News & Opinion

My lessons from the Planning Awards

Judge Nik Wheatley, Co-Founder LOVE SUGAR SCIENCE, writes about the lessons he takes back to his team after this year’s Planning Awards.

I’m a fan of a good industry awards night and I LOVE a good news brand campaign, so when Newsworks’ Niki West asked me if I’d like to get involved with judging the best news brand campaigns of 2019 for their big awards night - I’ve had harder decisions to make this year! 

Case in point being “WHO THE HELL SHOULD WIN???” - in most of the categories we had entries for! By god the competition was hard and the standard high. Our group had to revisit each of the four categories we were judging to get to a decision and only narrowly avoided a rock paper scissors decider. 

If you haven’t seen the winning (or commended) entries yet, then take a look – a good dose of inspiration never hurt anyone.

In the event you were hoping someone from the judging panel might just condense key learnings and play them back in a digestible blog format, then below are a few things I took back to the team at LOVE SUGAR SCIENCE – some might seem obvious but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth reminding ourselves of. 

People who set the agenda are good at setting the agenda

It struck me that some genuinely remarkable pieces of activity were made because influential people were more invested in the activity than the money it could generate alone. ŠKODA’s Tour de France campaign with The Daily Telegraph felt like an important statement, creating impressive, socially influential, outcomes as a result. Similarly, the access Prostate Cancer UK were given by its partnership with Reach Solutions can only have come about because someone saw the potential in making a story into a campaign. 

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Keep it ‘simple’ - Part 1

I know we all always say this, but the prospect of keeping things simple sometimes seems so anathema to modern media planning. “How will I structure the customer journey over multiple on, off and cross-line platforms?” “How do I manage the noise of competing live data signals?” “How will I optimise this in real time?” Then you see the Specsavers work, removing all images from the front page of The Sun – and you can see how powerful ‘simple’ can be. 

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Keep it ‘simple’ – Part 2

Insights. Knowing all that has been done to gift planners an abundance of data, ability to manipulate user journeys etc, is it right to give top marks to an insight based on an unproven truth we can all none-the-less relate to? If it gives you a brilliantly creative campaign with exceptional commercial outcomes, then it absolutely is. The Strangers campaign for ITV and Metro did exactly this and, like Specsavers, the execution involved very little work for the audience - we can all imagine how a Cantonese cover wrap of the paper would have made for a pretty interesting spectacle on the tube that morning.

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‘The regions’

It doesn’t seem to matter how often industry research bodies show us that the people you are trying to sell to often look very different to a (largely) London centric ad bubble. Diversity is still a weak spot for the industry, even though evidence shows that when you bring more local diversity into your campaign, it tends to help brands feel more relatable and therefore, brings commercial success.

People care about where they live (duh) so access to hundreds of journalists properly plugged into local issues should be a consideration for anyone thinking about the role their brand plays in communities across the country. Reach Solutions have an obvious strength here and TSB were able to leverage it to incredible effect, championing the vital work people were doing for other people in communities up and down the country. The impact on TSB’s trust scores (whose IT screw up hit pretty hard here!) is nothing short of a miracle – going from -62 to +3 in 3 weeks. 

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Just ask

Across all the winning entries there was a common theme, someone had asked a question of someone else that they must have been fairly confident of getting a cocked eyebrow and sent on their way when they asked it. Maybe they did initially but each of them ended up delivering some remarkable activation that created remarkable results for their clients. Each of the winners showed a bit of creativity of course but then most of the runners-up did too – but what really set them apart was ambition and bravery. 

Too often I think teams temper their ambition because they think the client, media owner or editor will say no. The lesson from many of these cases was just ask – maybe they will say no, but maybe they’ll say yes and maybe next year one of these awards will be coming your way for having collaborated on one of the year’s most brilliant bits of marketing activation. 

Check out all this year’s winners and highly commended cases here.

Nik Wheatley 04/12/19

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