Plan to Think. Think to Plan.

I have come to the conclusion that too many agency professionals either can not or are not willing to devote adequate time to the “thinking” process. And even fewer clients are willing to pay for it.

It’s ridiculous, bordering on insane.

The business we are in requires exceptional thought. Like most jobs, much of what we do is repetitive. However, it is repetitive in the sense that writing is repetitive to journalists or surgery is repetitive to surgeons. Every situation involves subtle, if not unique differences that require thought… often deep thought. Inspection, consideration, reflection, even meditation are required to arrive at the proper and potentially best solution.

And oh by the way, that’s what we are educated, trained and experienced at doing (at least in theory). Speaking for myself, I studied mass communications theory, interpersoanl communications, public relations, journalism and marketing until it was coming out my ears. Upon graduation I was immediately immersed into the minutia that is the foundation of our business, developing endless media lists, writing endless news releases, calling endless lists of reporters and editors to pimp my news releases, developing plans, being introduced through training and direct involvement in the larger scope of marketing, planning and implementing direct marketing campaigns, planning and implementing crisis communications initiatives, planning and implementing national publicity and media relations campaigns and on and on and on (28 years of nonstop agency action, working with big accounts and small businesses, local companies and international organizations, industrial accounts, consumer accounts, professional associations, blah, blah, blah).

In short, we know what we are doing.

Of course, expedience is often of the essence, but in the sense that a journalist must meet deadlines or a physician must save lives. Unfortunately too often the timing of an activity – whether it is research, strategic planning or the execution of a tactic – is driven not so much by critical deadlines as it is budgets.

More often than not it is essential and invaluable to take adequate time to think through a situation – considering target audiences and objectives and market conditions and timelines and a thousand other things – before jumping to a strategy or tactic. Instead we are focused on coming up with a quick and easy (and inexpensive) solution.

Time is money (the mantra of our industry), true enough. But working on a shoestring budget that does not account for “thinking” is foolish on both parts. Clients shouldn’t expect it and agencies shouldn’t do it. No one wins.

I am not talking about dubious “administrative” or “client management” budgets (bottomless buckets) that rightfully trigger flashing red lights for even the most generous client contacts. Nor am I advocating that the “thinking” process become a convenient excuse for inaction.

I am talking about allowing for budgets that account for reasonable “thinking” and the subsequent “sharing” and “development” of those thoughts.

Agencies, consider this: If a client is not willing to pay you for thinking, do you really want to be working with that client; going through the motions like a short order cook in an all night diner?

Clients, consider this: If an agency is willing to forego the thinking process and simply do the job as specified, do you really want to be working with that agency?

Mahatma Ghandi said that a man is the product of his thoughts; what we think, we become.

So what do we become if we do not think?

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.