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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Why Should We Ad Account Planning? (Part II)

Why Should We Ad Account Planning? (Part II)

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 19,575 times

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If you were to pose that question to an agency the most common response for adding planning would be “to win more business” and “to give a strategic edge to the agency.” It’s much simpler than that.

It relates to relevance and trust.

Or we could just call Jeff Goodby and ask him why he embraces account planning:

“Planning can help a creative department do better work. How? By giving them more information and insights than they could come up with on their own. And most important of all, by letting them know when they had crossed the line and produced advertising that was not communicating what it set out to, that did not make sense, or that was more appealing to us on the inside than to real people on the outside.”

Agencies employing account planners in the US and the UK have found significant success. In fact, a US survey of advertising executives, comparing agencies that employed account planners with agencies that did not, showed that agencies with account planners reported greater growth in both gross billings and number of client accounts than agencies without account planners. The agencies employing account planners also reported winning more awards than other agencies (Maxwell).

This supports Leslie Butterfield’s comments that, “Of course it’s not impossible to produce great advertising without planning, nor is it impossible to produce poor advertising with it. What has, however, been demonstrated beyond refute in those agencies which take the function seriously is that planning really can help by getting the advertising more right, more often, on more accounts, and often more quickly than without that way of working.”

Planning is about effective advertising. It’s 100% around the clock committed to drilling down to the very essence. It’s not task number 17 on today’s to-do list. It involves consumers in two ways.

First, it involves them in the process of developing the communication. Their feelings, habits, motivations, insecurities, prejudices, and desires are explored to understand both how the product fits into their lives and how they might respond to different messages. The second way is in the communication itself. Since advertising works better when it does not tell people what to think, but rather allows them to make up their own minds about its meaning. Allowing the consumers to figure it out on their own.

Advertising without planning is a gamble. With planning it’s a safe bet. It’s like being able to place your wager at the casino after the hands already been played out.

So why haven’t we embraced planning in Canada?

“The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.” John Maynard Keynes

The economist that sustained the confidence to believe his opinions were right and who stimulated debates on important subjects of his time and ours to which philosophers and logicians had unduly neglected is simply saying that it is difficult to let go of the old way of doing things. Perhaps a similar argument could be made for why genuine account planning philosophy (not a renamed researcher or a promoted executive) hasn’t been accepted in Canada.

Surely we can all accept that change is difficult.

Of course people will almost always choose the known over the unknown, but why is it when we try to sell and create advertising in this country we forget that they – clients, customers, consumers, prospects, sub in your own label – will also choose quality and value over the other attributes? I guess it doesn’t matter if they don’t know about the quality or value they’re missing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to add more value to your clients?

“The reason men oppose progress,” wrote Elbert Hubbard, “is not that they oppose progress, but that they love inertia,” and in advertising, inertia is a very powerful force, which can become ingrained in an agency. Unfortunately, inertia is not always a good thing even though we strive for it with our winning campaigns.

The heart of the account planning movement returns us to the most basic recommendation Theodore Levitt made to all industries to avoid “Marketing Myopia” in his famed McKinsey Award-winning essay (you’ve read it right?). Sure, that manifesto is older than I am, but you and I both know the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because of the market. It’s a failure of management.

Jay Chiat once described planning as “the best new business tool ever invented.” No one would argue that Jay’s advertising was substandard. So why is it that so many leaders in the Canadian advertising community refute this point. More to his point, only two years after implementing account planning, Chiat/Day’s annual billings rose from $80 million to $230 million. And they now work on over a billion dollars of business a year.

In truth though, no agency “needs” planning. Agencies whose main interest is giving clients what they ask for will discover planning an expensive and unwarranted overhead expense. On the other hand, agencies dedicated to doing fresh, innovative and effective advertising more consistently will find planning invaluable.

That’s because having a separate department responsible for injecting consumer information all the way along the creative development process leads to a higher strike rate for creative executions.

However, in my experience working with all walks of life, it seems to me that the less talented people tend to let their insecurities get in the way of what is right, hiding behind supposed experience or expertise and refusing to recognize or even entertain other peoples input because they fear it will undermine their own position. Is this the mindset of Canadian advertising?

If creative directors reject consumer input because they “know better,” or account management compromises for political reasons, or the director feels they’re always correct as a simple right of seniority, then the advertising will suffer. It may sell, but it will suffer in the mind of the consumer and the pocket book of the client. It’s easy to accept this statement. It’s much more difficult to do something about it.

