Archive for June, 2010
Like Arkwright might say, it’s been a funny kind of two weeks.
As I’ve posted before, I was gobsmacked by the helpful and kind emails and texts that flooded my inboxes following this post about my redundancy.
So I’ve been busy catching up with old bosses, mates from two jobs ago, uni friends and the like. I’ve also (rather pleasingly) got several meetings in the diary with agencies about freelance Planning work and have even written a couple of proposals and got my first proper commission. So a promising start.
My agency were thoughtful enough to say goodbye at the start of a heatwave, so I’ve obviously been making the most of the riding / mooching in the garden opportunity. In fact I’m taking advantage of the lovely weather while it lasts and have cleared a few days to go to the seaside, so no more posts ‘til I’m back.
PS can anyone recommend a durable, reliable, light, big-enough-to-work-on-all-day laptop? Thanks.
Following on from Heather’s series of Get Your Digital Planner On posts, Amelia’s How to get your first job in Planning and Andrew’s How to be more creative, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring too.
Since I’ve spent the last eleven years working as an Account Planner in three different regional integrated agencies, I think I’m pretty qualified to offer some advice for Account Planners who are working or want to work Outside That There London:
1) Wear many hats
Desk Researcher, Qualitative Researcher, Futurologist, Data Analyst, Librarian, NPD Consultant, Workshop Facilitator, Management Coach, Journalist, Business Development Manager – I’ve worn them all at one time or another.
In an agency with only one Planner (or if you’re very, very lucky, a Head of Planning, a couple of Planners and a mini Research team), anything vaguely strategic that the agency’s Board of Directors don’t fancy dealing with will eventually find its way to your desk. On the upside, you can bill stuff like Workshops and Trends Presentations back to clients (it’s always nice to have some billed income to help justify your existence), or use them to cement client relationships. On the downside, it won’t leave you as much time for actual proper Planning work.
2) Get good at plate spinning
On average, I’ve always had about six projects on the go at any one time, split between clients I stayed involved with on an ongoing basis (usually on some kind of agency retainer), client projects (that needed short term Planning support) and new business. Plus all of the other stuff I mentioned above. Get good at managing (and protecting) your time as you will have to be your own Traffic Department.
3) Ask yourself – “if it was my money, what would I spend it on?”
Outside London, budgets tend to be six rather than seven figures. Which means that the 12 group creative development research + U&A tracker are probably out of the question. As is attending all the lovely APG workshops or encouraging the Creative Department to write ads that start “we open on a palm fringed beach”.
It also means you’re going to get involved with Channel Planning and even Media Planning as (unless the client hates TV or their National Account Manager has promised Tesco a Clubcard promotion) your insight will help decide where the best place to engage your target audience is.
4) Try not to make enemies
If you live in the London area, chances are that most of the major agencies are commutable. Up here in the regions, unless you enjoy spending four hours a day in your car you’ll have a choice of, at best, half a dozen places to work. We do have lots of agencies, just not very many that are big enough and smart enough to employ Planners.
So try really hard not to fall out with/slag off/upset anyone in the local agency scene because Sod’s Law says that a) the next juicy Planning job to pop up will be where they now sit on the Board, or b) they will be your new client (I once went on an uninspiring blind date with someone who unexpectedly turned into my client, v. awkward), or c) you’ll end up working alongside them all over again two years down the line.
5) Be prepared to let others take the credit
The average regional Planner does not have a groaning shelf full of industry awards. If your agency is prepared to invest time and money in letting you go for an IPA Effectiveness award, that’s great. But it can be really tricky to track down data to prove your effectiveness point (see 3), some clients really can’t see the value and no regional agency is going to stump up for econometrics and the like.
There are loads of regional awards like The Roses and national client industry dos like the FAB Awards, but nothing that really rewards Planners, except perhaps The Drum (its like Campaign for Outside London) Marketing Awards and getting clients to get excited about entering that can be, um, shall we say, hard work.
