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Page last updated: 14 June 2011

Open Planning: a future for communication planning

The Centre has been active in collaborating with practitioners to develop a new advanced methodology for integrated communications planning on a media- or channel-neutral basis.

Why it matters

Through communications people establish relationships, common meaning and understanding. The purpose of marketing communication is to add value to both the brand and its customers. Each interaction of the brand with an individual constitutes an act of communication. And, ultimately, a brand is a psychological experience that is a result of communication. Communication methodology is obviously important therefore. Yet practitioners find a very real problem.

Over decades a variety of specialised forms of marketing communications with associated media have developed, to the point that many practitioners and experts find the diversity confusing and choices hard to make. They feel the need to develop new techniques of planning (and evaluation) that lead to optimisation of mix and support harmonisation of results, supported by discoveries of the benefits of integration. Such new techniques have to overcome inherited biases and political distortions that sub-optimise performance.

The challenge

This challenge proved important to the Centre for Integrated Marketing. Within the big picture of Integrated Marketing, we needed to establish a minimum capability in integrated communications at both planning and evaluation stage. If the marketing community is not able to follow a rigorous method that leads to economic optimisation of the narrower range of marketing communications how could we expect to expand the scope to cover or organisational touch points and business channels? Any such method would have to begin with the customer/consumer (for example, insights about their value to the brand, need states, contact preferences, behaviours and usage occasions). It would need to address the selection of communication methods, such as the different disciplines of advertising, PR and sales promotion, as well as the media to reach these disciplines work. And optimum method would enable selection of the best mix of disciplines and media in terms of their ability to reach the right consumers at the right times with the best messages in the most effective way at the lowest cost. This means that it needs to be both scientifically and creatively rigorous. The complexity of evaluating such a mix also needs to be addressed.

It was also very obvious from the research that we did that this was more than a purely scientific problem. Even if the media planning agency could do a perfect job and creatives could execute it perfectly there were also wider political and structural issues to do with the way the marketing functions in organisations worked.

Our involvement and the MNP 'best practice group' 

We tackled this challenge by recruiting a judgement panel of more than 20 senior marketing decision makers operating across charitable, B2B, FMCG, consumer durables and consumer services sectors to take part in a 15-month research project into media neutral and integrated communication planning.  The project was chaired by a visiting professor, Kevin Bishop and the research was led by Angus Jenkinson, then Professor of Integrated Marketing at the University of Luton (now Bedfordshire). Members belonged to both brand and agency sectors, with agency representatives from PR, advertising, direct, media planning and other disciplines. 20 further senior marketing professionals had a consultative role supporting the core group.

The participants dedicated typically around 30-40 hours each to the research project, which ran from November 2002 to December 2003. The methods used included plenary meetings with activities ranging from discussions, expert witness statements, presentations, workshop activities, assignments, and illustrative examples. In parallel, sub-groups worked on agreed assignments and shared their findings with the group. All meetings were recorded and transcribed. The group also used a web-based forum that represents an additional data source. Findings were reported back and agreed.  This resulted in a set of recommendations that constitute a comprehensive approach to planning known as ‘Open Planning', which were endorsed by the CIM in January 2004 (

Our findings were published on a separate website, Here you can also find a list of the participants and all the detailed recommendations.

There are also several papers on this site that give a more detailed overview. For example, the AOL Case study provides an interesting survey of the history of fragmentation in marketing as well as pointing to the way to escape this fragmentation. Also recommended is a practitioner oriented academic paper using the NSPCC, which was one of the participants, as a case study for the new practice. Other papers have been published by, for example, the Marketing Society (Jenkinson, A. 1994, Open Planning is set to revolutionise marketing communications, Marketing Society, available at and the Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing (Planning and evaluating communications in an integrated organisation, Vol. 14 No. 4).

