S Subramanyeswar (Subu), the national planning director of Lowe Lintas and Partners, believes that designations like a ‘senior’ or ‘junior’ planner holds no importance. According to him, either one is a planner or not a planner. Referring to himself as a planner, consultant, teacher and trainer, he explains, “The planning team in Lowe is about culture. It hasn’t been built overnight, but a lot of people have worked towards achieving this culture. We are currently in the middle of a great time - momentum has been built.”
He underlines that planning is a ‘belief’ and not a job, function or department. “You find the best of the ideas among the younger lot. Lowe’s planning has a lot of engines that inspire all of us. This is contagious and is a great culture and this probably extends across functions at Lowe,” he explains.
Subu currently leads a team of 35 planners at Lowe, after more than 19 years in marketing and advertising across Wipro, Saatchi & Saatchi, Rediffusion Y&R and Publicis. He also leads the Lowe Lintas Consulting vertical started last year, besides teaching at the IIMs often.
“We have to speak the truth in planning. Planning has a lot to do with knowledge and people need to feed into each other,” says Subu.
While there is a planning school of thought that believes in thought leadership expressed in books and authored articles, Subu doesn’t subscribe to that approach. The Lowe planning head likens planners in advertising to mothers (homemakers) in a family, as they normally don’t come to the forefront too often. He explains, “I look at account management as fathers (they go out and deal with the outside world, get money). Creative would be like children (they rave, rant etc., but the best ideas come from them). Planners are like mothers. They are the energy centre at home and they absorb everything and at the same time they don’t to the forefront too many times. A planner may or may not come up with the idea, but you are the inspiration behind every idea.”
Lowe as an organisation
Subu joined Lowe three years ago and refers to it as an ‘ecosystem of marketing’ rather than an agency. He elaborates, “When I came from Publicis three years ago, I had heard about how Lowe works. But once I started working here I started experiencing how the agency keeps consistently generating such good work. I keep calling the agency ‘The University of Lowe Lintas’. One goes to a university for higher learning. Some of the solutions Lowe comes up with are not just solutions to communication problems but they solve business problems. That has been consistently done and it’s helped in beginning a culture. Some clients genuinely believe we should become the fulcrum for marketing. That’s when one starts seeing fantastic collaboration between planning, creative, account management and even clients - and then we can start tapping into collective fund of intelligence.”
Approach to planning
Brands are a part of culture and not just a part of marketing, reasons the planner. That’s the framework to his and Lowe’s approach to planning.
He explains, “Long before the study of marketing came to the fore, brands still existed. When you start looking at it from a marketing perspective, you start looking at it from the point of view of quarter-to-quarter analysis, RoI etc. From a marketing perspective, you look at it from the point of view of quarter-to-quarter analysis, RoI etc. From the larger context of culture, you start looking at brands as a part of society and you get richer ideas. You start making sense of a lot of things. Look at all the work we’ve done for Idea. It’s a service brand with the line ‘An Idea can change your life’. It’s not positioning of the brand, it’s an ideology. Such ideologies can be formed when you look at it from a cultural point of view rather than just marketing. One can agree or disagree with views but it’s a fundamental stance one takes and we stay consistent with that.”
When a brand is based on a value rather than a trend, while expressions may change with time the truth will be timeless, reasons Subu. He attributes that to great brands beilng relevant across generations, being rooted in fundamental human values. Examples of Tata Tea, Lifebuoy and Fair & Lovely are those he uses to substantiate his point.
“There’s a pattern to our work; it’s not a one-off piece that happens somewhere. The way we look at a problem, is by questioning it. ‘Why’ is the new answer for me. That’s why planners need to be the best strategic problem solvers for the businesses they work on,” he says.
On the subject of mind share marketing as against a cultural brand strategy, he notes that the former can be useful for keeping an existing brand/business in healthy shape in the short run, adding that it would be dysfunctional for pursuing innovation, as well as for ensuring that a brand sustains leadership position over time.
“A cultural brand strategy delivers an innovative cultural expression for a brand. Cultural expressions permeate society, providing us with the building blocks with which we construct meaningful stories of our lives. In modern society, traditional sources of cultural expression – religion, the State, the arts, education and other social institutions have been superseded in large measure by mass media and commerce. And brands have become the prime commercial vehicles for marketing cultural expression. In the case of Idea and Tata Tea, we succeeded with innovative cultural expressions, not with any major innovative products/services,” he elaborates.
Participation in Creative Effectiveness awards
Lowe has had a stance for a while of participating in creative effectiveness awards but not pure creative awards. Many from Lowe have explained that stance. It was the turn of the planning head to be posed the question.
He explains, “We are proud of that fact that we can produce work that works in the market place. It’s not about coming number one in Apac or number two in the world (referring to the annual Global Effie Effectiveness Index released recently). It’s not just one grand moment, but it’s a culmination of one full year of hard work. The analogy I use is like the Pole Vault in the Olympics. The goal of the athlete in the game is about how high s/he can jump to clear the bar. Once s/he clears the bar, s/he looks to jump higher and then even higher. The main competition is against oneself. Similarly, we want to keep raising the bar for the agency. When one starts bettering their own results - that’s an unending commitment we’re looking for. The general tendency is to attribute Effies to planners. Effies are not a solo sport; everyone needs to come together in the team to produce an effective piece of work. It’s not what happens externally, it happens internally.”
The national planning director feels that talent is one of the major issues in the industry, including planning. And competition for planners is not from planning departments of other agencies, with the younger lot looking at ‘the larger picture’.
“There are the e-commerce portals, options in design, journalism, research etc. And if not any of these other options, they look at becoming entrepreneurs. That’s why we have to show how exciting can we be among those options. Talent will continue to be a challenge. We have to attract people with a larger purpose. The younger lot don’t want to walk into an organisation thinking that they want to be a part of these four walls. We need to show a bigger purpose and culture that will give a sense of belonging,” surmises Subu.
(Published in the issue of Campaign India dated 11 July 2014.)