6) Find excitement in even the smallest, most boring project or client
I don’t think that Sony, Nike or Honda are likely to suddenly up sticks and move their account to an agency in Leeds, Cardiff or Glasgow. So the brief for the omnipresent, multi million pound, talk-about-it-in-the-pub campaign is never going to cross your desk.
But I’ve worked for Warburtons, Britvic, Del Monte, Kellogg’s, Asda and McVities in the last four years alone. It was just on the not-quite-so-high profile stuff like low budget NPD launches, press ads, trade press and DM.
Some of the stuff I’m most proud of is for businesses you’ve probably never heard of. Like the industrial & commercial equipment company that I repositioned, who not only now have a lovely new brand identity that is helping their businesses grow, but who also liked my proposition so much they (after research) adopted it as a positioning line on their brand identity. I know it’s not exactly an ideal way to go about things, but I still get a buzz when I drive past one of their lorries on the motorway. Don’t underestimate smaller businesses that move quickly and can give you the ‘I did that’ buzz.
7) Get your Qual on
Whether or not you have the luxury of an on-site research team, you’ll have to do some qual. And not necessarily for clients you have anything to do with. I’ve babysat a viewing room full of a dozen clients who’ve never seen a group before, done telephone depths with senior trade union people, carried out accompanied shops with ‘heavy’ continental cheese users and know rather more about sausages and cream cakes than is entirely healthy.
You need to be able to take one for the team and help out. This includes quick and dirty qual of the new business / my-client-has-no-budget variety when the venue is an office meeting room and the respondents are friends-of-friends (best case scenario) or colleagues (worst case). It’s up to you to decide where the line is when ‘research’ becomes ‘making stuff up that looks good for a pitch’.
8) Roll your sleeves up
Lets say you and an Account Director are working on the early stages of a project. Nothing is in Creative or Production yet, so there isn’t an Account Manager working with you. The Account Director goes on holiday. Who is the client going to call? Welcome to your role as Emergency Account Handler. In addition to this, you will also become Evening Receptionist (Reception will go home at 5.30 and let the phone ring and ring) and Crisis Copywriter (try not to let on that you can string a sentence together for as long as possible).
9) Learn to post rationalise
With one or just a couple of Planners in situ versus an entire agency constantly churning out work, there’s no way you are going to get involved in everything. Sometimes you won’t get involved until the creative is at scamp stage and the client presentation is 48 hours away. This is when you will be asked to come up with a strategy or positioning that connects the client brief and the creative and/or channel plan being presented. I kept a toolbox on my desk of useful charts, theories and case studies for just such an occasion when inspiration fails and the clock is ticking.
10) Its all about Integration
These days, the communications channels crossover and cross fertilise so much that every agency has to have a go at everything. Regional agencies that have been around for a while are particularly good at this as in Ye Olde Days they often had to be able to handle a client’s advertising, DM, PR and media buying needs in order to make enough money off them to make the account worth bothering with. On the downside, a lot of these agencies still operate as discipline ‘silos’ with cross-charging, internal fighting for fees and so on. And the new fangled digital department will probably be out in the car park having a fag and wearing a lot of black while all this is going on.
Your job is to try and make sure all these disciplines / departments / specialisms are working from the same insight and towards the same goal. You need to make everyone in the agency believe that you really are Insight Queen (or King) – and that you can help to make their lives easier and most importantly the communications better. Because if you aren’t helping, for heavens sake get out of the way.
I’ve had a bit of a downer on Matt Smith, ever since he was announced as the 11th Dr Who. I now can’t actually watch the programme as I end up shouting at the TV and getting all annoyed (I don’t think the scripts are as good without a Russell T Davies ‘polish’ either, but there you go).
