As I sat in a creative review yesterday watching the Account Planner assigned to the project just sitting there, saying little and adding nothing I thought back to the briefing…which also relegated the planner to the background, leaving him in a position to simply parrot the points in the brief. Points that had been originally developed by the account team before he polished it. Or at least that’s what he was supposed to have done.
My problem with planners goes farther than this young gentleman.
For every planner that functions as nothing more than a researcher who fine-tunes the wording of the briefs that the account team initially develops, there are the good planners that come up with the fantastically complex and cutting-edge strategies. These planners are just as responsible as the researchers for the uselessness of the function.
I am not alone in feeling this way. Ad Contrarian notes that Account Planning is responsible both for the brain drain on the account side and the rise of the discipline correlates with the loss of confidence by clients that agencies can provide effective strategic guidance.
There are two reasons that Account Planning is killing strategy.
First, planners or either glorified researchers who don’t add anything or they are strategic glory hunters whose incentives are geared toward the newest, shiniest, cleverest, impress-your-friends strategies. Only with something that really pop out as shockingly original will they move up, which means that they are driven, if only to further their careers, to push the boundaries for pushing boundaries’ sake.
I am all about originality, of course, but not in self-serving originality.
That is not to impugn hard-working Account Planners, but rather to say that the incentives are set up for them not to think about the business – they are not promoted if their brand wins Effies – but to think about the most creative strategy to as to set themselves apart. Strategy isn’t creative and sometimes the most creative strategy isn’t the most effective.
The second reason Account Planning is killing strategy is because it is divorced from day-to-day client contact.
If Planning had day-to-day client contact, then they would be much more in tune with the actual business. This is critical because in most organizations you’re not just selling to consumers, you’re selling to multiple stakeholders that could include internal groups like sales or engineering, quasi-internal groups like franchisees, bottlers or dealers as well as the consumer. Planners are just focused on the consumer. This is a mistake.
Also, having that client contact gives one a deep understanding of the business problems the clients are facing every day, which is critical because often the stated business problem, something like the need to increase frequency with a younger consumer set, isn’t the real business problem, which may actually be a distribution issue that can be solved not by marketing to younger consumers but to retailers that serve younger consumers. With account divorced from strategy and much of the campaign development process, these critical distinctions get lost.
I am an old school guy.
I think that the ideal agency set-up is still built around the partnership between account and creative. Yes, I think that these days both account and creative need to have a broader array of abilities, such as an understanding of digital, proficiency with strategic development, etc, but I think that the best agencies are built simply. With fewer cooks in the kitchen. With a strategically-capable account team that gets the business and, with creative, develops the strategy. Then creative sells the shit of it with great work.
And, because there are fewer people splitting the billable hours, everyone gets richer.
And starts drinking bourbon before noon like in Mad Men.