Since the mid-1990s, account planning has been in use in the U.S. as part of ad agencies’ creative development process. We’ve written elsewhere about the account planning process, but here are some thoughts on how account planning fits into the agency framework.
Account Planners Do Not Work in Isolation
Since the early days of account planning’s adoption by American ad agencies and marketing firms, there has been in some quarters the perception that account planners dictate instructions to the creative team. This perception caused pushback from creative people who saw their idea generation prowess being co-opted by “researchers.” It appeared to many agency creatives that the creative process was being constrained rather than supported.
In reality, a well-conceived account planning element slots into the existing account team and creative process. This team consists ideally of the account manager, the account planner, and the creative group assigned to the project.
- The account manager brings the client’s concerns and perspectives to the table—their pain points or goals they hope to achieve. The manager’s focus is expediency, or what can and cannot be done toward a stated goal, and within the budget and timeline.
- The account planner is the “voice of the consumer.” Through research, they arrive at an understanding of the target customers, and perceive opportunities to motivate or expand that group within the framework of client objectives. They explain their insights clearly to ensure development of a message consumers will find relevant. They strive for objectivity and keep the focus on the customer.
- The creative team then takes the insights about the customer and the identified opportunities, and uses them to build memorable, distinctive creative messages that generate marketing to which customers will respond. Their focus is the intuitive idea that will deliver the solution.
These three groups arrive at a consensus around an insight that aligns with client goals, and enables the creative team to develop strong, effective messages. The account planner and creative people collaborate to measure and assess results and perhaps adjust the strategy.
Account Planners Are Not Researchers
Planners may have arrived in their positions from the research side of the agency business, but can be from almost any other area—including the client side. They do need analytical skills, must be strong communicators, and be natural problem solvers; lateral thinking is important, but so is pragmatism.
While planners may not gather the research, they do need to deep dive into it, like archaeologists on a dig. They peel away the dust and detritus to find “the good stuff.” With that history as a baseline for where consumers are or have been recently, they extrapolate the data and their understanding of human behavior to conceive where the consumer could be. It’s their job to find the insight that can shift consumers’ thinking to arrive at new perceptions that will cause them to make a purchase decision. They identify what may prevent consumers from taking a desired action, and share ideas for the right stimuli for removing or reframing that obstacle.
Researchers define and evaluate; planners assess and inspire. They take what they know, and make something new from that knowledge, then share that new insight to inspire the creative team.
Learning How to Touch Customer Emotions
Bill Bernbach, a planner before account planning had a name, offered these thoughts:
“The heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature. What compulsions drive a man? What instincts dominate his actions even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him?”
If your agency is integrating account planning into the strategic/creative process, take a look at how the team collectively functions. Are all members playing their roles? How well are they sharing and communicating? Can you make adjustments to ensure collaboration happens smoothly, and serves to improve creative work rather than constrain it?
Build a strong account service team, including a good account planner and your ingenious creative people. Then focus your collective efforts on delivering ideas that move clients’ customers to action. Plan, understand and inspire.
See also: What Exactly Do Account Planners Do?