Aaaaanyway, I noticed that last week’s Radio Times had their interview with actress Karen Gillan (who plays the Doctor’s assistant Amy Pond) as their cover story with Matt Smith relegated to the background:
This week, it was Matt Smith’s turn to be interviewed – and the RT led with the boys from Top Gear:
Sadly, no-one at the Radio Times noticed that the actual Top Gear feature was either shot at a really weird angle or a Photoshop Disaster:
Judging by the five covers the magazine ran with David Tennant as cover star in just 12 months, I can’t imagine them turning down a cover opportunity for the 10th Doctor. It seems that perhaps the Doctor’s assistant has eclipsed him on the ability-to-shift-magazines front – I certainly get a lot more traffic to this blog for searches for Amy Pond than for Matt Smith.
David Tennant’s Converse were always going to be big shoes to fill, but it looks like Amy/Karen has worn them in nicely.
I’ve had some uni friends and their toddler staying for the weekend so we headed out to the local farm park today. It was excellent – lots for little ones to see and do and the sun shone.
What I really noticed at the farm was how professional everything was. The staff were uniformed, name badged, helpful, knowledgeable, smiley and proactive. The place was immaculate, the signage clear and on brand and the toilets spotless. The boss (Farmer James) was clearly visible dashing around – making sure all of his staff were doing what they were supposed to be doing, jollying along the birthday party that was taking place and making sure that everyone washed their hands.
Can the average agency measure up to that first impression? Helpful, smiley front line staff? Immaculate workplace with spotless loos? Consistent branding and clear signage? Boss visible and leading by example?
We’re supposed to be a communications industry, but it must be a bit desperate when we get outclassed on first impressions by a farm…
Farmer James! – any volunteers to stick him in a suit and let him loose on an agency?
This is brilliant, especially if you’re a Planner or a Planning student – PSFK have got together some heavyweight Planners for a series of videos called Skills of the Rockstar Planner. The first one is all about Intuitive Problem Solving:
More how-to videos looking at the key skills Planners need are due on PSFK over the next month.
PS on a separate note, can I say how touched I’ve been by the helpful advice and contacts from all over the interweb that have flooded into my inbox since I posted on Monday about my redundancy. Thanks everyone.
My current agency have decided that they can manage perfectly well without an Account Planner in the future.
So I’m on the lookout for freelance or permanent Planning type roles in the Yorkshire area.
If you’re outside Yorkshire, need some Planning support and don’t mind it being mostly done remotely, I’d also love to hear from you.
Try the email address or LinkedIn on the right or gemma dot teed [at] hotmail dotcodotuk.
I bought a birthday card yesterday and found on the back of it this rather lovely (slightly soppy, but still lovely) copy:
Think happy thoughts
Champion silver linings
Love all things (not just cute things like babies and kittens)
And when you do love – love like they do in power ballads (you know like on a cliff with the wind in your hair and your eyes shut. Knowing you’ll never know another love like this.)
Watch out for dog poo
Smile at people – even grumpy ones
Be nice (oh, I already said that)
Remember that anything is possible
And whatever you do, always try to look on the bright side
Cards from here
A staple of car journeys in my early childhood was a tape by the late, great Johnny Morris (of Animal Magic fame). It was made up of lots of poems and nursery rhymes set to music, including ‘Spring Morning’ by A.A Milne (the Winnie-the-Pooh man), which includes the lines:
If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”
Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.
It strikes me Planning in general has, in recent years, been content to let the wind take us away.
As new business processes shifted away from pitches, as digital stopped being a channel, at a time when we have more information at our fingertips than ever before, Planning as a discipline has never really got to grips with redefining its role.
The Voice of the Consumer bit still stands up, but in a multi channel, often multi agency environment where ‘creative’ covers everyone from art directors to techies and the economy is screwed, how do we define how Planning actually adds value?
As digital teams use social media to get closer to their brand’s customers, as research agencies see more and more value in adding proper Insight to their own offering and as demonstrating ROI becomes the holy grail, Planning will have to fight its corner for ownership of Insight.
