Planning for the Best: Nina Juenemann on Making the Role Whatever You Want It to Be
Nina Juenemann is one of the most experienced planners in Germany and is head of strategic planning for GGH MullenLowe in Germany.
After graduating with a masters in 1996, the communication scientist and advertising psychologist worked in Hamburg for Lintas and Jung von Matt, before going into business for herself in 2001, undertaking work for several agencies.
Her focus areas include classic branding as well as market research and analysis. Over the years, she has been in charge of many local and global brands like BMW and Europcar, as well as numerous FMCG brands like NIVEA, L’Oréal and Martini. She is passionate strategist and teaches at Miami Ad School Europe in Hamburg.
LBB> What do you think is the difference between a strategist and a planner? Is there one?
Nina> There are so many different ways of working in planning/strategy, so many different tasks and challenges, so many different agencies that employ planners, that there isn’t a typical job definition or name for what we’re all doing. That’s why there are a number of names and job titles in our profession. The job itself requires a lot of flexibility in terms of processes, tools, and what you add to the result (sometimes, a planning deck is the result – sometimes it’s just taking part in a discussion). So, no one – not even the planners I’ve met - is 100% sure about what a planner or a strategist is supposed to be delivering.
But to be honest, that’s the thing I really love about my job: that there’s space for making the role whatever you want it to be. So, I call myself whatever works best in any given situation.
LBB> We’re used to hearing about the best creative advertising campaigns, but what’s your favourite historic campaign from a strategic perspective? One that you feel demonstrates great strategy?
Nina> I will always love the “For the love of dogs” campaign by TBWA/Chiat Day for Pedigree. That is such a beautiful platform, relevant for any market, any region, any dog lover. It turned Pedigree from a dog food manufacturer into a dog-centred company, doing everything they do to make it possible for dogs to live the best life they can. And the insight is just so universal: you don’t get a dog to feed and service it. You get a dog to share your life with it as a member of the family.
LBB> When you’re turning a business brief into something that can inform an inspiring creative campaign, do you find the most useful resource to draw on?
Nina> Life. People. Mankind, in a way. I really feel that many business challenges exist because companies and marketing people have become disconnected from people, how they use their products, what they hope, what they feel, what makes them happy or content or what drives them. Discovering what REALLY matters to people is the most important prompt we can use for building outstanding creative work. However, this kind of insight is rarely something you’ll find in market research. It’s so much more about collecting what we call “Small data”: A glimpse into the shopping cart of a man in his forties who buys light beer. What else is he buying, and why? Does he maybe have a new girlfriend? Is he compensating on calories because he’s indulging into something else? Does he play sports, does he like the taste of beer but hate the hangover, what is it that makes him go for the category, the brand, the product?
It’s easy to explain for an FMCG category, but I feel this rings true also for non-commodities or even B2B. There’s always a lot of rational factors, but in the end, a decision always incorporates some sort of “irrational”, more gut feel factors. Those are the fun ones for planners and creatives, I think.
LBB> What part of your job/the strategic process do you enjoy the most?
Nina> I love working with people as a part of the team. I love seeing strategy come to life in great creative work. And I get excited about “the nugget” every time, about discovering a strategic thought that is unexpected, disruptive, different, weird – in other words, interesting.
LBB> What strategic maxims, frameworks or principles do you find yourself going back to over and over again? Why are they so useful?
Nina> I like the basic stuff. The Golden Circle, because it really forces you to go beyond advertising, and you quickly realize when things get phony and constructed. Any kind of brand framework to organize the thinking. Archetypes are back in planning fashion after they had their high in the 90’s, and I really love working with them. Anything that helps tie together the mass of messages and channels there are today, to focus on the one big thought is useful. We have great tools in the network that are really concise and easy to work with, for example, tools to help with building customer journeys.
LBB> What sort of creatives do you like to work with? As a strategist, what do you want them to do with the information you give them?
Nina> I like to work with creatives who like thinking, who get inspired by thinking, who don’t want to leave the thinking to someone else because “it’s the planner’s job”. I want them to be connected to people, to be able to look beyond their own bubble. And I want them to go wild with anything I can provide them, better to shoot too far then to be too timid.
LBB> There’s a negative stereotype about strategy being used to validate creative ideas, rather than as a resource to inform them and make sure they’re effective. How do you make sure the agency gets this the right way round?
Nina> Honestly, I really don’t know what “the right way around” is supposed to be, as I see strategy and creative really working hand to hand. It’s not a process in which strategy does A and then hands over to creative who do B. I have often been inspired by super smart questions posed by creatives, by fun facts they’ve brought into the discussion, by information that came to table from account management. I see the process of devising the work as iterative, as a conversation, as a mosaic. Not a straight path.
LBB> What have you found to be the most important consideration in recruiting and nurturing strategic talent? And how has Covid changed the way you think about this?
Nina> I think for anyone who wants to work in planning and strategy, the most important thing to bring to the table is the ability to differentiate between your own opinion and an observation. For some people this is easy, for others nearly impossible. So, it’s important to check that out. Also, I always look for people who get excited if they discover something new or find a new way of looking at things. But I think the hardest thing is for someone to hold on to this quality, because we all tend to get strung up in all the data and background information that seems to tell a super logical story. So that’s what we try to do in our team – always step back and look for what’s really behind the figures. The rest is proper training, the awesome tools we are out there, and helping people to keep pushing their limits. Covid has not really changed anything. It just makes me happy to see my team so adaptive, so responsible for their work, so dedicated to what they’re doing. I’m just the soccer mom, driving them to the games, handing them towels and drinks.
LBB> In recent years it seems like effectiveness awards have grown in prestige and agencies have paid more attention to them. How do you think this has impacted on how strategists work and the way they are perceived?
Nina> Oh, I love this. When I used to work at Jung von Matt, our team there was called “Efficiencers”, people who make sure that all the shiny awesome campaigns actually work. And GGH MullenLowe believes in work that moves people, markets, brands – the world, in the end. We’re not in art, we’re still trying to sell stuff. If we’re not effective (and in my opinion, brand building is also a major factor of effectiveness), we’re not doing a good job altogether. But at the same time, we have to make sure we don’t get misunderstood as being the number-crunching consultant that tries to maximise ROI and performance.
LBB> Do you have any frustrations with planning/strategy as a discipline?
Nina> I would so often love to have more time to dig deeper into topics. Things need to get done so fast nowadays, I’m always afraid of only seeing the surface of things. We need to go deeper to really touch people.
LBB> What advice would you give to anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner?
Nina> Anyone considering a career as a strategist/planner is a good person and should totally try it out.