Account planner, what?

Featured, Marketing 2017-12-01

2018 will mark the 50th year of my wonderful and challenging job: Account Planning. I bet you didn’t actually know that we – planners or strategists – are that old! You might actually not even know what planners are and what they do…

A bit of history: jump with me on the planning time machine

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If you work in marketing or communications, you have probably heard or even binge-watched the American series MadMen. At the time it’s set (in the 1960s), the advertising industry was predominantly ruled by brilliant creative departments that could pretty much come out with any campaign, as long as they could explain the ‘why’ once it had been produced.

So while the USA was the land of sales, marketing and Madison Avenue, the British agencies started questioning their way of marketing products. In the mid 60s, Stanley Pollitt (Boase Massimi Pollitt), not satisfied with the way account managers were using information and not involving researchers in the campaign process, decided to introduce special training to make the previous two collaborate in a more efficient way. At the same time, Stephen King (JWT) went on a crusade to deliver better quality work to agency customers, and proposed adding a more scientific foundation to the advertising development (that was mainly focused on gut feeling). In his mind, the client’s marketing objectives and business aims should be the main focus when developing any advertising message. A new department was then introduced to JWT and Account Planning was born.

So what do planners do?

Planners are now present in the majority of agencies and even marketing departments on the client side have their own in-house planners (the BBC and Diageo for example). Over the years, account planning has become an essential department in agencies to ensure that any piece of communication is produced in a carefully planned and strategic manner.

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Being a planner is about creating order out of chaos: it is about synthesising the opportunities for a brand and acting as a link between the business side and the creative side of the agency.

According to Stanley Pollitt himself, “the account planner is that member of the agency’s team who is the expert, through background, training, experience, and attitudes, at working with information and getting it used – not just marketing research but all the information available to help solve a client’s advertising problems”.
A very important aspect of being a planner is the immersion into the client’s business and market, to the point that through the planning department, the agency should know more about the client than the client does. It is also the planner’s responsibility to put the consumers (or endusers) at the forefront of the process and the planner must ensure that the whole agency team works with the consumer in mind at any time. In Forting-Campbell’s words “the planner has a point of view about the consumer and is not shy about expressing it”.

Listening to a webinar about Account Planning earlier today, two statements really caught my attention: ‘Planning challenges the lazy of doing it’ and ‘Conversation is the most important tool for a planner’.

What does it take to be a planner?

I believe that to be a planner you must:

  • – Like studying people
  • – Like conversing with people
  • – Be very inquisitive and always try to look for inspiration
  • – Like building keynote/powerpoint presentations (a lot of them!)
  • – Like analysing pretty much everything (and using tools for it, planners love circles and charts)
  • – Like challenging the status quo
  • – Like expressing your ideas and standing up for them
  • – But also… love listening!

Obviously, there are traditional ways to get into planning such as through degree programmes and various training However, planners can come from a variety of backgrounds as long as they possess those previously listed interests.

What being a planner at Notch involves

I have now been Notch’s (first) creative planner for the past year and a half. During that time I have been involved in a plethora of projects: from writing proposals and pitches for new business opportunities, to developing branding and messaging workshops for customers to better understand the importance of branding and promoting their company in a consistent and harmonised voice. I have also been a part of several rebranding projects, focusing on making sure that the creative work coming out of our team reflects the objectives of the clients and addresses the needs of their customers. In many occasions, being Notch’s only planner also involves developing digital strategies (some more focused on websites, others on social media or both).

My favourite thing about planning is the collaborative aspect of the job; at any stage of the strategic process we must collaborate with the client, the account managers and the creative/content department.

Marion Gaubert is Creative Planner at Notch. Follow her on Twitter @MarionAtNotch.

Sources:

APG. (2015). All About Planning: The Role, the Origins and the Agency.

Leith, JM. (2017). Planning Hall Of Fame.

Wikipedia. (2017). Account planning.

APG. (2015). What is Planning?

WARC. (2017). WARC Webinar: Back to basics: planning and strategy from then till now.

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