As I travel around the world working with Agencies, I often get asked if I can recommend a good planner. They are much in demand and very hard to find.

So what makes a great planner?

My experience tells me that you should look for four things:

A real understanding of the Creative process. A Planner’s real job is not to write documents. It is to provide direction and inspiration for the Creative department. The Planner can only do so if he truly understands how ideas are born. He needs to understand that there is no planning process that can mechanize the process to the point of plugging in a problem at the front end, and coming out with a great solution at the back end. He needs to embrace the randomness of the creative process.

An ability to synthesize. The job of a planner is to wade through all of the existing information and clearly and simply identify the problem that must be solved. He must then provide a kernel of inspiration that will lead to creative solutions. He cannot be the person who complicates things. If he does this he will cause projects to start and stop as confuses things or goes off on a tangent. Eventually, the people who actually have to come up with the solutions will roll their eyes and tune him out.

Experience in the advertising trenches. The Planning Department is the closest thing to an Ivory Tower in the Agency. It is removed from the day-to-day chaos so that the Planner can “think”. This is all well and good as long as that Planner understands the realities of the business. And the best way to get this understanding is to work in the Client facing areas-Account Management or Creative. These are the two departments that are in the firing line, and only here can he learn the difference between the theoretical side of advertising and the reality. If a Planner does not understand and live in reality, the Client will roll his eyes and tune him out.

Life experience. It is the blessing and the curse of young to think they have all the answers. Everyone knows everything when the come out of University. It is only with time that they learn that life is not black and white. Only with experience do they gain perspective and empathy. It is not the same to read about bringing up a child than to actually do it. It is difficult to get a full understanding of marriage until you experience it. A Planner will have a much more insightful understanding of a “target” when we can complement his observations and research with his own life experience. This will spark much more nuanced and interesting advertising approaches.

The next time you are looking for a great planner, put aside the resume and try to get a feel for these four things.

Your chances of finding a good Planner will get much better.

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