Saturday, 21 March 2009

Junior Planning 101..

Books you should know about/have read. Picture via Russell. Usual rules apply.

Inspired by Adland Suit's two posts for Junior Account handlers (as well as some advice for finding your way), I thought I should write a little missive for grad planners, or planners who've only just started. (Yes, the APSOTW is also bloody useful for this, so go read that too).

I'll preface this all by saying i'm really, still, a baby planner myself (just over 2 years of being a planner), so i'm still learning some of these - and feel free to chip in if there's something i've missed/can add to another post.

Anyway, on with the post.

1) You're bright; you aren't useful yet. A lot of planners will be incredibly bright chaps and chappesses who like the thinking behind brands and much more - how the mind works, the social impact of the decline of the Norwegian leather industry in 1980, anime and so on - but that's not immediately useful. All that said; you're still basically an interested student. You don't really have knowledge of client relationships, of business or even of how to talk to different 'types' of creative. So don't waltz in and expect to have it handed to you - it's extremely unlikely you'll have creatives coming up to you and listening to you from the off. You may have a first from your University and have been academic hot shit; that doesn't mean anything in the real world.

2) Data's one of your weapons. No-one else in the agency will know the penetration of yellow fats in lower income households. You must suck up this sort of data - it's vital business information, and it means, effectively, you can participate in conversations with the client, with creatives, and with account management. Without it, you've got the square root of fuck all - senior planners can go with their gut because they've done it before. You can't.

3) Smugness will not be tolerated. You are a planner, and that means you have to get on with people. By all means be a grumpy fucker now and then (sometimes it's a useful tactic when trying to get your thinking heard), but if you are perceived as smug, you've entirely destroyed your value. Think about it. If you're smug (though the agency and client may believe you know what you're talking about) you won't be perceived as empathetic, and it's a killer. Planners have to understand their audience; they can never truly 'know' what punters are going to do next. You can have a damned good understanding, but if you get into a routine where you think you know the audience better than themselves, you're kidding everyone, and the work and your relationships will reflect that. You're in a privileged position, being paid to think - don't abuse it.

4) Don't be too quiet. It's oh so easy to retreat into an ivory tower of thinking, just because that's what you used to do when writing about Milton's England or convalent bonding. This is advertising; it is not a place for the timid. You're being employed for your opinions, so speak up. Also, you're (again) in a damn privileged position to be able to talk to more senior suits and clients than your junior account handler counterpart; so you have to be able to bring your thoughts to the table. Obviously, don't be too loud and opinionated, as everyone will hate you - but for God's sake, don't be the bright quiet (and ultimately useless) one.

5) Work on your ability to think laterally. By this, I don't mean reading and regurgitating planning books (though reading several of them is a good idea). I refer instead to reading, as my old boss says, 'weird shit'. Read/watch stuff which opens your mind. You'll never know when that quote from Howard's End can be used to help reposition your automotive brief, or what a tea brand can learn from Grandaddy. Spouting things about a 'purpose idea' or a 'lighthouse identity' is old news. You should know it, but don't be over reliant on it. Lots of baby planners talk about the same old shit. How's that going to create interesting communication, or good propositions?

6) Job title is unimportant. I was told by Charles and Richard a while ago, that there's no such thing as a junior planner. You either are one or you're not. Took me a while to realise, but I think it relates to point 4 - senior and junior planners alike are paid for their informed opinions. This also relates to whatever prefix comes before 'planner'. Digital, comms, integrated, account - planners should be able to think in every discipline. After all, it's ideas and strategies you are dealing with - would that TV spot be able to work in digital? Why not? Could it be shared? Again, don't become a discipline snob, or assume that because you've specialised, you know best. Absolute nonsense, that.

7) Account management are your friends. These guys go through hell and back to keep the show on the road, so you should show them the utmost respect. All you do is think. Who's got the easier job? Don't be surprised if your account team don't know x or y about a brand or market - often, they are problem solvers, and often don't have time to stop and consider certain issues like you do. They aren't stupid, or 'unstrategic'. Just because you're the planner on the business doesn't mean you automatically know best. Account handlers are just as bright as you - but focused on other areas. Also, whilst your job is increase knowledge on the account now and then you'll find yourself doing some basic account handling. It may not be what you signed up for, but maintaining the client relationship is paramount, and if you are sometimes involved in writing a cheeky contact report or leading the relationship on one project, it should accepted without a grumble.

