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What makes different types of planners tick?

Last week at the Guardian, APG Young Planners met for the third time this year to dig deep into the minds of five top Planners and Strategists all from different types of agency.

We heard from a Direct, Digital, Brand, Media and Traditional Planner, and asked them to share: a description of their job, the key skills they need to do their job, how they approach a client brief/business problem and tips and tricks of the trade.

Richard Madden, Strategy Partner at BBH, kicked off the evening comparing Direct Planners to plumbers.

Richard said that in reality, a Direct Planner uses the same skills as any other Planner (research, business strategy, insight mining), however, it's what they apply them to that's different (loyalty schemes, direct mail, CRM programmes....)

A Direct Planner's job is to unblock things and fix leaks in communications, by using triggers to pull people out of the passive mode, push them into the shopping mode, then into the choosing mode, on into the buying mode and then keep them there.

The skills needed to be a successful Direct Planner come from understanding how to fix each blockage in the communications process (see image above).

Richard believes there are 3 main questions to ask yourself during the briefing process:

1) Where's the blockage or leakage in the system?

2) What fixes have been tried, with what success?

3. What descriptive and diagnostic data is available?

To see Richard's full deck go here


Next up was David Carr, Strategy Director at DigitasLBi. He defines a Strategist as someone who helps make choices by marrying the forces of complexity and simplicity.

In David's world, Digital Strategists should address any situation with three questions:

1) What (is the problem behind the problem)?

2) Who (is affected by this problem)?

3) How (far down the stack)?

He finished by sharing the five tips he lives by:

1) Know your charlatans (people around you stuck in thier own little bubble)

2) Help them access real people.

3) Help them access real data.

4) Help them connect across silos.

5) Always remember George (see image to the right)

You can see the rest of David's slides here


Will Whalley, formerly a strategist at AMV BBDO, is now Brand Planner at Google, focusing mainly on YouTube. He thinks of Planning as more of a 'skill set' rather that a job title.

As a Brand Planner at Google, he is no longer working on Ad campaigns, but on Ad sales, media platforms and cloud computing. He helps create simplicity amongst the complex and communicates to clients how YouTube is a valuable resource for brand communications.

Will's advice is to start off in an agency where you will be taught the basic principles of Planning. Although he is not doing the same kind of Planning at Google as he was at AMV BBDO, he's found the principle skills he learned from the beginning of his Planning career have easily transfered to his new job.


Our fourth speaker of the evening was Richard Shotton, Deputy Head of Evidence at Manning Gottlieb OMD, a Media Agency. As our most recent APG guest editor, focusing on the importance of applying psychology to advertising, it was no surprise that it was also a spotlight topic on the night.

Richard decided to look more into 'What makes a good planner' and offered up a few pieces of advice for

Young Planners:

1) Immerse yourself in Behavioural Science and Behavioural Psychology to better understand people. One cannot re-iterate the importance of understanding why people do what they do.

2) Don't take information at face value and be sceptical about what consumers claim. The data consumers supply may not reflect the truth, but reflects the image they want to project.

3) Try to spend as much time as possible understanding search and claim data.

4) Set up as many experiments as you can.

5) Don't be naïve about observe data.

"All techniques of understanding people are wrong, always use a range"


Katie Mackay, Joint Head of Strategy at Mother London, closed the evening focusing on Traditional Planning but confessed that 'traditional planning' isn't really what she does.

In most agencies, Planners and Strategists start with the client brief, dig into strategic development to understand the consumer, give the strategic presentation, sign off the creative brief and stop.

However, at Mother, Planning doesn't stop when you give the brief to the creative, the Planner is actively involved from start to finish and is a vital part in how the idea comes to life. They continue working past the client sign off into creative development, production process, campaign planning, all the way to the campaign roll-out.

Katie's agency doesn't believe in great strategy, they believe in great ideas. The best ideas live long, happy and culturally resonant lives. To help them stay true to this ideal, they have a 'Holy Trinity':

1. Do the best work you possibly can

2. Have fun

3. Make a living

(always in that order)

Katie wrapped up the evening by giving us some top tips and advice to help you be successful in your career:

1. Find the 'exciting' in the most mundane of briefs.

2. Develop strong insights that are beyond observation, fact or data.

3. Don't always go after the cool brands - stretch yourself.

4. Have wonder about what makes people tick. Watch people, eaves drop, and do everything you can to be amazed, surprised, and even horrified by people.

And always remember: "It's really easy to be right. It's really not easy to be right and interesting"


Take a look at our past Young Planner events here and email Lexi - if you would like to be our email list.

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