When I worked at J. Walter Thompson (later re-branded into the incredibly generic name “JWT”), I had the privilege of being mentored by great planners, insightful people who had created the brand positioning for Tim Horton’s, and had revived the dusty, irrelevant Kraft Dinner with the totally invigorating “Gotta have KD” campaigns. I became a hybrid of account director and planner, which for me was a huge treat. I love working with clients, and I love the thought process behind brands and campaigns.
Well alas, during the 2000s, due to client budget cuts, agencies slashed their budgets as well, and the first two things to go were planning and professional development. Bad idea. While planning is not directly profit-making (planners don’t generally do business development and don’t develop the creative per se), it adds value, depth and focus to the creative work. Planning creates a strategic basis for recommendations. Something that both the agency and client teams can hang their hats on.
Here’s the good news: there’s a new trend afoot. Clients are now asking: “What’s the strategy behind the creative? How did you arrive at these decisions?” They’re even asking quite explicitly “Do you have a planner on this?” As a result, more agencies are now re-establishing their planning departments, or creating them for the first time. And some agencies, I’m happy to say, never cut their planning departments to begin with. And I can assure you they’re taken more seriously, and considered more irreplaceable, than agencies who ignored strategic planning and just went straight to ‘cool creative’.
In Canada, as of two years ago, we now have for the first time a national association for planners: The Account Planning Group (APG). This is a wonderful sign, and a needed development. Planners are not easy to find, and those who have the temperament and aptitude need to be encouraged and developed. If you’re interested, I recommend you go to apg.ca and find out more. For our readers in the U.K., you can check out apg.org.uk.