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What is account planning?

Planning is widely considered to have evolved in the UK advertising agency scene in the late 1960’s in an effort to bring the research department closer to the creative process. JWT London established its ‘Planning department’ in 1967, headed by Stephen King. This was a merged research and marketing department and, at first, didn’t work on specific accounts. The following year Stanley Pollit co-founded BMP and introduced the role of ‘Account Planners’.

The two schools of planning developed in parallel for many years but eventually attributes of both schools began to mix to form the modern “planner” role we know today. This is why both JWT and BMP/DDB claim joint ‘parentage’ over the Planning function.

One of the early supporters of planning at this time was Jeremy Bullmore who was Managing Director of JWT London in the early days when the department was first set up. He spoke at the very first APG meeting in the UK and has always been a great supporter of planning and planners.

In an article he wrote for UK’s Campaign magazine in 2001, he had this to say about planning:

‘There was once a bunch of creative people who were being more than usually bolshie about how tyrannical briefs crippled creativity and how they were being drowned in data and all that. So we plonked a can of engine oil down in front of them and told them to start writing a campaign for it.

There were a few minutes of stunned silence and then they all started bleating: “But what’s in it, why is it better, who buys it, what’s the competition, what does it do, how much does it cost, how can we be expected to…?”

By the time all their questions had been answered, they’d completed the necessary first steps in account planning. More specifically in terms of what a planner is and does, the following definition is taken from UK planner John Griffiths’ excellent ‘Planning above and beyond’ website:

The advertising planner is a trained researcher who is responsible for bringing a whole consumer perspective to the communications process.

This means that the planner is responsible for taking a brief from the client, developing a communications strategy expressed in the form of a creative brief. The planner supports the creative team throughout the creative process and evaluates the creative concept using research (conventionally qualitative discussion groups though quant pre-testing is also a possibility). The planner is also responsible for the evaluation of the whole campaign.

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