FP7/DXB planning supremo Tahaab Rais writes in Campaign magazine ‘Predictions’ feature (Jan 11th issue) on the future of planning in the region.

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I have 2 sources of inspiration when it comes to strategic planning:  Superheroes and Movies. I always look at strategic planners as superheroes. Each one of us possesses unique gifts to make a difference, possessing a distinctive attitude and style towards crafting our own movie – one that’s worth watching and remembering.

The year ahead for superhero-themed movies looks awesome with DC and Marvel putting well-loved superheroes on screen and creating fascinating crossovers – 40 movies by 2020! Wow. And the year ahead for strategic planning looks awesome too, and more exciting than ever before.


A problem that plagues strategic planning is neither talent nor tools. It is that the marketing and advertising fraternity remains relatively uninformed about we do, albeit not ignorant. Planners are often the backstage crew. But, we will start seeing more planners in the limelight. And by showing what we can do for our own agency kin, for our clients and for the industry (beyond research and pretty keynotes), we will take this crucial first step towards people acknowledging our value and giving us more power in 2015.


The make-up of the strategic planning departments will start to evolve. It will no longer be about dividing the team into brand planners, channel planners, experience planners, etc. Combining and developing these skills, works. Dividing them doesn’t. We will see agencies looking at integrating specialist abilities into their strategic planning departments: Ethnographers, Anthropologists, Business & Data Analysts, Social Psychologists and Futurists. How we conduct research is going to evolve – with Social Experiments, Psychology Tests and Big Data Studies. Planners will be at the forefront of experimenting with technology as early adopters. We’ll start seeing channel plans that look more like tech blueprints vs. bullet points.


Superheroes have foresight. The future belongs to those who see it before others do. Planners will stand up before clients and present next practices; not best practices. This is most relevant for the MENA region. Investment made in crowd-sourced innovation, trendspotting, foresight studies and prediction models will start to pay off, as we will see ideas that haven’t been created yet.


It’s an imperfect world. It’s an imperfect industry. But they’re the only ones we’ve got! And we can use the influence our industry has to impact the world and fight what plagues it. Superheroes are admired and loved because they are a force for a greater good. We’ve seen a lot of CSR work over the past couple of years and it will only increase, becoming more effective and more impactful in 2015. Planners will advocate causes they care about and create opportunities to make a positive change in their communities.  Our will to make that difference will turn our thoughts into reality, just like the Green Lantern.


The key ingredient, as Roger Ebert says, in any interesting superhero is not omnipotence, but vulnerability in their personalities. They’ve been given knowledge and gifts, but few consolations in their battle against evil. While doing all of the above, 2015 will be the year of doing more with less – the chance for more briefs, more opportunities, more great work with less time, less people, less resources, less budgets.  And we will rise against these odds by altering the way we operate…


We hear people complain about how there isn’t any good planning talent around. The truth? There is. It’s in account management, in researchers, in creative. We’ll see more of those gifts and abilities being nurtured, developed and practiced by those who don’t wear the costume – yet.


Beyond sidekicks, every superhero has a support system – family, friends, communities and organizations. In the year ahead, planners will build extensions of their team – we’ll see university students becoming trend hunters, client data teams becoming analysts, research agencies becoming voices of the people, content publishers becoming partners in thought-leadership. The time to be master conductors is upon us.


When faced with an insurmountable threat that cannot be overcome by one, we see superheroes team up – The Avengers, Justice League, Guardians of the Galaxy – different strengths and styles coming together. To create work that matters or work that’s ahead of its time, we will need more of these collabs between planners and others. I’d love to see planners across agencies (and across regions) collaborate to develop talent or to help with a social cause. Planners and experts such as technologists will team-up to create the next big thing. Planners will team up with client business and R&D teams to develop new products. Planners and media platforms will work together to change or impact perspectives.

So, while we will continue to conduct business-as-usual, we will evolve. We need agencies and clients to invest in planning, and people to believe in its power. In 2015 and beyond, I do believe we will see the strategic planning community in MENA and around the world – as individuals and as a collective – bring the above superpowers to the forefront, take the center stage, dare to create work for our eulogy and not our résumés, and not surrender to the mundane, saving our industry. We must. And as Pa Kent tells his adopted son Clark (Superman) in the movie, The Man of Steel, “They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun”.