What is Account Planning? (and what do Account Planners do exactly?)

2 Apr 2001

 

It has been over 30 years since the first account planner walked the earth. Since then account planning has developed into a job function that exists not only in the advertising agencies but in client marketing departments, direct marketing agencies, design consultancies, PR firms, media independents et al. It has long since existed outside its London, England birthplace, extending to the US and Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, Scandinavia, Chile, Brazil, Europe, even China. And those are just the countries that have approached us about starting their own APG.

 

In the mid eighties, Sev D'Souza (of the then fabulously named Still Price Court Twivy D'Souza ad agency) attempted a much needed and much referenced definition of account planning. It has been distributed to our membership and resided on our website since its inception. The time has now come, given planning's ascent up the ladder of evolution, to have a stab at updating that definition. It is high time we identified the various sub-species that exist, and predicted the key craft skills and genes that will ensure our successful commercial survival beyond the year 2000.

 

Merry Baskin
Baskin Shark
APG Chair 1998-1999 April, 2001

 

 

Where it Started and Why

Stephen King of JWT and Stanley Pollitt of BMP are the undisputed forefathers of account planning. In separate agencies, but at pretty much the same time, they started a revolution in the advertising world which has spread from the UK to other countries and from ad agencies to management consultancies, direct marketing, PR, design and client research departments.

 

In 1964, Stephen King, dissatisfied with the workings of both the media and marketing departments within his agency, developed a new system of working (the T-Plan or Target Plan) which concentrated on combining consumer research and insights to create more effective, creative advertising.

 

Stanley Pollitt in 1968, was concerned at the enormity of discretion given to account management in the writing of the creative brief, and felt that they were using data either incompetently or expediently. He wanted a research person at the elbow of the account man. For Stanley, the voice of the consumer was of paramount importance, and using consumer research to clarify the issues and enrich the advertising development process was an essential component. When BMP was formed, each of its three accounts was managed by an account director and a (line function) account planner.

 

Both Stanley and Stephen shared a desire to reorganise the media planning, market research and marketing departments. Stephen initially by a process, and Stanley via a person. Both were led towards the creation of a new department and a new discipline.

 

The Origins of the Job Title

The name 'account planning' was coined by Tony Stead at a JWT awayday in 1968, attended by media planners and account people from the marketing department. He simply merged the two titles together as Stephen's new department was to comprise a hybrid - selected folk from both disciplines. And so we have been saddled with one of the most obfuscatory job titles ever since. Our North American friends in adopting the discipline have strived to better it with the likes of 'Brand Planner' and 'Strategic Planner' (preceded by the usual Senior Executive Vice President tosh, of course) but none of these appear to have stuck. Perhaps we rather enjoy the mystique of having a job title that implies crystal ball gazing without a clearly defined handle?

 

The Evolution of Marketing

A brief note on the nature of marketing in those days: From the 50s, 'Marketing' and 'Marketing Plans' were in fact executed by the agency (who also did everything else). Ad agencies pioneered market research (JWT started the British Market Research Bureau); they created test kitchens for NPD, devised TV programming (think Compton's P & G soap operas ), PR ladies who lunched etc etc.

 

The 60s and 70s brought dramatic changes as more and more clients restructured along marketing lines, such that nowadays the majority of clients have their own marketing and market research departments in house. These days they look to their agencies for specialist advice on advertising and communications rather than as (media neutral) marketing consultants.

 

More fool them, some planners might say. For that broader brush communications vision is where planning has been heading for some time, and the accountability that planning can bring to the party has now slipped further down the agenda as marketing has ceased to feature at the board room level. Which is unfortunate. And also a topic for another day.

 

What is Account Planning for (Daddy)?*

And why you should have some.

 

Almost every communications agency (and their clients) benefits from a disciplined system for devising communications/advertising/commercial strategy and enhancing its ability to produce outstanding creative solutions that will be effective in the marketplace. It is the planner's job to guide or facilitate this process via the astute application of knowledge or consumer/market understanding. Only oops I mean Planners can do zees. And why can planners do this?

 

Because planners are in a unique position in their jobs because they have an understanding of the audience through research expertise AND an understanding of how it will be applied within their own business thus they provide a crucial bridge.

 

At the core of this task, is the need to understand the consumer/customer (interchangeable) and the brand to unearth a key insight for the communication/solution (Relevance). As media channels have mushroomed and communication channels have multiplied, it has become increasingly important for communication to cut through the cynicism and connect with its audience (Distinctiveness). And as planners move into client companies, brand identity co's, design co's and the internet world, the planner can provide the edge needed to ensure the solution reaches out through the clutter to its intended audience.

 

Moreover, to continue the learning cycle, planners must also recognise the need to demonstrate how and why the communication has performed (Effectiveness).

 

Finally, to bring upstream thinking to the brandi's development. Brands must move forward, or they die!

 

*Title stolen with Pride from Jeremy Bullmore's Inaugural Address at the first APG meeting in 1978.

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