We often hear from students and young, aspiring Planners asking for advice about how to get a job as a Planner. There are of course myriad ways of achieving this but there also are some general principles that are useful. So here’s a few pages of advice and encouragement written from the point of view of someone who knows very little about advertising or Planning but would like to find out more. Big thanks to our contributors, who have given their advice and the benefit of their experience. We’ve name checked you all.
How to get into planning: Some advice and tips for students and aspiring planners from some who managed it
What is Planning?
Put simply, planners “plan” advertising and communications. At the start of a project they work with the client to decide on the aims of the campaign based on what the client’s business needs to achieve – in terms of sales or consumer behaviour. They then create a strategy designed to meet the client’s business objectives. This often involves more than one type of media – traditional media such as TV and press for example, combined with digital and social media, and an overarching idea for the campaign. From this they produce a brief for the creative teams designed to inspire original work that meets the strategy. The planner the works with the Creative team to help evolve their ideas and with the account teams to prepare the work for selling to the client. The Planner’s job does not stop there as it’s also their responsibility to monitor how effectively the campaign meets business objectives and to help change and amend the work over time to keep it fresh and makes sure it’s relevant to the target audience.
If you are interested in peoples’ motivations and thinking about how communications can get people to change the way they think and behave, you might enjoy being a Planner. You will also need to be imaginative and interested in creative ideas, good at asking the right questions and pursuing new ideas, and able to think rigorously and logically. You will need to have a facility with data but do not have to be a mathematician to be a successful Planner. Planners are on the front line of the client relationship, quite frequently the trusted partner of the client. So you would also need to be good on your feet, and able to present your ideas persuasively and simply – and able to express your ideas on paper.
There haven’t always been planners in agencies, which is not to say planning didn’t take place; the traditional structure of creative teams and account men remained until the 1980’s. At roughly the same time but in different agencies Stephen King of JWT and Stanley Pollitt of BMP began to introduce a new department: Account Planning. The Planners in these departments were largely unsatisfied with the way marketing departments (clients) and the account managers of the agency were interacting. This is where the traditional definition of the planner as the “voice of the consumer” originated, someone who would employ market research to brief the creative teams more effectively. The planner’s role has changed a lot since then. As you can see from the definition above, planners are no longer glorified market researchers and have taken over the management of campaigns across different types of media. The role of the planner has also changed as they have been hired and increasingly valued in different kinds of agencies and companies. Planners are fundamental to operations as diverse as broadcasters like the BBC and ITV, media agencies such as Mediacom or mindshare, design agencies, digital agencies like Dare and the classic “creative” agency such as Ogilvy and Mather or Saatchi and Saatchi.
Whilst many agencies hire specific kinds of Planner according to the business the run (you can be a ‘digital planner’, a ‘communications planner’, a ‘brand planner’, a ‘design planner’ amongst many others) the basic skills and aptitude for strategic and creative thinking remain paramount.
A Bit About the ‘Agency’
IN a ‘creative agency’ – the kind in which Planning was born – the two other main departments are Account Management and Creative (finance isn’t especially relevant here) focus on specific roles. The Account Management department is the client’s most direct link to the agency, organising deadlines, budgets and communicating the client’s needs to the rest of the company. Creatives produce the actual advertising or communications, often in teams of two as art director and copywriter. Planners perform a hybrid role creating a strategy that encompasses both the client’s needs and the agency’s approach to creativity to answer the problem that needs to be solved. They produce a brief for the creatives and the overarching idea for the campaign, as well as deciding which media to use to reach the target audience for example print, TV or social media.
Where do I start?
Planning Reading List
This is a list of books to help you understand more about planning, the language of planners and how they work within an agency. We recommend you start with one of the general advertising books to get a feel for the industry as a whole, then the planning specific ones and finally make sure you check out the examples of what the very best planning can achieve in the APG Creative Strategy Awards Books.
