Plan It Day: Behind the scenes of the marketing hack day that set out to change the world

A problem shared is a problem halved, and when The Drum brought together 10 brands with challenges and a warehouse of marketers at Plan It Day, what emerged was a common theme: the value of ideas in changing the world.

Nick Jones is standing in the late September sunshine, a neat ring of nigh on 20 creatives huddled around him hanging on his every word.

Visa’s top digital marketer has briefed countless agencies down the years, but this is the first time he has done so from the glamorous surrounds of a Shoreditch car park. “Ideo say the first rule of innovation is to play with the furniture,” Jones says. “We’re playing with the whole room.”

The room is actually a mammoth warehouse next door, where more than 200 of the industry’s most curious minds have gathered to prove that marketing can change the world by attempting to solve 10 extraordinary client briefs in one day. This is Plan It Day, in full noisy swing, and it’s about to give us a glimpse of the creative process as we’ve never seen it before.

So here’s how it unfolded. That morning Jones and counterparts from Unilever, Mashable, Trinity Mirror and more set out dizzyingly ambitious challenges they wanted to solve, including taking the taboo out of death and encouraging more children into careers in Stem sectors. Creative teams were formed from scratch and in a matter of hours were back in front of the brands pitching their best ideas. When you consider that it isn’t uncommon for a pitch to last several months, this was like watching the industry, and all its heavy machinery, moving in fast-forward.

From brief to pitch, we were presented with a rare opportunity to be a fly on the wall during the creative process. Rarely do agencies give up the true secrets of their craft – not to the industry press anyway, and certainly not to rivals – but here was the remarkable sight of creatives, technologists, strategists, designers and marketers, who had in many cases only met earlier that day, candidly pooling their best ideas.

“The fact that we had people from different areas of advertising, and different positions within an agency, helped create some really innovative ideas,” says Matthew Payne, head of creative technology at We Are Social and part of the winning team for the IBM challenge. “Because we’re not from the same teams we’re not looking at it in one way.”

One of the most amazing things about the day was how cool everyone stayed under intense pressure. Despite a daunting pitch looming large, not once did we see tensions rise or creative differences emerge. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t challenging, however.

“We have some intense days in the agency, but never as intense as that,” says Kitcatt Nohr’s Alex Allen. “I think it’s quite important to have strong creative discipline. It’s very easy to get carried away or get stressed as time’s ticking on. I think we just sort of stuck to our guns and were always testing it against the brief, and the list of points that were raised earlier. We pressure tested it against those.”

Another striking aspect was how many ideas were generated in such a short space of time – around five hours from brief to pitch, including a quick pit stop for a working lunch. “What worked well for us was a general discussion around the subject matter and the motivations around the brief,” says 4c Design’s design director William Mitchell, who worked on the winning Dixons Carphone challenge response.

“What we did after that was move round the table and each present an idea we’d thought of during our initial discussions, quickly realising that they were very complementary and could be used together. Quite an exciting output for such a short space of time.”

But as Mitchell admits, quick-fire ideas need room for refinement. “Speaking to the client, we realised we would be unable to achieve the ideas we had dreamed up during the morning session over the course of Do it Day. So we needed to think of a very quick tool that could be created over the course of a day and still be useful and make a difference.

“With the client at the table, we were able to bounce a couple of ideas off her, while gauging her response. This worked well and we were able to zone in on a neat ‘Pinterest for Teachers’ concept.”

If anything was clear from the day, it was the insight clients can offer agencies when they truly keep the lines of communication open – the determination to make sure his brief was understood clearly was what prompted Jones to go al fresco – and the value of bringing people with complementary skills together for a discussion about solutions rather than channels.

For a planner like Good Agency’s Victoria Wainwright, the day represented a huge break from the norm – “I’m used to doing things quite vigorously… I do research!” she laughs – but she did feel like the Plan It Day approach could be adopted, in part, in agency life. “It would be really valuable when you get a brief if you could get 10 people in the room for two hours so you can push out ideas first and foremost, and then go and do the due diligence.”

The next challenge is to attempt the winning creative responses for real at Do It Day on 2 November. There, we’ll see even less talking and even more action. As legendary lateral thinker Edward de Bono said: “Creativity involves breaking out of existing patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

At Plan It Day we saw what this industry is capable of when it approaches apparently insurmountable problems in a different way. At Do It Day, who knows what we’ll achieve.

Do It Day takes place on 2 November and will see us attempt to bring our Plan It Day ideas to life, for real, in just one day. To be a part of it, visit the Do It Day website.

Plan It Day was sponsored by Clear Channel, Bima, Digilant, Millennial Media, Undercurrent, Wunderman and Yoyo. Photography by Bronac McNeill

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