Maybe instead of being responsible for Insight gathering and dissemination, the role of the Planner should shift more towards being an Insight Coordinator, pulling together what the client, CRM, PM/SP and Digital guys know to create an overview of What We Know and What We Don’t Know But Should – and then adding primary research to fill in any gaps and create an overarching brief for everyone to work from.
Jon Steel wrote in Admap last February that “Great Planning is about creating an environment where other people are more likely to come up with good ideas”.
To my mind, the Account Planner’s role in 2010 is as Insight Coordinator, Brief Writer and Ideas Facilitator. Oh, and as Russell says, Planners should know when to get out of the way. Anyone fancy coming up with a snappy job title to cover that lot off?
And because these people like their private life private, they’re the ones least likely to be visible to us – the marketing bods trying to have a conversation with them.
Take the election. If you’d based predictions of the outcome of the UK general election on Twitter noise, it would have been easy to predict an entirely different result. But that was the broadcasting of an opinionated few, rather than the sentiment of an entire country.
I’ve always looked at women-of-a-certain-age and wondered exactly where they bought their floral tops and comfy elasticated waisted skirts, as I’d never seen them on the high street. Then I started working on a project for a mail order business and realised just how many ‘brands’ there were out there that I’d never heard of, simply because I wasn’t target market.
It’s the people who read the Daily Mail, who watch The One Show, who like chain restaurants because they know what to expect – they are the ones who are consuming the majority of what you are busy trying to get flying off the supermarket shelves. And I’m guessing that most of the people reading this blog would not put themselves in that category.
I had three distant relatives to stay last week who had never had a Chinese meal in their life, had never been on the internet, had never been to Starbucks and so on. Admittedly they were in their early 80s, but they were sprightly and switched on and still doing their weekly shop, paying their utility bills and getting on with life. I think the Cadbury Guerrilla and his online chums have passed them by entirely – although I bet they’ve heard of Compare the Meerkat, purely thanks to its enormous TV ad spend.
When we merrily ask customers to enter our promotional competition online, or to text in to win; when we put our customer helpdesk online; when we release a viral – we ignore a massive chunk of society. According to TGI, 22% of the UK adult population do not access the internet. And that’s not including the ones who can just about send an email but are not exactly blogging for Britain.
Even focus groups can be misleading. The recruitment screeners tend to ask if potential respondents agree with statements like “I like to make my voice heard and join in with the conversation, even if my opinion is different to everyone else”. That’s brilliant for group dynamics and the depth of insight you’re going to get, but hardly representative of the opinions of your target audience as a whole.
And that’s even before we get onto the thorny subject of ‘groupies’ who collude with dodgy recruiters to attend a group every week by pretending that they are new to research, regularly use the product being researched and/or don’t know the other respondents – where else can you earn twenty quid an hour for sitting on a sofa and talking about pizza? But it’s hardly a representative slice of your target audience.
I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in our own buzzy career, decent salary, upwardly mobile reality of social media, information at the press of a button and smart phones; of trendy bars and hip holidays; of the latest retro trainers and the kind of work where you’d probably turn up even if they didn’t pay you. But we’re the minority, not the majority.
At its core, being a Planner is all about being the Voice of the Consumer. Some consumers just aren’t the type to shout up and need the Planner’s megaphone to help get them heard – even among the very people who are supposed to be trying to have a conversation with them.
The cover story in this week’s issue of Grazia magazine explains how you too could have the perfect bikini body of 41 year old Jennifer Aniston.
It turns out that its simple – you just spend 90 minutes every single day working out with your personal trainer and never allow sugar, saturated fats, bread, pasta, processed foods or alcohol to pass your lips.
That’s no life. But reading about it made me feel a whole lot better about myself. I’ll stick with my imperfect diet and imperfect body and spend ten hours a week at the stables instead of the gym, thanks all the same.
Anyone with a brand targeted at women that wants to be the next Dove, give me a shout. And in the meantime, pass me that bar of chocolate.