One of my colleagues recently forwarded me an article from the website FutureRising: 5 things you should know before getting a job in planning and strategy.

It consisted of a series of quotations from industry leaders: Jon Steel, Agathe Guerrier et al.

One stood out for being provocative and pithy. Unfortunately, it was also intellectually cowardly and deeply misguided.

Rory Sutherland, the charismatic master of ceremonies at Ogilvy and the TED-talk media darling, commented that “Post-rationalisation isn’t a crime – it’s your job description”. This is a nonsense. It spits on the integrity of planning in particular and of advertising in general.

It is, of course, widely understood that many final creative ideas will make a strategic departure from the planner’s suggestions, as articulated in the creative brief. The creative brief is a document which serves to guide, rather than shackle, the creative department. Sacrosanct it is not.

It is in cases such as these when an agency may resort to post-rationalisation – the amassing of data and analysis to convey the impression that the idea was rooted in strategic rigour and insight. The agency wants the client to believe in the logic and sense of its creative product because, in situations where there is a deficit of trust in the agency, this sort of substantiation helps sell in work to sceptical marketing heads and board members.

However, this approach demeans everyone that it touches. It demeans the client’s intelligence and feeds the facile lie that creativity follows a recipe. It demeans the strategist, since post-rationalisation is antithetical to one of the central tenets of strategy: that you start with an open mind. And it demeans the creative, since it attempts to reverse-engineer an organic work of originality.

Post-rationalisation is the opposite of a planner’s job description. And should, in all self-respecting agencies, be viewed as a professional crime.


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