Open Planning summary

The Open Planning process consists of 8 sets of insights and practice recommendations (see figure 1), which are based on 5 process elements:

Open Planning Actions

Figure 1: Open Planning Framework

  1. Identify the stakeholder community segment for communication.
  2. Plan from the highest strategic levels of brand positioning to the fine detail of a banner, mail pack insert or phone script using a single, standard planning and evaluation framework.
  3. Plan, optimise and brief across anything that communicates: charity shop, mail order product, TV, mail, sponsorship, PR etc. treating each genuinely on its merits in a way that stimulates maximum creativity (every contact point represents a medium) and with agencies working as a team.
  4. Recognise that any communications discipline or medium can potentially achieve any type of communications objective.
  5. Post-execution, evaluate communication and business effectiveness and efficiency using common currencies, based on the common framework.

Adopting Open Planning appears to be a process of both education and change.  Each organisation would need to find its own route to achieving this, but there are general steps, which can be outlined and are demonstrated by current practice.  These are outlined below, based on the recommendations of the best practice group.

1. Chief Communications Officer (CCO) commitment

The CCO needs to take action to achieve change.  This may include self-education and an audit of current practice as well as the formulation of a series of strategic goals (corresponding to highlights below) as well as a route plan for achieving them.

2. Progressively adopt structural and skill-based changes

Skills within the team are clearly needed to implement the enhanced approach, principally:

  • Social skills in working together and process and project management skills for implementation
  • Communication skills: understanding afresh the capabilities of media and disciplines being comfortable with different channels, reflected in use of appropriate tools (see below)

Structural changes recommended include:

  • Adoption of a "team of equals" approach to core agencies.  This implies changes in the charity's way of working with the agencies (reflected in contracts, attitudes and processes) and also changes in the agencies in how they see themselves and each other.
  • Payment and contract changes: separation of payment for ideas from payment for execution and a significant team-performance element to payment by results
  • Organisation of the charity's communications functions within a process that co-ordinates all communications for a given stakeholder community.  This might be by organising by stakeholder type (not internal function) as IBM did, or by ensuring a mapping of activities within each time period, as the NSPCC does.  The aim is to ensure that each recipient perceives coherence across the charity's communications.

3. Adopt an ‘Open Tool' planning method integrated into an ‘Open Process'

The ‘Open Tool' method enables all communications of whatever type to be planned and evaluated using a single framework.  Characteristics of an open tool are highlighted below. The MNP Best Practice Group nominated CODAR® as a benchmark for open tools.  It uses a framework of five dimensions to enable each communication activity to be defined, prioritised and evaluated.  Econometric analysis (the business effects of communication activity) then becomes both more effective and also consistent across all activities ("open results").  A good open tool operationalises best practice concepts.

Table 1: Characteristics of an effective open tool, source Jenkinson

  • A single framework for planning and evaluating all communications based on human psychology.
  • Simple, yet rigorous: enabling profound insights about communication objectives and how they will contribute to organisational goals.
  • Providing a clear brief for research that is also easy to translate into a research instrument for planning and evaluation. Ideally it should even work as a research library organisation tool, since research should be accessible according to planning criteria.
  • Appropriate for all and any stakeholders' interactions with the brand, across all media/Touchpoints in any kind of communication by any skill group. For example, supporting internal briefing for internal communication centres, such as call centres, while also working for the advertising, direct or PR agency
  • More precision in the brief yet enabling more ‘creatively effective' and efficient solutions.
  • Adaptable to all kinds of working situation and levels of application. For example enhancing a conversation in the corridor, a workshop, electronic briefing, econometric database(s), optimisation tools and knowledge management system(s), working both hi-tech and lo-tech.
  • Specifically enabling channel optimisation tools to support planning.
  • Easy to connect it to existing tools, supporting an upgrade path for current systems
  • Enabling a corporate-wide performance database for econometric analysis that provides genuine common currency accountability, learning and insight.

This is then implemented by integration into an ‘open planning process' that briefs each agency and activity, using a common framework for objectives and evaluation, and which begins with an equal opportunity for all agencies/methods to be used.  In practice, this means proceeding from an historic set of given assumptions about methods and roles to a more creative platform for innovation. 

The team also developed a template for a Open Planning process. If you would like more information please get in touch with Angus Jenkinson, although further details are also given in the papers cited above.

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