Posts tagged ‘Account Planning’
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.
Over the last few years, I’ve worked on several campaigns where the objectives and/or the budgets shifted substantially between the insight and planning process and execution. In some cases, we were communicating to a different audience, or with a different message, or with a quarter of the original budget.
How can you build anticipating that kind of change into preparing a comms campaign? Or into outlining (via, of course, the medium of excel) exactly what work the agency is going to be doing for the next twelve months?
Both insightey Account Planning and the newer kid on the block Channel Planning tend to be upfront activities. You work out who you need to be talking to, what you need to have a conversation with them about and where the best places to do this would be. Then you charge into creative development, the digital guys start doing complicated things with code and media is booked. Only then will the client email to tell you that the goalposts have shifted. Rather a lot.
It’s not (normally) the client’s fault. Large (and small) organisations have to react to what the economy, their competitors and the market are doing. But pulling together a communications campaign still takes time and if client marketing budgets continue to be allocated months in advance its very tempting to write an annual marketing plan showing exactly how the budget will be spent. Except it won’t, because by month four everything will probably have changed. Which is a recipe for wasting client’s (and agencies) money.
You know those ‘day in the life; and ’24 hours with’ pieces that turn up in trade mags and the business section of the newspaper? They make working in AdLand sound very glamorous, but I’m afraid the life of this Planner is rather more mundane…
8.40 Arrive at work. Go to kitchen. Coffee pot is empty. Decide life is too short to wait for a new pot to filter so settle for Nescafe instead.
8.50 Read 47 new emails in inbox. Delete 44 of them.
9.05 Creative time booked for today. Decide to leave briefing until they’ve a) turned up and b) had a cup of tea.
9.30 Brief Creative.
10.00 Internal meeting. Hunt down other meeting participants in manner of herding ducks.
10.15 Found them! Go on hunt for empty meeting room.
10.30 10am meeting starts.
11.30 Read 20 new emails, delete 18. Brief in desk research. Chat about last night’s groups with the quallies. Decide amongst us that Leeds is the most over-researched city in the UK, closely followed by Milton Keynes.
12.00 Talk to New Business team about a hot new lead they have. Get sidetracked into talking about Lisa’s hot new necklace.
12.30 Lunchtime. Have missed the Sandwich Man and it’s monsooning outside so would need a snorkel to walk to the shops. Stick soup in microwave.
12.33 Stick soup back in mysteriously underpowered microwave.
12.35 Check hotmail, bloglines etc. Call blacksmith. Write blog post (check spellings).
1.10 Skim read Mintel report. Wonder who on earth writes the editorial bits which seem to specialise in stating the blumin obvious.
1.50 Take laptop up to boardroom ready for 2pm client meeting. We have chocolate biscuits. Excellent.
2.05 Clients are not here yet. Can’t do any work because laptop is in boardroom hooked up to projector. Sit at desk looking like computer-less work experience person.
2.20 Clients turn up. They have spent the last 20 minute trying to find a parking space.
2.25 Reach for chocolate biscuit to go with cup of tea. No-one else in meeting does likewise. Feel like immature greedy guts. Eat it anyway.
3.00 Client has decided to do complete 180 turnaround with npd launch strategy. This will obviously cause us no additional work whatsoever…
4.00 Meeting finishes. Write To Do Again list. Read 25 new emails, delete 23.
4.15 Go and see how Creative are getting on. Or not.
4.45 Get sucked into account team strategy discussion of the ‘too many cooks’ variety.
5.00 Dig out obscure facts & figures for the PR team to use in a press release. Remind them that a show of hands in the office does not equal ‘our survey said’ for PR purposes.
5.30 Move car as according to the tannoy I am Blocking Someone In. Delete more emails, tidy desk, check hotmail.
5.45 Try to leave. But someone is Blocking Me In.
With the economy making everyone increasingly risk averse, it seems to me that Jon Steel’s adage about clients using research not as a navigational tool but to protect themselves and their career from a fiery end is becoming increasingly apt.
With limited research budgets and risk averse clients it can be very tempting to use research to prove that there is nothing wrong with the campaign/ positioning/ strategy/ creative, rather than using it to discover what the right, unique, differentiating solution might be.
If research gives respondents a choice of A, B or C (and if significant time and money has been invested in bringing these solutions to this point), it is very tempting to go with the most popular of the three, or some combination, i.e. the one that has nothing wrong with it. At this stage it is getting a bit late to start again from scratch just because the right answer D has been identified and in any case the kind of research techniques that separate routes A, B and C apart will not necessarily identify option D at all.
A campaign scrambled together from gut feel, an out of date U&A study and a few Mintel reports and then declared by research to have nothing wrong with it has a chance of success. But the right one developed from real first hand insight with the real target audience has the potential to be far more effective.
To deliver this we’re talking about the (in some client’s eyes) soft and fluffy end of research. The ethnographic kind that often doesn’t have set objectives and deliverables and other tick boxes that budget holders can happily sign off. Which is just the kind of research that gets very hard to justify when times are tight.
