Execs urge planners to reinvent discipline

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[Boca Raton, Fla.] The first account-planning conference under the auspices of the American Association of Advertising Agencies drew a robust 600 attendees, but much of what they heard was about how planning has gone wrong.

"Planning is stretching its capabilities," said Jeremy Hall, CEO-founder of New York-based branding and research firm Hall & Partners, noting in a session that planners have to be careful to define their roles at each agency. With the demand for integrated campaigns, the fear is that planners are expected to be all things-experts in media, accounts, research, consumers and more. He said the number of planners declined by some 38% between 2000-2002, and that his research showed planning salaries are capped as executives move up through the ranks, unlike their creative brethren.

Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and creative director of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, underlined the fear that planning could hit the buffers if it doesn't reinvent itself-and quick.

Mr. Goodby said that account planners were not sufficiently involved in the creative process. "I heard planners talk about being disenfranchised from ideas and people complaining that planners took the instinct out of advertising," he said.

not easy

While Mr. Goodby admitted that working with creatives was no easy task, he suggested account planners should try and change their demeanor. "Be less confrontational. Planners shouldn't decide whether the work is right or wrong; creatives hate absolutism and truth. There is a perception that we have to separate dead campaigns from live ones. Guide, don't judge. Planning is not an end, it's a means to an end."

Mr. Hall's presentation quoted clients. One said that a $400,000 fee to have a planner on the account was a luxury it couldn't afford, while another said, "One in every six planners is really good. The others are good at setting up research, thinking about creative ways to get at stuff. But I don't feel the intense struggle to get at the idea." However, clients also said that planners often made things run more smoothly.

Domenico Vitale, Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners' director of brand planning, and newly appointed co-chair of the Four A's account planning committee, gave one of the few true practical sessions at the conference. He described how planners sometimes have to lead rather than follow consumers. He explained what a funny idea ATM machines must have been to consumers in the `70s. "Think outside of advertising to get to the great solution," he said.

Overall, the event was enthusiastically received and viewed as an improvement on last year's Washington D.C. conference, organized by the now disbanded Account Planning Group. "The Four A's is thrilled to have account planning back in the fold," said the group's spokesman Kipp Cheng.

Separately, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, part of Maxxcom, took the account planning awards' Grand Prix for its work on beer brand Molson.

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