Books about advertising and marketing
Ogilvy on advertising – David Ogilvy
Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Thinking Fast and Slow – David Khaneman
Challenger Brands – Adam Morgan
Marketing Manifesto – John Grant
After Image – John Grant
Truth, Lies and advertising – John Steel
Books about planning
A Masterclass in Brand Planning, The Timeless works of Stephen King – Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin
Positioning: the battle for your mind – Al Ries and Jack Trout
Testing to destruction – Alan Hedges
Marketing in the Era of Accountability – Les Binet and Peter Field
Pollitt on Planning – Stanley Pollitt
Books about how to have ideas
…Recommended by APG Chair Craig Mawdsley
A Technique for Producing Good Ideas – James Webb Young
Imagine: How creativity works – Jonah Lehrer
Where good ideas come from – Steven Johnson
Adapt: Why success always starts with failure – Tim Harford
Every two years the APG runs “Creative Strategy Awards”, a competition entered by planners in top agencies. The winning papers are published in a book and the latest edition can be ordered from the APG. These books are a a great way to see what planning at its best can accomplish and how planners go about constructing top communications campaigns.
Thinking like a planner
Here are some ideas from top planners in the industry about how you should approach planning.
If you’re considering becoming a planner, curiosity should be something that comes naturally to you anyway. If not, then start getting out of your comfort zone and looking at life from a different angle, through taking courses you’d never thought of taking, to taking a different route to school, to spending a morning just watching people on the street. There is no linear progression into planning. It comes from an interest in many different facets of life. From an openness to see things from multiple perspectives. And from an ability to make connections between seemingly disparate things. So up your life curiosity. – Simin Radmanesh
“Whole Brain Thinking”
Make sure you have evidence and experience in right brain conceptual thinking and left brain analytical thinking. Logical: maths, logic puzzles, business case studies. Conceptual: painting, creative writing, going on ‘adventures’. – Simin Radmanesh
“Embrace your nerdy side”
We want people we work with – and planners in particular – to be interesting and interested in the world – we’re looking for people with sparky, inquisitive minds. Don’t be afraid of strategically exposing your slightly nerdy side – planners need to be able to get interested in the detailed minutiae of the most apparently ‘boring’ products and services. If you spin it right, that dark past as a dedicated teenage trainspotter may work in your favour… – Mathew Palmer
Be interested in brands and how they work. I think I only ever got a job because I was able to develop an unhealthy interest in stock cubes and chocolate biscuit countlines and what people had to say about them. These things are not to be looked down on, they’re to be celebrated and explored – John Shaw
How do I apply?
The first place to start looking is the agency graduate trainee schemes. These are highly competitive but are the best start you could hope for in the industry.
Carat Media Manchester
Isobel Summer School
Leo Burnett – The Foundry: Creatives
JWT Project Management Graduate Scheme
Saatchi & Saatchi Summer Scholarship
Of course many jobs offered by agencies won’t be schemes but specific roles. These can be applied for in the normal way. It is also worth calling or emailing agencies to ask for a job, or even just turning up at the door (this has a long pedigree from art directors and copywriters).
How do I get a job?
Planning is all about new thinking and different ways of looking at old problems. As such it is difficult to suggest a one size fits all way of writing a CV for planning, the best advice is be original! Of course, while that sounds great on paper it’s hard to put in to practice
Beyond this the most practical advice for writing a planning CV is to make it personal. Write intelligently and thoughtfully about experiences that have informed your view of advertising or planning. Avoid falling back on marketing jargon or what you think an interviewer might “want to hear”. Planning often requires personal relationships, as with any ad-man you’re selling yourself before you sell your advertising.
Advertising interviews are much like the interviews for any other industry. There are apocryphal stories about the more arcane ones but on the whole they tend to be serious minded and quite normal. Once again we have our expert panel telling you how to succeed at the first hurdle.
