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  • APG

All About Planning | The Role, the Origins and the Agency

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.

In 1986 the APG published a booklet written by Sev d’Souza as a definition of account planning. View this document here

Fifteen years later, with the further evolution of planning, that definition needed updating. Merry Baskin (APG Chair in 1998 and 1999) undertook the task and in 2001 wrote the Millenium edition – which she updated in 2007 to be ready for the 40th anniversary of planning in 2008. View this document here

The Origins

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.

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