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Great planners are extremely intuitive people

Janet Grimes was Chair of the Account Planning Group from 2000 to 2002 and, according to the APG website, she “has been a committee member for longer than is decent”. She is a strategy and planning consultant working across all communications disciplines as well as offering facilitation and training. After 20 years of working as a planner, latterly at Ogilvy & Mather – where she was Head of Planning, Janet Grimes has founded her own consultancy called Wheel and is also a partner in The Joined Up Training Company, which offers media-neutral training. Recently, Janet Grimes has visited Romania and has agreed to answer a couple of questions for those who are interested in account planning in the Romanian industry. The Romanian version of the interview has been published on IQads.

If you ask agency people (except planners) or clients what a planner does inside an advertising agency you might get all sorts of different answers, none of them really good descriptions for what a planner really does. This is why I often start my interviews with a simple question. What is the main job of an account planner inside an advertising agency?

The planner is the person who has an understanding of both the audience aimed at and the person designing the communication for that audience such that they can provide information about the former that will inspire the latter. Critically they understand the difference between stimulus and response, and understand what stimulus to give to provoke a desired response. They are responsible for finding everything they can about an audience, creating a hypothesis about how to communicate with that audience, providing the information to those who need to act on it, then measuring response to that hypothesis.

The communication landscape is continuously changing. Will the role of the planner change in the near future?

I don’t think that every planner can adapt to deal with every situation. I think that there will be two types of planners:
1. Communications Planners who take decisions about the best way to connect with an audience – which channel to use and how to use it. This is more than just dealing with the message, and more than dealing with the medium but a combination of both. These people will cross the creative and media divide. These could, and perhaps should, reside with the client or at least independent from individual agencies.
2. Specialist planners within different communications disciplines – experts at knowing how best to leverage that discipline to meet the objectives of the overall strategy.
The difference is that currently many planners within one discipline are devising strategy for all communications without all the relevant facts to hand.

You’ve been Chair of the APG, a planning director and you have met and worked with a lot of planners. What does it take to be a good planner?

Great planners are extremely intuitive people with a passion for problem solving.

They communicate well with others and ‘read’ people well. They know what makes people tick. They are relentless in trying to find ways to solve a problem and are more interested in a sticky challenge than a trendy brand.

Most of the Romanian advertising agencies don’t have planning departments. What do you think is the strongest argument that might convince Romanian agency management to adopt account planning?

It would have to be the effectiveness of the work long term. Whilst any good account planner can think strategically and write a decent brief it is hard to separate themselves from the day to day client issues in order to really get under the skin of a problem or an audience. To really focus on finding a way to solve the client’s problem effectively, a separation from the client is necessary. Additionally the development of special skills around assessing effectiveness and knowing what leads to it is necessary. These things take time and investment. But when a client has a planner that they can trust to work towards this they will pay for it and will stick around longer. However it takes commitment from the agency to get there.

Consumer insight has always been a very controversial subject as different planners and researchers give insight different definitions and meanings. What is an insight for some might not be an insight for others. Most planners have their own view about insights. What is your definition of insight?

Something that sheds new light on a subject – something which happens from combining information in a new and interesting way to allow new conclusions to be reached.

Media neutral is also a controversial topic in planning today and you’re one of the planners that offer training on this topic. Do you agree with those saying that planning should be media neutral or to those who say the contrary?

There is a time and a place for both. When a client is looking for a new communications strategy then media neutrality – or being prepared to investigate any channel and find the best combination to solve the marketing problem – is essential. However once objectives are clear, and channels have been assessed then those who can make the best use of their own channel – say advertising – are those that are passionate and partial about that channel are the best to work within it.

What is the best book about advertising you have ever read?

Even though I have been involved in publishing books and writing books about advertising I prefer to read books that show advertising such as the D&AD Annuals. They are the ones that always give me the most ideas

In the end, do you have any advice for young Romanian planners?

Form an opinion and stick to it. Do what you think is right not what the agency or the client wants to hear – people will learn to respect your honesty and your opinion. Always go the extra mile – go out and do your own informal research, hang out with consumers, become the expert and people will seek you out for it.

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