New agency model is a moving target for account planners

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[Chicago] An identity crisis is looming for account planners. Are they market researchers, media innovators, account coordinators or the creative department's best friend in the still-evolving new agency model world?

The answer is yes.

That much was clear last week as more than 725 planners gathered last week at an American Association of Advertising Agencies-sponsored conference to trade secrets, complain, kvetch and listen to pundits opine about the industry. Guests including R/GA's Chairman-CEO Bob Greenberg, Motorola Chief Marketing Officer Geoffrey Frost, New Yorker author Malcolm Gladwell and DDB Chairman Keith Reinhard all came to put a name and a spin on the state of account planning today. And spin they did, many offering unique definitions and potentials for account planners.

"If what's next is mainly about ideas, then shouldn't this be the dawn of the golden age of planning?" asked TBWA Worldwide Creative Director John Hunt, adding that he could see a future where creative and account planning would become one discipline, or at least one department.

Mark D'Arcy, chief creative officer of Time Warner, said he believes planners can increasingly be the coordinators among the department silos inside agencies and with clients. "Planners need to get creatives into media and get media people into creative," he said. "How, when and where you tell the story is almost as important as what your story is. ... Account planners can bridge the gap."

But no matter the perspective from the platforms, most agreed on one thing: Account planning is key to the evolution of the agency model. Account planners themselves agreed-80% in a pre-conference survey said that the current agency model is irrelevant.

The shift is likely the root of the broad blurring about what account planning is and will become. Some panicking creative, media and account managers are grabbing bits of the planner's strategist role to shore up their jobs in a new ad world where the 30-second spot no longer reigns.

More confusion arrives from the marketer world, where clients demand that planners develop big ideas and out-of-the-box thinking that gets met with initial excitement, then nervousness, then dismissal. There were many discussions about just that problem. Everyone agrees the agency model needs to change and get more creative, but they also agree that many marketers are still more talk than action. A typical experience is one of a young planner who said she was asked to put together an "out-of-the-box-thinking" strategy for a major beverage company, but once the company saw her inventive suggestions, it decided to put their money back into TV.

Part of the problem could be lack of understanding. "Agencies haven't demonstrated the intelligence and relevance of the planning function to clients," said's Chairman-CEO Jon Kamen.


Some planners are fighting to get noticed. One planner from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, spoke excitedly about his innovative way to get creatives and marketers to pay attention to his planning briefs. He no longer writes paper missives, but instead films consumer behavior, comments and observations and edits them into five-to-seven-minute movies. And it's working, he said.

The speakers had advice to offer as well. One common issue was how planners could better incorporate the various mediums into their work.

"Take the media and make it strategic," said Jeffrey Blish, director-account planning at Deutsch, Los Angeles. "We're uniquely qualified to investigate that. ... It's our discipline that has to understand it, bring it all together and present it in a more meaningful way."

Motorola's Mr. Frost offered a client perspective that heartened the group. In talking about how marketers see the agency business evolving and what they want, he said, "No. 1 on our list is exactly what you all do."

Mr. Reinhard, who spoke about the challenges of "Business for Diplomatic Action" and invited planners to submit any relevant research they might have, echoed Mr. Frost, saying, "We in advertising have come to rely more and more on the keen insights from planners. ... Changes in attitude precede changes in behavior."

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