The Return of the Planner – Part 1 of 3

When I left the world of independent film and theatre (I was a producer in both industries) and started in advertising in the early 2000’s, I enjoyed the last days of an era: the era of account planning. When I joined the vaunted J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, often considered the originators of planning, planners were prized. The creative brief, which was the job of the planner to develop, was all-important, sacrosanct, the pivotal tool that ensured creative was aimed in the right direction.

First, let’s talk about what a planner is: she is the member of the advertising team who is responsible for the insight and strategy behind creative. Working with the account director, she will:

1. Learn the client’s business – product/service, core competencies, values and cultural norms, industry/competitive context, etc.

2. Direct research efforts – she is expected to be conversant in various forms of consumer research, and is responsible for making recommendations to the client on research and reviewing proposals from research companies.

3. Define key consumer insights – using the findings from research

4. Develop or refine the client’s brand strategy

5. Write the creative brief – working with the account team and sometimes the creative director, formulate a brief that will allow the creative team to hit creative ‘bulls-eyes’

6. Supervise campaign planning – “supervise” in the sense of guiding the thinking and planning, working with media planners, digital strategists, communications specialists, community managers, event planners

In some agencies, she is called “strategist” or “strategic planner” or “account planner”. The title matters not so much as the role. In David Ogilvy’s words, the planner is the “voice of the consumer”. She is obsessed with finding the relevant truth(s) that customers often cannot even voice, or are not fully aware of at a conscious level. The planner is relentlessly seeking to know our customers more intimately, more fully – so that we can deliver campaigns and experiences that will make customers lean in, pay attention and engage with us.