Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What do "Planners" do all day?

When I first started work at a London ad agency as a trainee copywriter I had only a hazy idea of how all the departments fitted together. New Business and Accounts were fairly obvious, but "Traffic", "Account Handling" and "Studio" were more nebulous. Especially I did not understand "Planning".

What do "Planners" do all day? You might think they have a master strategic role planning all the work of the agency, but you would be wrong. Planners actually seem to have no real power, and no defined area of responsibility.

One day a very senior director explained to me why agencies (the good ones) have Planning departments.

In the old days, by which he meant the 1960s and early 1970s, most of the clients were Sales directors. They were people with lots of authority to take decisions, were usually risk-takers, and wanted big campaigns to stimulate sales.

Dealing with these clients was easy.

Then from about the mid-70s onwards clients developed marketing departments. As well as the Sales director there was also a Marketing manager sitting in on client meetings. Agencies began to meet resistance to the big simple campaign ideas and an increasing emphasis on customer research, customer attitudes, even customer complaints about the product.

Therefore agencies developed Planning departments. The role of the Planners was to match the marketing people for each client, try to understand how they looked at the world, and to overcome any objections they might have to the agency's pitches. This often meant doing the client's marketing work better than the Marketing manager concerned.

From the late 1980s onwards the position changed again. Human nature being what it is the Marketing managers got lazy and often expected the agencies to do most of the marketing work and come up with most of the marketing ideas (which they then claimed the credit for when internally reselling to their boards). The best use of Planners was to integrate them into the account handling process so that the clients became dependent on them and could not easily switch agencies without experiencing a significant loss of marketing expertise.

But this is just one agency. Every agency is different. Planning is no doubt a continuously evolving process.

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