How Don Draper Could Help Our Planners

Lessons from Don Draper (for Planners) – From Planetizen


I caught this real gem from Planetizen on Planners needing to think like Don Draper from the Mad Men series. Now I do not mean: smoking, drinking and being a patronising SOB especially towards women. I mean the actual sales pitch of ideas and concepts to your clients and in our case stakeholders.

From Planetizen’s opening line:

Lessons from Don Draper (for Planners)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 – 4:00pm PST by GEORGIA SHERIDAN  and AMBER HAWKES
Aside from inspiring a classy wardrobe, what can urban planners learn from characters like Don Draper and Peggy Olson? What cues should urban planners and policy makers take from the field of advertising to help pitch planning ideas?
Carin Baer / AMC

One when pitching and presenting should always have a “classy wardrobe” at disposal. When I give presentations pushing for policy initiatives, or at full media briefings both at Town Hall you will find me in full suit and black shoes. If it is a “standard” media briefing or a meeting with say the Deputy Mayor it is still smart pants, black shoes and open collared long sleeve shirt with a jacket on hand if the weather fouls up (otherwise known as smart attire). As I am not presenting at the upcoming Auckland Development Committee next Thursday (the 13th) but will be observing and live Tweeting I will be in the smart attire “mode.” If there is a large amount of follow-up  to do with Manukau after last November’s presentation, I will be in full suit mode – otherwise it will be smart attire.

The point I am making here is that when delivering a pitch as Don Draper does you dress professionally as a mark of professionalism. That said our senior planners dress professionally as well but I am serving a reminder to everyone.

Back to what urban planners and our policy makers (this includes urban designers and often Auckland Transport) though could learn from Don Draper and Peggy Olson and the advertising world when pitching ideas. I’ll use the seven point from the Planetizen post as reference points:


1. Make it Personal; Be Relatable

“You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.” – Don Draper, Mad Men

This is true and the amount of times I have seen detached and robotic presentations from either Council Planners and Urban Designers presenting to the public, or people presenting to the Council is rather scary. The Unitary Plan until comms caught up (and by then it was too late and it fell down to three blogs and Metro Magazine to get messages back on track) was a classic case presenting something in an impersonal and not relatable manner to the public initially. Yes you have the grand overall arching concept of the Unitary Plan but at its logical end you need to break it right down to the personal level for the individual citizen. Do that and you will avoid groups gaining footholds and spreading half-truths around the place and skewering the debate.

If you have seen me present especially with the Super Metropolitan Centre concept work at the moment you will see I make that the pitch is personal and relatable to the individual. Manukau Super Metropolitan Centre (and this is where Transport Blog fails (and fails to see as they get caught up in their own hype with Downtown (cue: A Perspective on the CBD and Waterfront and the continued importance of our industry and the Port that keeps the CBD alive))) is about the sense of identity – the sense of place we the individuals and communities of Southern Auckland (whether urban or rural) can relate to. As I have said before Southern Auckland relates its sense of identity more to Manukau than the main CBD of Auckland. Business and industry in the area also relate to Manukau as the servicing hub. It is how package the Manukau Super Metropolitan Centre product, I package the product so it is personal and relatable.


2. Tell a Story

“Being noticed isn’t enough anymore. You also have to reach hearts and minds.” – Ogilvy Washington, Creative Studio

This ties up with number one very well. When telling a story it is often quite personal and relatable (which is very different to a story so far-fetched that it is unbelievable) thus people again relate back to the idea/product you are pitching. Our Planners and Auckland Transport do tell stories but to be critical they miss the first point and are impersonal. Again as we move with the Unitary Plan and so the Area, and Integrated Transport Plans a story needs to be told. Not the story on Auckland becoming the World’s Most Liveable City as quite honestly no one either cares or can relate to it. You need to tell the story on how these plans again relate to the individual. Example the City Rail Link allows increased frequencies and the constructions of new lines like the Airport, North Shore and even Botany that are not served by rail. This in turn allows people more options in their travel choice and guess what – fewer cars on State Highway One so our freight and trade people are not snarled on traffic. How do make this ultimately personal? Choice and convenience for the individual. Why spend two hours commuting when you can spend just one hour. That is an extra hour in your day to do something that you can enjoy.

The Manukau Rail South Link was a classic case of me telling a story while making it personal. Manukau is the main hub where Rebekka and I conduct business, shop, entertain and meet up with other people. Right now the only way to get to Manukau is by 18 minute car trip each way (from Papakura). With that in mind we are limited in when we can go to Manukau either due to full car parks or rush hour traffic after 3pm in the area. We take the car as there is no decent train service to Manukau from Papakura currently and buses take three times as long as the car (as well as the fact the nearest bus stop is well beyond walking distance).

