You are not a planner you are a lawyer

Google Firestarters this June invited a selection of 7 planners to come and talk about the most useful thing that they’d learned in their careers.

It was a stellar line up (details at Neil Perkin’s Only Dead Fish page) and included two planners who combine their planning genius with immaculate comedy timing, so if you get the chance to go and see them speak don’t miss it (Richard Huntingdon CSO at Saatchi and Andy Nairn partner at Lucky Generals).  All of the speakers combined erudition, humour and stuff to learn from.

Amelia Torode, TBWA’s CSO, told us what she’d been told by her one time boss Jon Steel : “You’re not a planner you’re a lawyer”.

Is your main job to lay out each detail of the construction of a comms plan or to win your audience – the client – to buy your point of view?

If it’s the latter then borrowing techniques from the court room might be really useful.

From the OJ Simpson trial Torode mentioned not only the famous use of rhyme (“if the glove don’t fit you must acquit”), but also a less known equally persuasive question from the defence team : how many cockroaches do you need to find in a bowl of spaghetti before you decide not to eat it?

So rhyme and rhetoric.  In addition try humour, try repetition.  George Carman QC was famous for both.  In a notorious case where he fought for one time household name and popular comic Ken Dodd (87 and still touring) up in the dock for tax evasion he said: “Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants.”  Dodd was acquitted.

When South African liberal journalist Jani Allan sued Channel 4 for the allegation that she had had an affair with the neo-Nazi leader, Eugene Terre Blanche, Carman successfully persuaded the jury to give their verdict against her.  A key part of the trial was his interrogation of her former friend, Linda Shaw who said she’d seen them through the keyhole.  He asked her what she’d seen.  She said “a bottom”.  He asked “what colour?” “White” she replied.  He pressed for more detail.  She explained that it was large.  He then repeatedly asked her to confirm that what she had seen was in fact a large, white, bottom. And what she thought that that large white bottom was up to.

Carman: “Where was the bottom in relation to the knees?’

Shaw: ‘In between her two knees.’

Carman: ‘There was movement up and down?’ And so on..

You get the picture.  Literally I expect, just like the jury did.  So paint a picture, then repeat it. And again.

In another way the success of a good planner has the same root as that of a great lawyer as I’m sure all the speakers at Google Firestarters 15 would agree.  Commentators said of Carman that the secret of his success was simple: sheer hard work studying every detail of the evidence and data to build his case.




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