An AdAge article (yes, same old source) by Alice Cuneo provides a revealing opportunity to spend a few thoughts on what we all mean by “account planners”.
The article opens up with “pity the poor account planner” because these supposedly former rock stars of the ad business are now faced with sharing the spotlight with other kind of planners: media planners, connection planners, channel planners and the likes…
If the point of all this is to state that sharing the spotlights sucks, and we’ld all want to be the unique superstars of the amazing ad world, well… that’s a discussion that would appeal to our ego: which is clearly too big to fit into this blog’s layout, so let’s dismiss the whole issue.
If instead we’re talking real work, then it’s a whole different story, one that forces us to take a clearer look at what ultimately is our job.
Edward Cotton, director-strategy for Influx Insights, says “A big challenge is being up to date with what’s going on […] Six months ago, it’s MySpace. Now it’s Facebook.”
I say: Who cares?
The beef of account planning has always been the content of the message, not the place where this message is delivered. Ok, MySpace is a different place than Facebook, but what really matters to us are the insights behind social network.
The needs, aspirations and behaviour of people are what will enable us to produce insightful ideas: let channel planners tell both us and the creatives if those ideas would be better off on MySpace or Facebook, and what kind of shape they’ld have to take.
Now, I’m obviously being a bit radical here, and we do have to know that MySpace and Facebook are around, and how they work, but that’s because their presence gives us insights into people, and not much because of the opportunities for communication they provide.
On the other hand, we know that in order to deal with the changes that are taking place, more professionals will sit around the table. Edward Cotton again asks: “How do you [prepare a] brief if there’s 10 on a team?”
My first answer would be: you make 10 copies instead of 2.
My second answer is of course a bit more thoughtful, but it’s not far from that. The whole building and managing of communication will be more complicated, but everything will keep steaming from one relevant piece of idea. And luckily that first relevant piece of idea is most of our job.
Of course we’ll have to work with more people and keep an eye on more activities, but the core of what we do (and what defines our value) will stay the same.
As for me, I’ve been working with a channel planner based in London and our roles were pretty clear: I was in charge of the “what”, he was in charge of the “where”. Of course the “where” influences the “what”, but that only happens at a later stage (ie. creative execution)
On the other hand, it’s amazing how many different views people have on strategic planners, to the point that they should be endangered by pretty much anything: blogging, channel planners, and maybe global warming will come up as our next big threat.
Perhaps the reason for such an undefined idea of what we’re supposed to do is that “planning” doesn’t mean much, and “strategy” even less so. Or maybe it’s that planners are usually schizofrenic dudes with loads of different interests. Or that our work is built upon crossroads: between creatives and account handlers, between advertisers and consumers, between visionaires and researchers…
Whatever those reasons may be, it seems that communication getting more complicated is actually providing a chance for us to stick with what we were originally meant to do. Come up with relevant ideas that can be a fertile seed for communication. Period.
Final Burp: are strategic planners confused with channel planners because they both rely on research? If that is so, what happened to generating powerful ideas as the true essence of our job?