Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Can't Account People Get Into Planning?

Last week, a young very successful account executive came to see me.  She wants to become a planner.  And why not?  She is intuitively strategic, spent her entire interview talking about strategic initiatives she has done as an account person. We talked about interpreting research, both qualitative and quantitative.  Another person told her that if an agency were to hire a junior planner, they would prefer to hire a college graduate rather than putting an account person in a planning job.

That makes no sense.  In fact it is insane.

Once upon a time there were no planners.  Account people did the strategy, often working in tandem with the creatives – just the way planners do it today.  The best account people are intuitively strategic.  And they know or should know the business of their clients far better than any creative or planner does. 

I guess this is somewhat akin to why agencies don’t hire clients, even when those clients would make a fabulous account person.  

Can anyone explain this to me? 


  1. Paul,

    Good post, thanks. Experience can be a liability.

    I have some experience. I've hired a few ex-clients. They are all still friends, a couple are current clients, but none of them worked out very well as account people.

    I realized I needed to have some humility. After all, I wasn't born a successful advertising professional. It took some years, maybe decades of agency-side work to be able to do what I do. That's me.

    So, when I take a client and make an account person of him or her, I can expect a learning curve not of days but of years. I typically can't afford the wait.

    Agencies have learned the same sort of prejudice regarding account people. The typical great account person doesn't make a great planner. The former is responsible, diplomatic, structured, anti-dramatic, reasonable, social, pragmatic, and sees the big picture.

    But planners do a job that was more often done by creative directors in the old days, while account people still do the job account people used to do (only now they do it across a blithering array of channels and tactics).

    Planners are wild, intuitive, dramatic, emphatic, evocative, advocates. Most are no more suited for account work that Kurt Vonnegut or Mark Twain.

    So, most account people aren't the type for planning, and the best account people seem least like the type. So, agencies enshrine these probabilities in policies. Stupid policies. That's the definition of prejudice. It's legal, but stupid, discrimination.

    Some planners are walking around in the bodies of account people. If you know any, send them my way!



  2. Paul,
    I was one of those account people who grew up writing creative briefs for creative people.

    One day, as the account executive assigned to manage the creative production of 15 radio, TV, and print ads for five Toyota pickup trucks, I got to understand the true meaning of brand planning.

    I remember the creative director coming to me and saying "What the hell is the difference really between the One Ton, The SR5, the Forerunner, the 4x4, and the 4x2 trucks. They all look the same."

    So I described to him the user profile of each truck in extreme detail, using my own personal knowledge and intuition of the light pick-up truck and SUV category. (No I did not go out and speak to hard hats driving their One Ton payload trucks to the job site, but I would today.)

    The client was blown away with our "in depth knowledge" of their trucks and suddenly we were stars.

    I truly felt that what I brought to the table had value and greatly enhanced the creative product as a result. To this day this is what I find most exciting and interesting about the ad business.

    Now when I was an account exec on Sheer Energy, things were no so easy..............

    I have to agree with Mark that account people who have this gene are extremely rare, as they are trained to manage projects, expectations, profit/loss, clients and the agency capabilities all at once. Coming up with an unusual strategic insight that totally repositions a brand is very rare for anyone in the business.

    All the best,


  3. A-ha...the biases rage on! As an account person and former agency president who always thought he would be a creative guy, I'll fervently disagree that account people can't make good Planners. The BEST account people are way more and way better than "responsible, diplomatic, structured, anti-dramatic, reasonable, social, pragmatic" as Mark describes. They are "big picture" (also included in Mark's definition) AND they are totally tuned into their brands, their consumers and their clients. Some junior account people who exhibit these talents would make sensational planners! Yes, they are diamonds in the rough, but they are also very inexpensive prospects for Planning. Agencies have been getting this opportunity and source of talent wrong since Planning moved across the Pond to the States. Best. Paul

  4. Thanks, Paul, for your prescient comment. I couldn't agree more that really good account people not only understand their client's business, market and marketing, but they are also wonderful strategic thinkers.

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