growing locally, they’re usually transplanted. Planners, you’ll notice are often imports. Or they’ve been away for a while and now they’re back. At the very least, they’ll be sporting an accent of some description. The important thing here is that their ‘statelessness’ gives them a sense of the wider world, often born of direct experience. This shows in their thinking and their approach. Getting outside of a culture, or country or even demographic gives you a much clearer view of what’s really going on. As a creative, you need to start in this place. Your planner can get you there.

They’re only good when ripe

You can tell by giving them a squeeze – the flesh will have some ‘give’ in it. I’m mainly talking about papayas at this point, but I’ve met planners who were similar in this regard. Whether you measure ripeness in terms of age, tenure, time, immersion or some other metric, the unifying characteristic is direct experience. I’m not maintaining that young planners are not useful. They are, provided they’ve invested quite a bit of their time in a particular game (music, fashion, TV culture, cars, sports). They’ve absorbed a particular culture of genre or ‘scene’. It’s got under their skin. To ripen, both planners and papayas need some exposure to the sun, to ‘get out there’. You don’t ripen by being the guy who reads the internet before everybody else does.

They’re good for you

Here's a taste I'm not a fan of. Bananas. They're uniformly awful.

Here’s a taste I’m not a fan of.
Bananas. They’re uniformly awful.

Okay, so maybe you’re not a fan of the taste (I’m talking Papayas here, people), but it’s hard to argue the health benefits. Similarly, planners make you smarter by photosynthesising life + research + thinking into wisdom and then filling you up with it. Often, when you need it most, sometimes when you just want them to shut the fuck up. Either way, you should listen. You’ll be better for it.

They’re better with lime

Not all papayas are awesome on their own. They often need the tang of lime to make them truly sing. So too, he best planners are generally sunny optimistic souls with an acidic, contrarian streak. So while they are always alive to possibilities and potential, presenting strategic market challenges as opportunities for creative thinking, they also have a healthy sense of scepticism. They are pragmatists & realists, able to separate the technology from the use value, the gadget from the emotion, the fad from the trend. This ‘squeeze of lime’ is there to push your thinking, to ask you to take your idea beyond being merely cool into the realm of the genuinely useful.

A little goes a long way

This very expensive medical image was taken inside an actual planner's brain. While she was still alive.

This very expensive medical image was taken inside
an actual planner’s brain.While she was still alive.

I like papayas, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. I feel the same about planners, in the sense that, while i consider them creative partners, I wouldn’t share a room with them. They need space to roam, otherwise they can start stinkin’ up the place, getting over-ripe, over-thought. The other reason you only need small doses is because many of them are way up the I end of the I-to-E scale on the Myers Briggs spectrum. They do their thinking on the inside of their head. Which means that when they do finally speak, they’ve pretty much got it figured out. That’s the time you need to listen, consider and then see how what they’ve just told you impacts your work and thinking. Usually for the better.

They are polarising

Papayas are binary fruit, in that they are either brilliant, or inedible. There is no in-between, no sliding scale. In this regard, planners are exactly the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some blindingly brilliant ones (and encountered the other kind) but I haven’t actually worked with an okay planner. Or even a mostly good one. The same can’t be said of other disciplines in our industry. There are competent suits, capable production managers, solid leaders. I myself am a highly-regarded not-too-bad copywriter. And all of these people and skills and levels of ability are good and useful.
Planners, however, either need to be fantastic or they need to be doing something else.

Let @barrieseppings know what your favourite planner tastes like.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


One response to Why agency planners are like papayas


    Nice one old fruit

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