How To Do Digital Planning

I’ve been trying to post something like this for a few months now. But it kept morphing into a badly researched history of planning mixed with a poor how-to guide. And of course I kept veering off into bloody flag-waving about how digital planners rule and everyone else sucks. And my point was getting lost, very lost.

So what is the point?

I wanted to give a perspective on the big question ‘What is a digital planner?’. I know I don’t have the answer. I don’t think anyone does right now. The only thing I know for certain is that there’s a lot of uncertainty around what a digital planner is. I’ve seen lots of CVs and met lots of people. All of them nice people, some of them great planners, some of them not. All of them very very different.

Anyway I’ve given up on trying to understand what a digital planner is. So here’s a list of skills that I think would be handy if you want to be a digital planner (or a planner who has some digital powers).

How to do Digital Planning

(I’ve left out all of the ‘normal’ planning skills there’s lots of people smarter than me who’ve written about those things extensively. About how you have to be an inspirer, a cultural vacuum (as in vacuum cleaner not void), the voice of the consumer, PowerPoint virtuoso, and so on – I’m only talking about the ‘special’ skills that I think are important if you want to ‘do digital’).

Be good at cutting and pasting

Be good at cutting and pasting

If you’ve ever set up a blog or or a MySpace page you’ll probably have seen funny code knocking around the place. You shouldn’t be scared of this stuff. As the web keeps evolving to become more open and customisable the ability to copy and paste odd looking bits of code from one place to another increases in value.

At it’s most basic level knowing how to customise a feed or add a widget to a blog will at least give you some appreciation of the building blocks of the web. Kind of like Lego is to engineering.

In lots of ways this act of copying and pasting funny geek code from one place to another is a useful proxy for what digital planners need to do all the time. I’m not talking about lifting people’s ideas or ripping them off, I’m talking about applying principles and techniques in a variety of seemingly disconnected places.

I’m guessing at this point some people will be bursting to say things like – “this is all too geeky, you don’t need to know how a car works to be able to drive”. And that’s true. But if your job was designing and selling cars to people, you might find it useful to know how the different bit of a car fit together. And everyone ought to know how to change sparkplugs and tyres right?

Deconstruct the Craft

Be able to deconstruct the craft

You don’t need to be able to do all of it. But it’s really important that you understand it and can talk about it semi-convincingly.

What is this it of which I speak?

It is the craft of making really good and interesting interactive stuff.

It is made from all kinds of things. Graphic design, programming, information architecture, experience design, typography, HCI, good writing, databases, video production, game design, e-commerce, networks, devices…

Be good at knowing why something is good or bad. There’s a lot of very bad stuff that looks very good out there. And a lot of amazing things that look like shit. You need to be able to see through the veneer and be able to judge things on a different level.

If there was one bit of the craft that I think is super-important for planners to understand it’s user experience. It encapsulates a lot of what we should be concerned about in terms of making things that work for an audience.

Expand to fill the space

Be able to expand (and contract) to fill the space available

There isn’t digital planner shaped hole.

On some jobs it’ll be much bigger than others.

Sometimes you might be the lead strategist on a big paradigm shifting pure play turnkey web commerce integration project, where part of your job is helping a client figure out how and why their business exists.

This requires a different way of thinking and being from an ‘online advertising’ project where your role might be to convince the Cheezy-Puffs client that the idea that they’ve been presented about building a Cheezy Radio Station on Puff Island in Second Life and Podcasting the shows into Facebook might not be exactly the right thing to do. This time.

Then of course you’ll have to deal with the fallout of sabotaging the idea (from whoever it was that came up with it in the first place)…

Other times you’ll be part of a multi-agency team working alongside a number of other really good planners. In these cases it can be best to wind your neck in a bit and focus on the skills you’ve got that complement the rest of the team. And just skip over the ritual of intellectual posturing and corner-pissing nonsense that you’re meant to go through. It’s just a bit boring and pointless.

Be able to be big, and be able to be smaller too.

