America Is Browning; Account Planning Should, Too

Agencies' Consumer Advocates Should Look Like the Consumer

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
At advertising agencies, the consumer advocate is responsible for bringing the consumer to the forefront of the creative process and inspiring the creative and account-management team to work with the consumer in mind. As the consumer population shifts quickly to include more people of color, could there be a more crucial area to build a diverse talent pool than account and strategic planning?

Account planning's increasing role as a business driver for agencies is still a fairly recent development. The surge in the account-planning departments at the agencies only began in the 1990s. The introduction of the field at the college level is still limited. When students are exploring careers in marketing, account planning and strategic planning are still not top of mind. We are currently losing these great minds to the marketers and research firms that the students are more familiar with.

A small but growing population of African-American and Hispanic planners is beginning to emerge. Account planning continues to gain importance as a business driver at the same time that the population demographics change (30% of consumers are Hispanic, African American or Asian). There is a quiet but growing demand for well-trained planners that truly represent this fast growing demographic group.

Here is the problem. If the pool of talent is not aggressively cultivated, nurtured and properly trained, agencies will not be able to respond to the consumer insight marketers are demanding.

By definition, account planners are advocates of the consumer. According to Lisa Fortini-Campbell, "The planner has a point of view about the consumer and is not shy about expressing it."

If it is the planner's job to take all of the information and funnel it down into a short idea that helps inspire and direct the creative department and the planner's filter does not include the cultural nuances inherent in members of the culture, the information and ideas run the risk of being misunderstood.

So what should be done to get ahead of the wave? When recruiting court and build relationships with top talent that have transferable skills. Build awareness at the college and entry levels. Explore non-traditional methods of sourcing talent within the market research, media, brand and people-management areas. Invest in training and most of all stay open to different minds and points of view.

Looking at the consumer from every angle and truly searching for representation is crucial. An executive from a major Hispanic agency who was searching for a female account planner shared his point of view. He said, "If we don't have females on the creative side, then someone has to represent the consumer who is female".

A strong pool of multicultural planners that represent the changing face of consumers can lead to the creation of effective advertising and will make the difference between an agency winning and keeping new business.
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