The majority of clients who embrace research will always want to hold on to the rubber stamping go-with-this-one end of the research process and will be reluctant to release that budget to a more exploratory phase in search of a holy grail of ‘the right answer’. And in the current climate expecting extra research budget to enable both rubber stamping and a real exploration of the lives, hopes and fears of the target audience is unlikely.
In our search for the Golden Nugget of Insight, should we be encouraging our clients on investing a lot of money on finding the right solution, or more modest sums on identifying which solution isn’t wrong?
We are officially in recession, the economy is nose diving and there’s no question that clients have got less money to spend. Unless you happen to work in Digital (where every agency I know is still turning work away because they’re too busy), it’s looking a bit bleak.
I’ve already written about how as Planners we need to demonstrate our own effectiveness, both externally and internally, but maybe it’s becoming more about redefining the role of Planning itself in light of the new realities.
I’m getting quite evangelical about a greater role for Planning at the NPD stage (and fortunately my agency agrees with me) and from a purely practical point of view, involving Planning at this early stage can make the NPD research work harder and reduce the need for costly additional research and retro fit planning further down the line at the comms stage.
The value of Planning can also be defined in terms of the agency’s bottom line. Good planning advice and involvement upfront in campaign development (advising that those three briefs are actually two, tightening up propositions, giving the account director ammunition to deflect the client’s madder ideas, even on accounts which don’t have a regular Planner assigned to them), results in less creative resource being required, which saves agencies money.
So think about it, how are you saving your clients and your agency money?
I’m starting to wonder if Account Planning’s role is really about advertising (or even communications) anymore.
Gareth Kay’s brilliant post (and presentation) on why Planning Needs Some Planning raised some very interesting thoughts on why brands need to have a social mission, not a commercial proposition and what I found most inspiring was:
Working within the framework of a regional, integrated agency the opportunities for long term involvement in a client’s high profile, above the line communications are a bit limited anyway. But increasingly I’m getting involved in exciting NPD at an early stage, working on positionings and target audience identification alongside the Research team, often long before the comms campaign gets considered.
Maybe the modern Planner’s role as Researcher, Cultural Guide and Insight Generator makes us well suited to add value at this early stage – ensuring that when a communications campaign is put into place, all the groundwork is there to ensure that it will resonate with the target audience.
A friend was asking me today if I’d ever thought about going freelance. I said that unless forced to by redundancy I thought it would be a bit foolish to try and build up a freelance client base in a recession where agencies are increasingly instigating ‘no freelancers’ rules in a bid to keep costs down.
So let’s suppose you’re a Planner working outside London, Miami, New York et al where the majority of Planning jobs are and you don’t want to up roots and move. Your employment prospects this side of 2010 aren’t that great.
What transferable skills do Planners have? Preferably ones that apply to recession proof industries? I’m just throwing this out there, I know most of us could become qual researchers (albeit probably at a more junior level), brand managers, or even account handlers at a pinch for the very organised ones, but what about outside marketing?
Any of you who have already made the jump to working for yourself might like this Sir Freelancelot complete with laptop which you can buy as a t-shirt from here.
Noisy Decent Graphics is hosting a series of expert guest posts on how design agencies should deal with the recession.
While I’m not pretending to have a similar solution for Planners, there are clearly some major challenges we are already having to navigate our way round:
- any data more than a week old is now questionable in view of the speed of financial change going on and it’s impact on attitudes and behaviour. So TGI, last year’s U&A and the qual from September need to be treated with caution
- but there isn’t a lot of spare cash sloshing about to spend on fresh insight
- and we’re going to have to work harder than ever to justify both the value we add to the agency and the Planning fees we charge to clients
Which might mean that any Planner with a good understanding of basic psychology is going to be most adaptable to the new status quo. (OK, all Planners should ideally already possess this, but let’s be realistic.) In the absence of reliable data, understanding the impact of mental processes on behaviour has got to be a good place to start from.
Time to dig out the old text books then.
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Brand Love recently. Not quite in a Lovemarks relationship/performance expectation way, but in a (perhaps more British?) understated, mostly unacknowledged way.
Take my relationship with BMW. I drive a little One Series. Do I really need it? No. Was I probably always destined to own it? Yes. Just after I was born my Dad bought a BMW on the recommendation of a friend who said that his Beemer was quiet on motorways. Five cars and thirty odd years later and he’s still got one – and so has his mate. As a child I even had a BMW car seat, an enormous thing in matching black upholstery fabric that seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth (in that I can’t find any pics on the internet to share with you).
As a brand, BMW to me means security, strength, family, comfort, safety and a sense of belonging – not perhaps the brand values you might usually attribute to ‘the ultimate driving machine’. Since its also an easy and fun car to live with, I think this might be a new generation of BMW ownership off to a flying start, perhaps despite rather than because of the BMW marketing team’s best efforts.
There must be lots of people knocking about with slightly off kilter brand associations & random Brand Love. I suppose the best way to harness this is the good old internet, where niche marketing sits best. Incidentally, I did visit BMW’s website looking for some old pics but there were none to be found. How about an online museum BMW marketing guys? Lets share the love.
pic from here, GNU license applies