Be a good and patient educator

Be a good, and patient, educator

When you’re dealing with lots of new stuff that isn’t particularly well understood you need to be able to explain complex things to people. And do it in a way that’s simple (but not patronising), accessible (but not dumbed-down) and effective (but not overly salesy).

That’s a hard thing to do.

But then you have to do it, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And be as enthusiastic and interested as you were the first time around.

“Right, this Internet thing, it’s basically a bunch of computers…”

Be an optimist and a cynic

Be a cyber-optimist and a hyper-cynic

You’re the person that everyone expects to be really excited by, and interested in, the latest gizmos, widgets and whatnot. And you should be. But at the same time you have to be the one that is able to see beyond the hype and have a critical view on whether it’s just another passing fad or something that we should all care about.

Sometimes you’ll back the wrong horse. We all do. But just as long as you’re backing the horse for the right reasons that’s the best you can be expected to do.

Nurture the geek within

Use the forces of geekdom

Geeks are cool. Well, at least a bit cooler than they used to be.

What is it that planners need to learn from geeks? Maybe it’s passion. Or an obsessive attention to detail. Or is it a drive to understand the how and the why of stuff. I’m not really sure. But there’s an interesting strand of geekism that feels very real, very tangible and very very useful.

There’s something about a need to take stuff to pieces and put it back together again that links the minds of geeks and planners I reckon.

Enjoy Commerce

Don’t hate business, it’s your friend

If you’re in ‘the game’ because you want to make film or art then making digital stuff can often drift even further away from your goal than doing traditional advertising.

There’s still a need to create desire and make beautiful things . And there’s lots of amazing digital ‘art’ that gets made in our world. Some of it in the name of art, some in the name of marketing.

But a lot of the projects where we’re really able to add value are things where we get to optimise businesses. Creating revenue opportunities. Selling more stuff. Driving efficiencies. Reducing waste. Things you might find tedious and hateful if you’re in denial about how and why you get paid.

Of course you can have ethics. And lots of the really interesting things that digital enables is rooted in empowering small businesses and creating a level commercial playing field.

But let’s be really clear, digital is not just about creating fascinating communications, it’s about how you can help business end-to-end.

Do things

Do things, make stuff

There’s a bunch of plannery mantras in circulation around doing stuff. Whether it’s ‘act don’t say’, ‘always in beta’, ’embrace failure’ or any variant of this kind of thing. It’s all pointing in the same direction. You should get out there and do things rather than just banging on about them.

And yes, a blog counts as doing something. But no. You don’t have to have a blog to be a planner. Not yet anyway.

Be Wipe-Kleen

Be Non-Stick and Wipe-Kleen

If you’re out there experimenting and doing new stuff, chances are you’ll fail from time to time. No one likes to fail. But some people are much better at failing than others. It’s natural to be gutted if something doesn’t work as well in the real/virutual world as it did in your head.

But if you’re the kind of person that bangs their head against stuff when you don’t win, your temperament might not be exactly right for a game where the things that don’t work are as important as the ones that do.

Say sorry. Explain to yourself and others why it failed. Learn from the failure. Try not to repeat the same failure again. Dust yourself down. Move on.

(This point was inspired by someone at an above the line agency we work with who reportedly referred to our agency as ‘Teflon Poke‘)

Love it!

Love what you do

Do what you’re doing for the right reasons. In interviews the thing I try to figure out above anything else is whether or not the person I’m seeing actually loves what they’re doing. If they’re in the game because they’re really excited and passionate about it then they’ll learn new things (because they can’t help themselves). If they’re in it because they think it’s a career opportunity or they fancy a change of scene you’re all in for a much rougher ride.

If you’re in ‘digital planning’ for fame, money, groupies and adoration, you’re in the wrong business. Well until next summer anyway.

And isn’t it much nicer when you work with people who love what they do. It’s the kind of thing it’s hard not to fall for.

Thank you for reading. I’m done. Love to hear what people reckon. Like I said at the start this is just some things that I think would help make you a decent digital planner type (in my eyes).

