If you want to understand what a planner is, one of the best places to start is Merry Baskin‘s document ‘What is Account Planning?’ on the APG website.
When I first read it I was excited by the diversity of the role and the skills it required. I also liked the idea that there were things planners shouldn’t do…
I really liked the idea that there were elements of the business I could be protected from. Boring admin and bossing people around, negotiating timings or budgets, having any responsibility for making money. It was maybe like being an academic. Being organised by someone else meant I largely didn’t have to care about anything other than the project I was working on.
But actually, a lot of that wasn’t very fair. I am organised… I always know where things are in a mountain of printouts, even if no one else does. I’ve never lost my phone.
I also did care – if not about ‘invoicing’ (and certainly not about doing my timesheets) – I did care about the business side of things. I wasn’t an academic, distanced from putting an hourly rate to the time I spent working (although many academics are feeling this more and more.) I wanted to know how to make money! And to know how to increase the value of planning in Scotland, because there are so few of us here (although we are growing in numbers.)
Last year I was offered the opportunity to be an account director and I took it. The last 8 months have been incredibly educational. Every planner should try client servicing, account handling, for a while, in some shape or form. We get lots of training courses that help us see ourselves in the creative’s shoes – but the amount of insight you get from an account man’s perspective is amazing, and I am sure it will make me a better strategist/planner because:
Account people have to know everything, all the time. This is very difficult (impossible) so you get very good at knowing what you have to know, prioritising knowledge. Cutting to the chase saves time.
Account people know their clients inside out. What they do in their spare time, what their kids’ names are. They also know what they respond to well. How to negotiate with one client is completely different from another. This helps you tailor presentations to your audience’s needs.
I realise the value of what I do as a planner in a very new way. In an agency where there are no planners, the job is split between the account man, the creative director, and whoever else wants to have a go. Sometimes no one has a go. If there is a planner, someone is making sure it’s all happening and the ideas are being coordinated.
A planner writing a brief or a presentation for an account person saves time, does it better. Not necessarily because they are more skilled (although they should be) but because they have the luxury of time to think about it. It’s strange to think of luxury thinking time as being something that saves time and money – but it does.
People management. Enough said.
I’ll never take an account manager for granted again. They work so hard. It’s a major job bringing people together, getting them to do the right thing, or finding a compromise if they won’t.
Hopefully this all made sense. Try client servicing, swap roles, have a go at something else. I guess what I am saying is it’s as important to understand your colleagues as well as you understand users and audiences and brands.