Try to be yourself, think about your fit with the agency as much as your enthusiasm for the job. Try to encourage a conversation rather than Q&A. Planners love to just chat about issues and challenges. Also be honest – try not to know everything – recognise good questions and have a chat about them rather than think of your best answer. – Will Railton
“Have an opinion”
When you do get interviews, make sure you have examples of what advertising you like and don’t like and WHY. The why should not be at an execution level (ie. I thought the baby looked too unhappy), but the idea behind the work – Simin Radmanesh
There’s nothing more annoying than having someone in an interview regurgitate a case study to you almost verbatim. It tells us nothing about YOU. Be prepared to answer questions about the top campaigns of the day, but have your own point of view on them. Be controversial if you can defend your point of view (it’ll be more memorable). – Mathew Palmer
“Deconstruct the Ads”
Getting hold of agency reels before the interview and deconstructing the ads, and trying to predict what the original brief was would impress most interviewers I would think. – Chris Arning
Be funny. Not to excess perhaps, but remember that each employer usually has a choice between which of various bright candidates they’d like to spend time with. Bright and funny is better than bright and not funny
Don’t talk too much about Apple or Nike. Particularly Nike+. Find another brand. And don’t call me Mr. Shaw. – John Shaw
How can I succeed as a new planner?
You’ve done it!
Congratulations, you’ve managed to land a job on one of the graduate schemes or maybe it’s your first day in an agency. The question now is how to do well and progress your career. The good news is there’s a whole community of planners waiting to offer advice, training and support to everyone in the industry. The first step is to get signed up at www.apg.org.uk. The APG run training courses and events throughout the year to help planners of all levels improve their work. There is also an bi-annual awards for the best planning insights, which is a great way to get your work noticed!
Some insights from new planners
“The most important thing you can do as a new planner is to be empathetic. This isn’t an excuse to be woolly minded or overly detached from reality, but instead, put your mind to work to try and not pre-judge straight away. It’s so easy when you begin as a planner to assume that because you’re being looked to for your opinion that you must have strong, forthright opinions. Instead, take a step back. Think about the situation. Try and empathise with the other side of the debate, and challenge yourself. Don’t ‘skip to the end’. Your instincts may be right a lot of the time, but, every now and then, they aren’t.
What’s more, the more empathetic you are, the greater your chances of realising that rarest of rare things, a genuine insight; by thinking about how others think and feel, you’ll better be able to understand the link between brands and consumers – and, hopefully, produce genuinely interesting strategies.” – Will Humphrey
Be an Insight Junkie
As a junior planner, it’s impossible for you to be more experienced or acute than the people you’re working for and into, who will undoubtedly have been in the game for a long time and have a great deal of experience.
What you can do, from the moment you arrive on an account, is to be the gate-keeper and fount of insight and information: read all the available data on the account carefully, and when you’ve exhausted that, look beyond it to more unusual sources of information (social listening, keywords searches, newspaper articles, on-site visits, stopping random people in the street, buying old pieces of branded material off eBay).
Without the data and reading to back it up, your ‘insights’ are just your opinion, and therefore open to debate. Backed up by reading and actual information, they become much harder to ignore.
Part of the growth curve of a planner is learning which data to use and which to ignore, but everyone on your team will benefit straight away from having someone who is a constant source of insight and new information.
(Almost inevitably, all this reading will lead to you quickly forming an over-arching strategic opinion on the brand, its peculiar business situation and its comms challenges). Which brings me to my next point.
Think Beyond the Brief
Move beyond the briefing format you’re given. All agencies have their own proprietary format, how you use them is part of your planning style.
Is a ‘single message’ the most interesting thing about your brief, or is it the film that you use to bring the insight to life and inspire the creatives? Do the other things your target buys as well as your client’s product on Amazon reveal anything new about them?
Advertising is about style as well as content, so think carefully about references, cultural ideas and thought starters that you bring to any problem.
Think Outside Working Hours
Sometimes, take your more interesting strategic problems home with you, as you’re more likely to solve them in the shower or over a pint then whilst at your desk.
Walk. Mull. Talk to normal non-marketing people about wider issues (excluding sensitive client material).
(But don’t become someone who can only talk about work, that’s just dull. Michael Hines
Thanks to Alex Scott-Malden who put this together from the perspective of a real, live student whilst working as an intern with the APG.
If you have more questions go on our website apg.org.uk or get in touch with us and we’ll see what we can do to help