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  • APG

How to get ahead in planning? Advice from four wise owls.

Four wise owls of the planning world have revealed what they think it takes to succeed as a young planner. Learn about what they look for in a planner, what routes they think there are into planning and how to impress from day 1.

Our four wise owls:

What do you look for in a planner?

Ben: I look for a planner with a gut instinct for what’s popular. Also a logical mind that can deconstruct anything whether that be a focus group or the ramblings of a client and can then build a structured clear argument out of them.

Rebecca: Bright, compelling, creative minds. People with an eclectic background. Nearly everyone these days has good academics, I look for interesting experience.

Matthew: The things we tend to look for are an absolute curiosity about the world and people and what makes them tick. Particularly, we want people who have an understanding of the world of business and what makes it work, and the world of data. Finally, I look for planners who can sell their thinking. You need an intrinsic confidence to be a good planner.

John: Interest in the discipline, love them to show an interest in popular culture and be well plugged in to that. I'd love to know what they’ve done, where they’ve been put into situations where they’ve had to learn about people.

What should a junior planner do from day 1?

Ben: Go in and get hands on and get reading, and then create something. As a junior planner you have the time with the data and the opportunity to go deep, come up with the 5 most interesting things you’ve discovered reading through the background data. Turn inputs to outputs.

Rebecca: Even if it’s against your better nature you have to be out there doing stuff, looking for work, almost forcing yourself to go and chat to people, go and meet all the creatives. This is a people business at the end of the day and it’s heavily built upon relationships. Look industrious and be industrious. Senior people are looking for new ways to be inspired. The worse thing a baby can do is recess and hide and become a wallflower.

Matthew: The things we encourage people to do is just be a bit nosy, go round the office and offer to help people with the problems on their desk. Best thing to do is just get stuck in.

John: Best advice I was given- there is no process and there is no structure, the only thing that makes it work is relationships.

How to progress as a young planner?

Ben: Do the things you’re passionate about and do them in a way that feels interesting to you, you will develop your own planning style.

Rebecca: Don’t expect entitlement and don’t expect us to be blowing praise and seniority up your bottoms too quickly. You never stop learning as a planner and that is the thing that keeps me coming back.

Matthew: The way that tends to lead to more seniority in terms of leading a department is broadening your horizons, and learning about areas of the planning trade you’re not so familiar with. Another thing is, know your clients business. If you know your clients’ business inside-out, sometimes better than the client, then you get that real dispensability to both your agency and the client.

John: Knowing when to be assertive and push yourself into a situation without going too far.

Are Grad schemes a good route in?

Rebecca: I’d encourage people to look at lots of different ad agencies/ grad schemes. You’ve got to apply to everyone. You can tell the people that are dogged and passionate. For the new gen of planners coming through, starting somewhere slightly different and wanting to make a change suggests a person with an eclectic and curious brain, planners aren’t just one thing anymore…

Matthew: It would be a real mistake for people to think that Grad schemes are the only way in, particularly to planning. I’ve employed all sorts of people who have done all sorts of different at the beginning of their career. That prior experience has got them to be a better problem solver and better thinker, because they practically had to get on with stuff whether it was something entrepreneurial or something else…

Final words of wisdom.

Ben: The simple best way to get new ideas is to read a lot. The best training there is, is reading books and understanding new thoughts about the way the world works. If you do enough of that, that strategic voice in your head appears and you can take that provocative, objective view of anything then you can start applying that to the next big challenge.

Rebecca: Be confident. Throughout my career I was quite self-effacing, I haven’t always believed in my abilities and myself. I wonder sometimes if I hadn’t been so unsure of myself what might have I achieved. Believe in yourself. Be bold.

Matthew: You need real resilience, because there’s no right answers it’s quite easy to get knockbacks early in your career when you feel like you’re not necessarily coming up with the perfect strategy, it's constantly being questioned or someone more senior is taking and shaping it. Those that are confident enough to persevere are the ones that succeed.

John: Being prepared to go out and talk to real people. You can learn a lot online but there’s still no real substitute to getting out and talking to people. It can give you an awful lot of authority. It's pretty important.

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