I find it’s only weak account people who wield “The client says…” arguments to push projects forward that are threatened by the presence of a planner. The best account people thrive on the interaction and debate that planners bring to advertising development.

What I find really depressing is that most of the folks working in Canadian agencies with the moniker account planner on their business card never had any training for this role. Even worse, very few have sought out the methodologies of craft with the maniacal zeal that is required for showing the disciplines worth to clients let a lone the industry. With my apologies to the genuine Canadian planners that do exist, it is my experience that hardly any of them work in Canada, the majority of genuine Canadian planners I have found and met practice in the States.

We all know the clients primary concern is with the health of their organization and with their shareholder or ownership interests. Customers needs and wants, while obviously of major interest tend to be second on the list. And yes I saw their mission statement saying they always put customers first. However, saying so, doesn’t make it so (I’m a genius. I’m the most attractive person you’ll ever meet. See what I mean?). The planner is the conscious of the consumer throughout the advertising process. That’s their reason for being. (Even though the other guys will tell you they have your consumers’ interests in mind and defer that planning is the agency’s job, account managers and creative directors have different prerogatives. Come on, be honest.)

As a culturally diverse country combined with an outward looking view, I truly believe the Canada advertising industry is uniquely positioned by means of an increasing aptitude to understand the many conversational and behavioral nuances that are so critical to advertising that can really travel, the best advertising in the world. Quantum theory would support this and suggest that if you (the person in the mirror) can imagine Canada taking a larger part on the global advertising stage it is then possible. Cause you imagined it. We need to head in the right direction and like the guys at Nike said, just do it.

Quantum theory would also suggest that the way a member of the target audience will react to an advertising message is affected by many factors beyond what the advertising itself looks like and says. Where are they? Who are they with? What sort of mood does that put them in? All of those “relationships” will affect the person’s receptivity to, and interpretation of, the message. A good planner spends an enormous amount of time taking these factors into account in their analysis.

Ten Account Planning Contributions

1. Planning is to advertising what marketing is to sales.

2. The better agencies understand their prospects, the easier it is to position a product in their minds.

3. A solid strategic foundation for the agency’s work leads to a higher level of client confidence in the end result.

4. Planning provides insights and clarity that move discussion from “I think” to “I know.” It sorts through the multi-layers of myth and hypothesis that develop around marketing a brand, eliminating the irrelevant and highlighting the relevant.

5. Planning is more productive and more focused than traditional research. (Planning helped Apple position Macintosh as a revolution not because it was more powerful, but because Apple represented a radical ease of use generic to all personal computers and yet not unique enough)

6. A by-product of Planning is greater cohesion and teamwork within the agency. The extra focus on the consumer point of view takes some pressure off the traditional agency line of battle: creative versus account people. Instead, the debate is centred on whether a piece of advertising is the right thing to do.

7. Far from being an attempt to diminish the responsibilities of account management, the addition of a planning department helps the account executive do their job better by providing an active partner in the thinking processes that leads to the development of advertising.

8. For the account executive motivated by the desire to bring the best thinking, the best strategy and the best creative solutions to their client, this partnership with an account planner is actually, and can be a rewarding experience. It’s a peer relationship, a person who will share ideas-without judgment-not dissimilar to the art director and copywriter relationship. It raises the whole level of dialogue on the account and frees account manager to take a stronger leadership and entrepreneurial role.

9. For creatives, the key benefit of planning is usable research. Not numbers, not a qualitative research report to read over when you have some time, but a person who explains and seeks to bring useful insights to the process. Not a researcher, but a person who can articulate an idea to others and someone who they respect and trust because they understand and are as equally passionate about great advertising. A tightened and invigorating brief.

10. Planning is also a huge resource to clients above and beyond simply advertising. An account planner is so in tune with the consumer that he or she can help in packaging, promotion, product development, acquisition, etc.

If you believe that one of the components of great advertising is that it is as relevant to the consumer as it can possibly be, get planning.

“At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often can camouflage what really motivates him. For if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being.” Bill Bernbach

Jay Thompson
VP of Stuff

  • Chris Stadler

    Awesome. And it’s exactly what I’m doing my MA thesis on. Do you know a lot of agencies in Canada that use accoun planning? I need subjects for my research.




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