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An AdLiterate on planning

Richard Huntington is Planning Director of United London. Before joining United in 1997 Richard put in time at both AMV.BBDO and BHWG. According to the APG website” , Richard “has made rodeo sexy, produced food porn for Diet Tango, helped men confront their fear of the phone and made Iceland the most opinionated supermarket in Britain. Richard has his last Tango ad banned for encouraging bullying”. On his blog, Richard mentions he is serious and dry. Romanians might also be interested to know that colleagues call Richard “camp Dracula”. The interview will tell you why.

The same simple question sometimes gets simple, yet different answers. What is the main function of planning inside an advertising agency?

To make the ads work – nothing more, nothing less. Creatives make the ads good (i.e. engaging and potent vehicles for communication). Account handlers make the ads happen. Planners make the ads work. Now we all do that in different ways – a breakthrough strategy perhaps, a really excellent interpretation of creative development research, an inspiring brief – there is no one answer.

What qualities do you think a planner should have?

Weirdness and they should read weird shit. Being weird doesn’t help you plan but the ability to look at the same things as everyone else and see something different comes from being a bit odd.

You’ve started your career at DDM Advertising, a direct marketing agency. Are there any differences between the direct marketing planner and the integrated planner?

Not really qualified to say as I started as an account handler at a time when there really weren’t planners in direct marketing. However, I heard a nice distinction recently that while we share the same basic DNA, above the line planners are interested in the bigger picture and irritated by the detail while DM planners are obsessed by the tiny differences between people, groups of people and their behaviour.

In spite of the huge amount of money spent each year on advertising, nobody really knows how advertising works. It has always been a difficult question. Still, in your opinion, is there a theory that, at some point, has given you an explanation of how advertising works?

I neither subscribe to the idea that you can’t say how advertising works – every ad is different.

Nor the view that there is a universal theory that governs how all advertising works. The important thing as a planner is to figure out how you expect your ad to work and to draw upon the thinking and theories that seem most appropriate for the task. So understand semiotics, low involvement processing, NLP, different proprietary models and contentious new thinking like Douglas Holt’s theory on how brands become iconic. And figure out what works for you and for your brand.

The creative brief is the task of the planner. What do you think that a creative brief should always include?

Role for advertising, target audience, proposition, support, requirement. Think very hard about the inclusion of anything else it’s probably unnecessary. Of these the role for advertising is the most important element. And I never want to here the phrase – I am keeping the brief open for the creatives – have some intellectual balls for goodness sake. And never, ever, ever put background into it – either it’s important enough to go into the body of the brief or you are just wasting paper.

What is your favourite book about advertising?

At the moment it is ‘How brands become icons’ by Douglas Holt. I try not to read books by planners like Adam Morgan or Mark Earls because where is the competitive advantage in that? I make an exception for Jon Steel since he is a genius.

Why is your agency nickname “camp Dracula”?

I’m not exactly butch, I wear a lot of black and I have a rather pronounced ‘widow’s peak’

Planning in Romania is still at its first steps. Only a few agencies work with planners. Do you believe that good advertising can exist without an account planner’s input?

Yes and that’s what is exciting. Some of the best planning took place in the UK before planning was invented and great creatives are instinctive planners. Everyday we have to add value – we have no absolute right to exist.

Do you have any kind of advice for young Romanian planners?

See the world differently to everyone else.
Try to be interesting first and right second.
Read weird shit it always come in handy.
Speak in analogies – the more bizarre the better.
Even if the thinking that you are forced to go with isn’t the most inspiring always know you had a better strategy up your sleeve.
Think about brands and categories you don’t work on – develop latent strategies for these – it is good practice and they may be useful at some point.
Think and communicate clearly always – radical doesn’t mean complicated.

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