Fuse’s three key steps for great business planning

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Our topic for this edition of the Podcast Playbook is business planning. It’s December as I write this, and somehow pretty much the whole industry has some of its brain focused on this area.

If your fiscal year begins in January, you will now hopefully have focused your attention on all the teams in your organization and be ready to step up to the “B of the Bang”. If it’s April, you might have hosted a few sessions with your team and tested the water with shareholders – maybe even submitted some initial numbers to them. It’s a fluid process that often requires more than a little agility on the part of the CEO!

For this episode, I was joined by Louise Johnson, Managing Director of Fuse. Fuse is part of Omnicom Media Group and provides marketing and sales services to brands and rights holders specializing in sports and entertainment partnerships and experiences. The company has over 100 teams in the UK and 250 in Europe and the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, working with some of the world’s biggest brands including PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Nissan, Enterprise, Carlsberg and Vodafone, as well as rights holders such as Formula One through its recent agency extension Fuse Ignite.

I asked Johnson specifically about this topic because of the extent of business planning she has each year. Not only does she balance the need to hire a talented, multinational employee base, but she also plans in a way that works for her parent company. I know that having gone through the same process within WPP, it’s not an easy balance to find.

We had a very rich conversation that you can listen to here – but as usual, here are the three things I took away.


Strategy leads the numbers, not the other way around

When making a business plan, it is very easy to start with the numbers you hope to achieve. The problem with this approach is that it can prevent you from considering areas of your business – team retention, brand strength, customer conversion rates, for example – that will actually drive the bottom line and may in fact. be more under your direct control.

Financial goals are performance goals that should result from the areas that you focus on day in and day out, called process goals. Focus on the goals of the process and the bottom line should take care of itself.

This framework is widely used in sports psychology – brilliantly described here by former Olympic swimmer-turned-coach Lizzie Simmonds: “Do you want to be the best swimmer in the world? It starts tomorrow morning with your application for your training session, your attitude towards your teammates and your interaction with your coach. It involves being smart with nutrition, developing psychological resilience, and tactical experience. It’s about taking ownership of the choices you make on a daily basis.

“It doesn’t mean just writing on a piece of paper that you want to be the best swimmer in the world and then hope for the best. The process is the set of steps that will create the result.

The other challenge of focusing on the numbers is that it can also mean that the planning process is too isolated and does not take into account the changing external environment – changes in customer needs, your competitors’ approach. , etc. It’s very dangerous – many companies have been surprised to focus on improving the percentage point margin when a competitor has completely changed the competitive environment.

Neither are traps Fuse falls into. Johnson’s business planning process is much more comprehensive and guided by the external environment as much as by internal feedback.

“We start in July although we do not need to submit a plan [to Omnicom] until January, ”she explains. “We have a working day to look at where we are as a business and where we need to go based on market trends, what customers are asking us and what we are also seeing from the competition. We also ask what went well and what didn’t, where we are profitable and where we are not.

“Before that, we also carry out a series of interviews with our customers. Just a quick phone call with five questions – things like what keeps them awake at night, what they think of Fuse as a business, and where else we might be able to help. This is such useful information for us.

Work on the annual commercial plan begins a few months after the offsite, with a first cut presented to Omnicom in October. Strategy determines the numbers, rather than the other way around.

In a word: Look outside and inside of your organization as you plan. Think about the process rather than the outcome.

Fuse works with major brands such as Japanese automaker Nissan

Real change happens over more than a year

While Johnson is very focused on running her business throughout the one-off business planning year – “we have a well-oiled machine,” she says – the fast-paced and highly cyclical nature of it can be overwhelming. both relentless and risk missing the larger opportunity. .

“I always felt like you came to the end of the year,” she continues, “and you think, ‘oh, thank goodness,’ then you come to January 4 and that’s’ us. there it is again ”. It doesn’t help long term strategy… or understanding what we’re trying to grow into.

To compensate for this, the Johnson team is now developing a long-term strategic plan – “where we want to be as a company in three years,” she explains – to help them see the plan for the year. in a more specific context.

The biggest risk with big strategic plans (and I say this having been a strategy consultant in a previous life!) Is that they can be dusted on a shelf pretty quickly. Johnson manages his own time in a way that makes sure that doesn’t happen, setting himself a ‘golden moment’ to think about ‘what’s my long term plan, what are we delivering not just for this commercial year but also for our long-term ambition and vision? If you don’t think about it, you’re not going to scale the business.

This is especially true in areas like operational efficiency which, as Johnson says, “can’t always happen as quickly as a year.” Genuinely engaging in long term strategies like this also hinges on integrating them into the DNA of the company and into the day-to-day lives of team members. Fuse ensures it captures the language and spirit of the three-year strategy into each employee’s performance development plans.

In a word: Build a longer term strategy alongside your annual plan.

Consultation is a constant

While the initial output of a business planning process may be a document to submit to shareholders or a presentation to the parent company, focusing only on that outcome may mean that you are missing out on much of the opportunity involved. consultation – not just building buy-in up front, but also continuing to engage team members, clients, etc. deeper with your business to last long after the plan is submitted.

Fuse management works very hard internally to ensure that employees are invested in both developing and executing the plan. For example, working with members of individual leadership teams to bring the overall direction of the board to life in their individual business pillar.

They also present to the company on a quarterly basis how the company is going against the plan: “What is the strategy and how we are getting there – not just in terms of financials, but also in terms of product development, conversion of money. new businesses, marketing, etc. on, ”says Johnson.

There is a real culture at Fuse of “trying to be as transparent as possible” throughout the organization in informal settings as well. For example, Johnson shares his boss’s goals with the whole company. Board members also open their agendas for weekly one-on-one sessions where team members can ask whatever they want about the company. This offers “some pretty useful reverse mentoring opportunities” for understanding the business from scratch, according to Johnson, who wonders at the end of this session, “What more can we do for you, and what can we do? do more for the agency?

The dialogue process also continues with clients throughout the year, having launched their planning process as part of the preparation for the July offsite.

“We find January to be a good time to check in with them – how things are going for them and to update them on the progress of our own strategy especially as it relates to their own account team,” Johnson said. .

In a word: Take advantage of the planning opportunity to invest all stakeholders in the business throughout the year.

Ten words or less

Johnson managed to sum up his podcast’s main messages in his allotted ten words, starting with, “Plan for the future but understand that a business can change.” “

This marries the critical need for a structured and efficient planning process, balanced with an agility to notice and react to changes in the external market. Fuse’s collaborative approach ensures that the company has many eyes open on its behalf.


You can read more about Fuse here and find Louise Johnson on LinkedIn.

Matt Rogan has spent his career building and growing businesses in sports and entertainment.

If you have any comments to offer or other topics you would like to cover in future episodes of the Playbook Podcast, please contact us by email.

If you want to learn more about Matt or his book All to Play For, you can visit mattrogansport.com.

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