I’ve be running into a lot of wannabe Planners recently and without wanting to sound too harsh, here are a few home truths you need to hear before you decide on Planning as a career path. Please take them in the spirit of kindly advice that they were meant!
1) Yes, the number of trained Planners currently exceeds the number of Planning jobs to be filled, BUT a) there is a recession on the way and Planners have always been a Luxury Item in agencies and b) the number of wannabe Planners vastly outnumbers the number of agencies currently prepared to take on graduates and train them up. So to be honest, your employment prospects are not great.
2) Reality check time. Junior Planners photocopy, get sent to the supermarket to buy ten different brands of tinned tomatoes and spend a lot of their time wading through 150 page Mintel reports and wrestling with TGI and TNS data on uncooperative excel spreadsheets. Life as a Junior Planner is probably even less fun than working as a Junior Account Handler – it’s not a fast track that bypasses photocopying and typing up contact reports.
3) Which brings me on to Skills. It would help vastly if you were numerate, a good communicator, a creative thinker and really interested in people and trends and stuff like that. A Media Studies degree does not necessarily demonstrate that to me.
4) So you need to start learning all over again. Read Truth, Lies, and Advertising, Perfect Pitch, How to Plan Advertising and Pollitt on Planning for starters. Then try Blink, Freakonomics, Eating the Big Fish and The Long Tail. If you struggled with Stats at school or uni go on a refresher course. Get work experience in a market research agency (because you might as well start by understanding the difference between qual and quant) and an ad agency (because you’ll need to know how one works).
4) Learn how to be Interesting. Russell Davies has written tons about this. Start windsurfing or tap dancing or decide to visit every seaside pier still standing in Britain. Take a photo every day. Be interested in other people. Strike up conversations, eavesdrop in cafes, think about why people have arrived at certain opinions.
5) When you can demonstrate that you understand what Planners actually do, the skill set you will need and that you appreciate what you would need to learn in order to be effective in the role, THEN start approaching agencies asking about graduate Planning roles. I promise at least I will listen a lot more attentively.
update, 20/01/11 – I’ve just stumbled across a video I did to support the (new at the time) Diploma in Creative and Media for 14-19 year olds. There’s lots of tips for wannabe Planners on there (even if they seem to have called me an Account Manager for some reason), so it might be worth a look.