If anyone would like me to come and present this blog post at conferences, birthday parties, or whatever. I’d be happy to try to do it in an entertaining and insightful manner (as long as the venue is somewhere warm and sunny).

And Scamp, sorry for using ‘borrowed interest’ in my title selection ;-)

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How To Do Digital @ Scampblog

Great post by James Cooper (creative director of Dare) over at Scampblog.

I particularly enjoyed his skillful deployment of the 180 degree handed complement:

2. Be original. Same rules apply to when all you lot who moan about whether Bravia or Guinness or John Lewis was original or not. Poke’s nice unlimited site looks a little like a Motorola site, our nice Bravia site looks a little like a Pioneer site.

Well worth a read.

I’m almost done with a very similar post about how digital planning works. I didn’t copy, I’ve been working on it for ages. Honest guv.

The Internet (now in handy book form!)

David McCandless has been doing bits and pieces for Poke as long as Poke’s been around. In fact he’s written lots of the funnier words on the funnier projects that we’ve done. So it’s nice that someone gave him a book deal.

And if he can put the internet in a book. I can put his book with the internet in it into a video…

As you can probably see the book is packed full of stuff. Thankfully it’s funny stuff. Well it certainly made me laugh out loud in places.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. You’ll get a taste of the content by looking at the site: – but to be honest I think the book is funnier, but that might just be me.

Even if it’s not your bag. I’m pretty sure it is a perfect Xmas gift for the nerdy web geek who has absolutely everything. It’ll save them dropping their laptop in the bath. And they can look at ‘the internet’ without fear late at night in shady places. After all no one ever got jacked for a book (as far as I know).

If I had to describe the book in a sentence its like Viz did a hostile takeover of Web User Magazine.

I’m not getting any kind of kickback for plugging this. Apart from a free copy. Which I hope I’d have got anyway. If you’d like one you can buy it from here: The Internet (now in handy book form!)

How Stuff Dates

I kind of love this track. But it sort of doesn’t seem to make sense any more. And the video has aged really really badly too.

The original (E2:E4 by Manuel Gottsching) has aged much better in my humble opinion. It might be the cheesy breathy spoken vocals, or the use of that late 80s electronic bird like sound that make this sound so ‘of its time’.

Anyone know what that funny bird sound is? What machine does it come out of? Or is it a sample?Where it originated? When it was first used?. Pacific State by 808 State feels like the track that owns it to me. But both Seuno Latino and Pacific came out in 89…? Any music geeks got any ideas? I might make it my mission to make a documentary about that funny noise ;-)

I’ve got my hopes up that Ged will know.

Making Good Shit Stick Is Tough

Don’t get me wrong. I love the meritocratic world of the web. Good stuff floats, average stuff gets suspended in the sea of mediocrity and bad stuff sinks without trace. And that’s the way it ought to be.

It used to be really easy. Back in 2002. There was a lot less good stuff out there, so getting seen was much easier. But we’re now entering a world where something has to be doubleplusgood in order to get noticed. (Or have a big media / seeding spend behind it).

In an idealised online world influence is something pure. Something that gets earned over time. A few years ago you couldn’t really buy online influence, that’s why ‘viral’ became such a hot topic. If you could find a few of the influencers and get them to mention your thing, the job was done (or at least kicked-off in a decent way).

But now the population is so much bigger it’s much harder to get out there (at speed) without using mass-media style techniques (buying your way in, or lunching people like a PR pro). Getting any kind of cut-through quickly is tough.

Don’t get me wrong, the long-tail is great, it drives the right kind of people in a sustainable and genuine fashion. But getting to a point where you’ve earned a sufficient degree of link-love quite often takes time.

And sometimes time isn’t on your side.

We’re stuck in one of those situations right now. The climate change bill is creeping ever closer in parliament and we’ve not got the time or cash to accelerate the Get On Board campaign for the WWF.

We need more people to get stuck in. The guys at the WWF are doing a great job of getting their supporters involved. They’re pushing as many media buttons as they can. But the story just hasn’t picked up like we all hoped it would.