8) More Powerpoint doesn't mean better thinking. If account handlers have contact reports as their personal hell, then for planners, it's got to be the endless competitive reviews, especially when you're starting out. You'll note that some clients seem to think the longer the presentation, the better it is. Well, let me tell you that no-one learned anything from the 150+ slide presentation which was presented last time. Far far better to keep it to 30 slides of well thought out thinking than bombarding with endless ads and miscellaneous thinking. Plus, as Jon Steel put it in the Perfect Pitch, no-one speaks like Powerpoint; so why present most thinking on it? Far better, more often than not, to chat to your client about things.

9) Information is fine, but filtration is best. You've been employed because they think you can deal with all different types of data - from quotes to sales statistics. What you need to do is synthesise the data into something your client and all the agency folk you deal with can understand. This is a large, large part of your role, and one where it pays to talk to senior planners about what they'd ignore and what they'd use. It's all too easy to get bogged down in data; the crappest planners offer too much in the hope they're doing the right thing.

10) Find a mentor. As mentioned in other points, you don't know jack at this stage. But, assuming you know what you don't know, you should realise planning is a bit of a beast to try and learn all by yourself. Perhaps you have been lucky enough to find someone at your new/current agency who can show you the ropes and advise you (because, God knows - whether junior or senior, all planners need advice now and then). Or perhaps you haven't. If you haven't, go and find one! Read planning blogs (like Northern Planner's excellent series of planning tips) and exchange emails - go to APG events, meet other planners. The APG's introduction to planning is terrific to teach, and to help you meet your peers. You'll find people who inspire you, and people who can mentor you; they'll go on helping you throughout your career.

Phew. There are a few tips for you guys. Any other folk who have other suggestions, stick 'em in the comments.


Jam said...

That was absolutely fantastic, Will. A lot for everyone to think about there - even the seniors in a complacent moment. I'll be going back to this a few times, I reckon.

My personal no.11 would be: talk to people. Perhaps this falls under the 'weird shit' category, but you need the ability to extract data from your encounters in the world - and you need a bit of drive to ask the right questions and get that data from someone. A good planner will be able to make a stab at what most people in a category think about something most of the time, but he can't be prepared for the exceptions. Talking to people can give you an idea what they might be.

Frequently, they're bloody interesting.

Anonymous said...

Big thumbs up for this post - it's what makes this blog valuable!

If by this time next year I get taken on board full time I'll bring my offerings in the form of 1kg of Yorkshire tea :D

Anonymous said...

I remember NP telling me once Dan Ariely's 'Predictably Irrational' is also a good read

Unknown said...

A really useful post Will, think it benefits planners and suit's alike!

For the suits out there (like myself!), I wrote a similar post (not as detailed as yours I admit) at the end of last year, happy to share with the rest of the class:

shib said...

Great post for someone still considering if planning is for them! Thanks guys.

AdLand Suit said...

A good post indeed, Will - and thank you for the link. As promised, I'll write you a bespoke piece on the Account Handling front - it'll hopefully be with you tomorrow.

As far as this post is concerned, I think the key point from an Account Man's point of view is that of partnership. A strong account man/planner relationship leads to better briefs, happier teams, better work, happier clients and better results. All of which are obviously good things.

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for writing this up!

Also, here is an excellent example of a time when less is more with regards to PowerPoint:

It's surprising that this happened in an organisation that came up with the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Anonymous said...

Amazing blog entry dude :)
I've just graduated and am still on the lookout for an advertising job.
I have an interview for a Junior Planner's position tomorrow (:S) and am quite excited/shit scared, but reading this makes me feel alright about going for it.
I've known that I wanted to be in the Ad business for a while now, i'm just not sure where I'd fit in.

Thanks again for this though! I'll be keeping tabs to see if there's anything else you can ease my crazy brain with :) x

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much! I`ve just started working as a junior planner and I'm still a bit confused what`s my role in different cases. Sometimes I'm even frustrated because my lack of information and lack of expertise.

I am veeeeery willing to learn a lot but I guess I`m too impatient.

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Black Suits said...

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big suit said...

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