Build the South Link and run 20 minute services – seven days a week from Papakura/Pukekohe to Manukau direct via the South Link and Rebekka and I would as first choice catch the train (we are 10 minute walk from the Papakura Station). Why catch the train with the South Link built? No need to worry about car parks or rush hour traffic curtailing our activities. Freedom of choice to do what we want when we want – and not dictated by State Highway One!


3. Brand It

“Their value builds for years, and over time, a good tagline can be your best and least expensive form of advertising.” – Wild East Group, Brand Management and Business Development Agency. 

Click for full resolution
Click for full resolution

This is the Mk1 version of a branding exercise I keep floating around marketing Manukau. The tag lines are Better Auckland, and Super Manukau. Executed properly in a full marketing campaign you could see the Unitary Plan rather than focusing on the most Liveable City it focuses on a Better Auckland – something Aucklanders can relate and want. Super Manukau (based from Manukau Super Metropolitan Centre) builds on to the Better Auckland while playing to the emotional connotations of wanting Manukau to be Super (the best place to be). Okay sure I need to refine the branding exercise better but it does show good branding works. I believe for the Unitary Plan it is meant to be “Shape Auckland”  while the Mayor goes The World’s Most Liveable City.


4. Simplify

“Most campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of objectives, and try to reconcile the divergent view of too many executives. By attempting to cover too many things, they achieve nothing.” – David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising[4]

Boil your message down to three or four key points. A laundry list of project goals will dilute your message. Take time to establish a hierarchy in the information you want to present. Then get to the point fast and do not waste words. The human mind is hard-wired to remember information in groups of four or less. “The more people are asked to recall, the less accurate their recollection is.”[5]

Help your reader follow the flow of information with headers and other visual cues to strengthen the hierarchy. Use lists and bullets, rather than sentences, where possible. Be precise and avoid jargon, acronyms, and repetitive adjectives. “Reliance on long words, which are often more abstract than common short ones, can be a sign that you have not worked out exactly what you want to say.”[6] Do the Twitter test and ask yourself—can I make my point in 140 characters?

Metro “opposites” campaign. Source:


Keep it simple stupid. In my recent Civics series I have pointers on how to produce and give effective presentations. My Civics 401 post in regards to presentations I will put again below for easy reference:

From Civics 401:

Some basic pointers when presenting to the Committee:

  • Powerpoints are fine and recommended as the Committee Members and members of the public can see what you are referring too. That said remember the following with Powerpoint:
    • Text is bad, white space and pictures/graphics are good
    • At the absolute maximum you should run on the page: 1/3 text, 1/3 white space, 1/3 pictures! Anything more and it is cluttered and too hard to understand. My Manukau presentation is a classic example – although this was set for a full deputation at the Auckland Development Committee
  • One page per minute so no more than five pages for a five-minute presentation. Anything more and too much paper shuffling that slows a presentation down
  • Supplementary material is usually okay. I have used it before in larger presentations where the “booklet” contained more the technical notes for referencing later on after the presentation. Councillors do read and have referred to supplementary material for further information after a presentation as an aid when later forming policy decisions. That said use the supplementary material sparingly especially if you present often (more than 3x a year). As the saying goes too much of something puts people off. In any case this is where blogs kick in (see further down)
  • If you critique something or a policy of the Council or Auckland Transport, then provide an alternative that can be backed up with research. If you do that you sound less like a NIMBY and more like a pro-active citizen that the Committee will pay attention to. It is easy to say NO but hard to provide that alternative
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before the Committee starts to familiarise yourself with the environment and have a couple of chats to other people in the room. If nothing else this proves to be a good ice-breaker
  • Thank the Committee Chair by email (I think Penny might hit me up on that one if I forgot last time :-P) after the presentation is given. I do so as an act of courtesy to the Committee for their time and it is also a good way to keep the communication lines open. Most times the Committee Chair might send an email back as a measure of thanks as well.
  • Patience. Some Councillors on the Committees have the tendency to go off track when asking questions and I have had it a few times. A good Committee Chair will pull the Councillor in question back into line when that happens. However, if not then ask the said Councillor what is the relevance of your question to my presentation. It will usually put them back on track.
  • Practice before hand and before the day of the Committee with family or friends.  An old technique that makes the big day easier.

I have seen too many presentations from the planners, urban designers and especially Auckland Transport that are too complex, full of jargon, and graphics that can not be easily read if at all. SIMPLIFY if you want buy-in and not hostility especially from the community…


5.  Confront the Controversy

“Truth is the key to great marketing. In this day and age, with social media and gotcha journalism and Wikileaks, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. We believe in telling the truth to each other and we believe in telling the truth to the people we are trying to sell things to. Now, our job is to make it a beautiful truth, and to shine a great light on things that are true… we are great at telling stories that are truthful, and that’s why they resonate with people.” – Matt Jarvis, Chief Strategy Officer, 72andSunny. [7]

Armed with the simple truth and making it relatable (so cue the story) and you will always be in the best position when having to put something as controversial as the Unitary Plan forward. These simple weapons will always defeat those who spin and run the media with scaremongering with half-truths.