It didn’t sound so hard, we just wanted people to sign-up to push for a stronger climate change bill. And we thought that using a story around aviation and shipping made sense and wasn’t too complex (or too dumb). Maybe we over-stretched? Maybe we over estimated how much capacity people have to care about the world? Or maybe we just came up with an idea that wasn’t good enough?

But you can’t say that the idea of creating a decent climate change bill isn’t a good one. That’s just a fact. However you look at it.

We need more sign-ups.

Go here to add yourself to the petition.
Go here to visit the blog to find out what’s coming next.

And here’s a nice little video showing some of the people who do give a shit messing up. Everyone likes out-takes don’t they? Featuring David Nussbaum (CEO of WWF), Sarah Beeny, Terry Waite, Lewis Gordon Pugh (the guy who can swim in really cold water) and my personal favourite Chris Packham (who used to be in the Really Wild Show with the one and only Terry Nutkins). It’s not massively funny, it’s just quite nice.

Having said all of the above we’re not doing all that badly considering that everything we’re doing hardly costs a penny and there’s been no paid for media whatsoever :-)

I’m not doing this out of any kind of loyalty to Poke, I’m doing it because I’d like more people to sign the petition.

If you’re looking at this whole thing and thinking – “you guys are being a bunch of idiots, there’s a really simple way you can make this work, all you have to do is xyz…”. Then please leave a comment or get in touch. I’ll make sure that you get fully recognised and lauded as a saviour of planet earth sometime in the future.

All thoughts and opinions welcome…

The Poke Lift

The Poke lift is a little bit broken – the LED panel has come off which leaves the circuit board uncovered. And you can probably see there’s a really lovely bunch of coloured cables behind. Every time I see them I have a really strong urge to cut some of them. I’m not sure which colours I’d go for yet.

Films and computer games definitely influence the way we perceive the world.

Recruitment Musings


This is a tough, slightly reflective post to write.

It’s very much a brain dump, the start of some thoughts rather than anything resolved. I’m hoping that some of the smart people out there on the internet will add to it and help these thoughts to develop…

There’s a lot of chat about what we’re all doing right now. How the agency of the future might work. What the roles in that agency might be. What it’s going to produce. What it ought to produce (in a world where making people buy more disposable stuff is a bad thing). And so on.

So in a world where we don’t know what we are now, let alone what we’re going to be next year, how can you possibly make a call on the kind of people you need to hire. Which means that we’re all seeking flexible multi-skilled people who are going to be useful regardless of how things change.

Coupled with this there appears to be a general perception of a skills shortage. I’ve been having conversations with all kinds of people (mainly in the ‘agency’ world, but not exclusively), and everyone seems to be saying similar things. Namely that all of the really good people seem to have their own game going on. They’ve either started their own small companies, or they’re freelancing and living the life that they want, on their terms. (Or they’re heading that way fast and using their next jump or two as an experience-farming exercise). Which means that it’s quite tricky to get them to come and work for wages in a company.

But I think there’s something else at work here. We’re all starting to fish from the same pool of people. Probably because we all need these incredibly flexible and adaptable people. We’re all looking for a few mythical people who have a similar set of experiences and skills.

At Poke we keep having these odd cyclical conversations about a couple of key senior people we’re trying to hire. We’re looking for entrepreneurial, operationally aware, client facing, creatively minded, inspiring, strategic folk with an interesting set of past experiences – oh and they need to love digital which is our specific bit (simple huh!).

The long and short of it is that we’re trying to find creative mini-CEOs. And I don’t think we’re the only ones.

Lots of agencies can probably offer this type of person a job that will keep them challenged, amused and stimulated. But the kind of people that we’re looking for want more than ‘just a job’. But no matter how you wrap it up most roles in agencies are just a job – OK they may end up being a way-of-life or a divorce-inducing quest, but that’s just because it’s an big, important and stressful job.

