You're not a planner, you're a lawyer

You're not a planner, you're a lawyer

In June, Google Firestarters invited seven planners to talk about the most useful thing they had learned in their careers.

It was a stellar line-up that included two strategists who combine their planning genius with immaculate comedy timing: Saatchi & Saatchi's Richard Huntington and Lucky Generals' Andy Nairn. If you ever get the chance to hear them speak, don’t miss it. 

Amelia Torode, TBWA\London's chief strategy officer, told us what her one-time boss Jon Steel had said to her: "You’re not a planner, you’re a lawyer."

Is your main job to lay out each detail of the construction of a communications plan or to convince your audience – the client – to buy your point of view? If it's the latter, then borrowing techniques from the courtroom might be useful.

Torode cited the OJ Simpson trial not only for its famous use of rhyme ("if it doesn't fit, you must acquit") but also a less known but 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?

Rhyme and rhetoric.

In addition, try humour and repetition. George Carman QC was famous for both. In a notorious case in which he defended the comic Ken Dodd for tax evasion, Carman said: "Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants." Dodd was acquitted.

When the South African journalist Jani Allan sued Channel 4 for the allegation that she had an affair with the white supremacist Eugène Terre'Blanche, Carman successfully persuaded the jury to rule against her. A key part of the trial was Carman's interrogation of Allan's former friend Linda Shaw, who said she'd seen the couple through the keyhole. He asked her what she'd seen. She said: "A bottom." He pressed on: "What colour?" "White," she replied. He pushed for more detail. She explained that it was large. He then repeatedly asked her to confirm if what she had seen was a large, white bottom. And what she thought that large, white bottom was up to.

Carman: "Where was the bottom in relation tp the knees?"
Shaw: "In between her two knees."
Carman: "There was movement up and down?"

And so on.

You get the picture. Literally, I suspect – just as the jury did. So paint a picture, then repeat it. And again.

Commentators say that the secret to Carman's success was simple: sheer hard work in studying every detail of the evidence and data to build his case. So, 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 the latest Google Firestarters would agree.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom

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