That said (and this can be a key point against those who spin) disagreements, critiques and debates all three of us welcome (this is different from trolling and flaming) as it will often drive discovery and even better solutions. To be honest I could say the three of us while not tolerant of mongering, we are not particular tolerant of “yes-men” either when a situation calls for full and truthful debates (remember Democracy is often a free contest of ideas).

I left this post behind for Auckland 2040 (Auckland 2040 – So We Need to Talk) after the initial round of Unitary Plan feedback. I have noticed they and the North Shore are particularly quiet at the moment as we reach closing date of the Unitary Plan formal submissions.


7. Tailor Your Message

“Don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.” – Leo Burnett, creative communication company [8]

Advertisers are keenly aware that people are different, and as such, they must tailor their message to each demographic group. Products are advertised at different times and places and in different mediums to respond to the daily habits of consumer groups. With limited budgets and constrained timeframes, planners often fall victim to a one-size-fits-all campaign. This may work for some planning projects, but not all. Matching the message and the medium in which it is delivered to the target group is critical to getting planning ideas into the public realm.

Street vendor guide. Photo by Prudence Katze and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. Source: Candy Chang at



Again this ties in with points one and two made above. The Unitary Plan, often urban design presentations, and until recently Auckland Transport presentations were generalistic and not tailored back down to the personal level. Yes we know the Unitary Plan is a regional document and the Area Plans will deal with the more specifics closer to home (thus personal). But I can guarantee (and this should have been made apparent at the Civic Forums last year and the year before) that despite being regional, the Unitary Plan could have been again tailored right down to individual person as every person (and business) has different requirements from the Unitary Plan.

Auckland Transport have been getting real savvy with their tailored messages around the benefits of public transport. Check these two graphics from Auckland Transport that have caught international attention and acclaim:

PortGroup Port Group Nov 21
Spotted in Mt Eden! Port creative for @AklTransport. Check out the rest of the artwork here


urbanexploreAKL eyeonauckland 2 Feb 3
These ads are worth a retweet. @AklTransport

Simple, truthful, personal, relatable, and tailored. Very well done indeed from AT. Now if we can get them to be a bit more proactive with public and active transport infrastructure we might get further along in building a Better Auckland.



7. Make It Visual

We remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we read, and 80% of what we see and do. – Syntactic Theory on Visual Communication [9]

Studies indicate that the human memory is best suited to visual information. Presenters who use visual aids were shown to be 43 percent more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action than presenters who do not use visuals.[10]

Use graphics, maps, charts, and photos to strengthen your message. A picture is worth a thousand words, but only if it is the right picture. Good visuals can illuminate data, articulate points, and guide the viewer through your thought process. Bad visuals can jumble your message, bore the audience, and misdirect attention. Make sure that your graphics are legible at the scale you plan to present and pass the ten-second rule (i.e. do you get the point within ten seconds). Are the images recognizable or pixelated? Are you charts clear? Are the labels and annotations necessary? Simplify graphics to eliminate superfluous information. Study your font size. Can it be read without squinting? Do the colors highlight the most important parts of your message?

Edward Tufte Chart Junk. Figure by Nigel Homes: “Edward Tufte: A visual display of quantitative information”. Source on web:


Avoid what Edward Tufte calls “chart junk” (e.g. add-ons in Powerpoint like animations, 3D lettering, and drop shadow), which can clutter and distract the viewer from the data. Infographics are on the rise, but not all infographics are created equal. Spend time to evaluate your graphics and assure that they are helping, not hurting, your message. To look at some quality infographic campaigns, see Column Five Media’s work.

“As the world moves faster each day, it is necessary to communicate your message in a quick, clear, and engaging way that sets it apart from the noise.” – Column Five Media

With more data and information available to the public than ever before, and new mediums with which to share it, grabbing the attention of the public is not easy. Let us make sure that when we do have our audience’s attention, we are ready to make the most of it—with thoughtful, clear, and compelling messages.


My Civic 401 post again pointed this out. What was made in Point Seven is something I adhere to strictly when presenting. The Manukau November presentation below was the last presentation I gave and gives an example of Point Seven in action. That said on one of the slides I was pushing the 1/3rd text rule a bit and should probably have cut back. Also of note is when I gave the presentation I also had the supplementary booklet with all the relevant information from the pitch for the Councillors to read later on. This follows the ‘presentation as a summary’ methodology in keeping it simple and to the point.


The Planetizen post on advertising skills for planners was an apt post and should be compulsory reading for the Council. Some days they pull it off well (like AT’s bus ads) but most days it is often to be much desired. It will take time to adopt the seven points made in Planetizen but it would be highly worth it to do so. Especially if better buy in from the community is being sort after – and to avoid the initial disaster that beset the early stages of the last Unitary Plan feedback round.

The Manukau Presentation (November)


The Supplementary Booklet