I think what Anomaly is doing is interesting because (from what I understand) it’s actually got a structure and a remit that would be attractive to this kind of mini-CEO. Even though they’re working on clients’ business they’re actually becoming part of a business not just servicing one, which is an important distinction for entrepreneurial types. But we can’t all be like Anomaly (nor should we be).

So what’s the answer?

I’ve got absolutely no idea. Otherwise I’d be running away with the ball and leaving everyone else scratching in the dirt. But here’s a few thoughts, based on personal experiences:

  • Collaborate more, employ less. This is an obvious, but very difficult thing to do properly. If all the good people are doing their own little things we should all join together and work as virtual teams for the benefit of all. But it’s just not that easy. There’s loads of blurring and loads of overlap which always causes friction. Friction generally causes problems.
  • Wear a hat – This one’s for all those multi-skillers out there. Figure out what your real strengths are and stop confusing yourself and everyone else. Admit weakness and failings and try to find other people to fill those gaps. (I really need to heed my own advice here).
  • Hire brilliant single-skillers – who cares if you’re chief geek hasn’t got the greatest client handling skils. As long as he loves technology to bits, that’s what counts. Someone else can do the other stuff. If you need an operations person, it doesn’t matter that their brogues don’t match the easy-going-trainer-slacker vibe of the rest of the gang – and it doesn’t matter if they’re as creative as a housebrick. As long as they can work with everyone else and they love what they do, that’s the way it should be. I think there’s can be a tendency to try and create a team that all fits into a similar mold, which feels right, but is wrong.
  • Cast your net wider. Another tricky one. It’s really hard to validate whether or not someone’s skills are genuinely transferable. It’s much easier to look at a bunch of achievements that are directly analogous to what you do. Taking on a proper outsider is a big old punt. But when it works it works brilliantly. But taking that risk on a piece of valuable client business is dead scary…

This isn’t just an elaborately wrapped up recruitment ad. But Poke are always looking out for great people, and if you’re one of those mini-CEO types I mentioned and you’d like to come and work at a very nice digital agency for a while then give me a shout, confidentiality guaranteed. We are looking for someone with a few years experience – sorry juniors, next time :-)

Faris and Me on TV

Well not really TV, but it is sort of like TV on the Internet… This time I’ve actually managed to watch myself, so I’m making progress. I didn’t like it, but I did manage to stomach it.

It’s from the Ideas Forum thing that Faris and I spoke at earlier in the year, the guys at IQ Ads in Romania did a video interview with us. Which they’ve called Faris Yakob + Iain Tait = 2.0 which sounds like a kind of geeky gay love sitcom, which is nice.

They’ve edited it together so that you get 2 idiots rambling for the price of one. And you know what, I think I managed to talk more than Faris. Which I didn’t think was possible.

I did have it embedded in the page, but it autoplays which was very annoying. So you’ll have to click to visit their site to see it…

Iain and Faris

Great Climate Change Video

Forget about An Inconvenient Truth, it’s all long and boring and stuff. Watch this instead…

To my mind this deserves to have a lot more views than it’s had – so I’m going to make it my mission to get more people to see it. Please blog it or link to it. Visit the clip on YouTube and rate it. Or if you’re a bit geeky Digg it or Stumble it, or whatever you can do.

I really liked the way that it’s really practical, non-preachy, and above all brilliantly funny and watchable.

Put together by Airside and Mother. (The Mother guys have been very modest about the whole thing and even though Poke live upstairs from them we’d not really heard a peep about it). So I’m going to push it for them as it’s really good and it’s for a good cause!

I Can’t Watch…

This is me presenting “10 Reasons Why Digital is ‘Better’ than Advertising” at the PSFK conference in London. I can’t even bear to hear recordings of my own voice so there’s no way that I’m going to be able to watch this… (I tried watching a few seconds from the middle and I’m absolutely certain that it isn’t me up there).

Especially after I’ve just had this email from Jim:

Hi Iain,

Couldn’t sleep last night and somehow found myself watching your 10 reasons vid on pfsk – you’ll be pleased to know it did the trick and I dropped straight off ;)



I’m going to call him ‘Mean Jim’ from now on.