It’s Time to Get Ready for Your Annual Marketing Planning. First, Break Everything.

building a marketing plan

The year is almost over. That means it’s time to write your annual marketing plan. (You do have a plan, right? I hope you aren’t spending money without one!) The next few posts are going to show you how to create a plan that gets results—and have fun doing it.

Let’s face it. Most of the time, an annual planning meeting is kind of a downer. It starts by looking backward. What did we achieve against our business plan? Where did we fail? What worked, what didn’t? Obviously, no firm reaches 100% of its goals, so there are bound to be some disappointments. That’s why this part of the process usually feels about as much fun as weighing yourself.Next, you run down last year’s marketing projects. Do we think the kids liked the magic show? That restaurant everybody loved closed, so does anybody have a new idea for gift certificates? Anybody read the website recently? Does it need updating?

While this is all going on, Bob walks in late, Aaron has to leave early, and Kayla knocks on the door and has a ten-minute discussion with the whole room about a wire transfer question.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, your marketing plan should start with your business plan. Yes, you should learn from your successes and failures. But does this tedious process seem likely to produce breakthrough new ideas that will take your firm to the next level? No, it doesn’t. It just puts you in the wrong mindset to have fruitful planning discussions.

I want to describe FiComm’s annual marketing planning meeting. It’s probably a little different from what you’re used to.

The Crazy Scene at FiComm’s Own Planning Meeting

The first things I noticed were the pom-poms.

Wait. Let me back up a bit.

A few weeks before FiComm’s 2018 annual planning meeting, we told all of our clients that, for four hours on a Friday morning, we would be bringing the whole team offsite. We warned them we’d be turning our phones off. Our clients were not only fine with this, they actually gave us a lot of love for it on Twitter.

Now, back to the pom-poms. As soon as I arrived at the meeting, I spotted them sitting in the middle of the conference table. Along with stickers, cotton puffs, pipe cleaners, plastic eyeball—and glitter. I thought I was walking into arts-and-crafts hour at band camp.

But I wasn’t. It was a Creative Stoke, organized by Kirsten Plonner, FiComm’s amazing chief of communications and the head of our New York office. Kirsten also teaches at Columbia, worked as a journalist at CNBC and NBC, and developed extremely serious strategy skills working for Fidelity and for big clients at Weber Shandwick and Fleischman-Hillard.

Yes, this was the person who was now making us play with plastic eyeballs.

We were here to brainstorm ideas for 2018: long-term goals, new media narratives, big trends impacting our industry, ideas for evolving the business, and so on. First, Kirsten divided us into groups, and assigned each team a high-level topic or trend to discuss. We had two hours to throw out our ideas. Then, Kristen came back and said: Take your best idea, and pretend you could apply magic to it. What could you do then? We talked for a while longer. Then she came back a second time, asking: What if you could apply a million dollars to your idea? How would that help? Finally, she returned one more time. She told us to pick up the craft supplies and physically make our idea to present to the group. As in, take a completely intangible thought, and render it in pipe cleaners.

Sound ridiculous?

I can’t begin to tell you all the incredible ideas that came out of this process after four short group brainstorming sessions. Something about it forced both halves of everybody’s brains to work together. Even after we wrapped for the day, the only thing people could talk about was how to connect all these different ideas together and apply them to our clients. All of us were incredibly excited to get to work. We still are!

Now, you probably aren’t eager to sit around your office with a glue gun and empty toilet paper rolls. But there are deeper lessons here. I think you can steal some of our ideas, and turn your next annual marketing planning into a better experience—with a bigger payoff for your firm.

I’ll share some specific how-to tips in my next post.