Advice to young planners

1) See the world differently to everyone else
2) Try to be interesting first and right second
3) Read weird shit it always comes in handy
4) Speak in analogies – the more bizarre the better
5) 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
6) 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
7) Think and communicate clearly always – radical doesn’t mean complicated


...learn to use a video camera, learn to use Avid, learn to use Photoshop, learn to write a blog, learn sound editing software...these creative tools come in handy for briefs, insight videos....and I think the very process of learning them makes you think more creatively too...

Posted by: Jonathan at February 13, 2006 07:33 AM

Agreed. The other thing I wish every planner did but particulalry any planner starting out or who hasn't got a shed load of amazing campaigns to their name is create a book. No junior creative gets a job without showing their book and no junior planner should simply assume talking a good game is enough. Take a leaf out of the strtegy safari part of this site and compile your strategic ideas book full of smart radical ideas for the brands you think deserve better thinking.

Posted by: richard at February 13, 2006 11:30 PM

i think another important point is to have an opinion. as an planner wannabe, i find it's hard to be confident in presenting a point of view if you have a switzerland mentality. what advice do you have for someone who finds it hard to form a solid point of view if you can see all sides of the story?

it's not about being wishy washy. how do you discipline yourself to form an opinion knowing you have limited knowledge and defend it - especially if you are speaking with people who you know have much more experience in the planning process?

and how can you learn to communicate more clearly? if you think in too much detail, does that mean you're doomed to be a planner? how can you train your brain to be more lateral - or specifically, how can you train your brain to make a coherent link that is relative and relavant to the problem at hand?

besides pracitising on creating a book, are there any books one can read, any techniques one can employ?

i should mention i'm a 'suit' who is frustrated with being a tennis ball.

thank you

Posted by: ling at February 24, 2006 12:35 AM


I guess I have learned that there aren't really any prizes for objectivity and the balanced viewpoint - as a planner the Agency wants ou to have an opinion, the client wants you to have an opinion and frankly the consumer wants you to have an opinion - see the post on opinionated advertising.

My fundamental belief is that there are two places ou can start in developing thinking (whether a strategy for a client or a point of view on the broader world) you can try to be right or you can try to be interesting.

I always try and work out what the most interesting point of view or strategy would be for that situation or brand and work from there. Obviously you then have to ensure that the bloody thing is going to work. but the point is interesting first right second. Don't do it the other way round for insanity, cliched insight and generic strategies that way lie. See the Strategy Safari post for loads of examples of going interesting first, right second.

On the book reading front - my advice is don't read the obvious stuff, read weird shit. I have never read 'eat the big fish', the book that Mark Earls wrote, and most marketing and adveritising texts. I'm sure they are all great but I'm also sure every other fucking planner has read them so there is no competitive advantage in spending your time absorbing them. Spend it reading the stuff hey would never have the wit to find let alone read.

By the way I make an exception for truth and lies in advertising by Jon Steel since he is clearly a genius.


Posted by: Richard at February 28, 2006 10:42 PM

Yeah, trouble is I work at Goodby, so it's hard to pass off Jon Steel's thinking as my own ;)

I totally agree with you about NOT reading the obvious books. The good thing about being a planner is that everything and anything you read can be useful - I find myself cribbing strategies and ideas from all sorts of places - fiction, history, poetry. Just make sure you read more interesting books than the client/creatives/suits...see more interesting more interesting magazines....visit more interesting places.

It strikes me that the whole world wants to be a planner suddenly? Odd. We've got a junior art director who's just turned into a planner at Goodby.

Think the time will come when it's Planner/Designer teams rather than the conventional Copywriter/Art Director duo? I really wonder about the necessity of copywriters much of planning is about succinct, clever writing nowadays. (Unlike this post...been out boozing so rambling).

See ya.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 1, 2006 07:16 AM


I think the industry needs copywriters more than ever because the 'conversations' that brands are having are becoming more numerous and diverse. We expect our brands to have a voice and distictive language and for this to be expressed in ads, customer service letters and even the ts and cs on packaging.

Innocent in the UK has built its brand on this kind of brand chat - most obviously on pack. I find it increasinly irritating and dated as a tone of voice but it continues to amuse my 2 year old.

Posted by: richard at March 1, 2006 01:22 PM

I know the Innocent lads - I thought they wrote all their copy in-house?

And yes, it really does grate now. But it's effective - while I was still at the BBC, I'd see female colleagues stroking their Innocent bottles all day pets. And it's been ripped off endlessly on both sides of the in San Francisco we have 'Simple Shoes...a lovely little shoe company'.

Posted by: Jonathan at March 1, 2006 07:34 PM

Glad you wrote that comment on Jon Steel as by coincidence the copy I ordered from Amazon arrived today.

I read Blink, Malcom Gladwell at the weekend and found that to be a good book for setting the cogs in motion and thinking about the power and danger of instinctive thought.

One frustration it left me with is when feeding back on creative, I often want to say - 'it just doesn't feel right' but am obliged to give rational and reasoned arguement. The response we are trying to get from customers for our brands are often instinctive emotional responses so surley there must be some legitimacy in this?

Posted by: Hannah at March 2, 2006 03:56 PM

Big question.

In the cut and thrust of planner creative relationships you have to be careful of instinctive feedback. Anyone can feedback rational comments and observations about the work because they stand or fall on the soundness of the point you are making. In addition rational points are easy for creatives to work with as they are able to understand the objection and how to change the work. However, I'm afraid to say that the validity of instinctive feedback is entirely dependent on whose insincts they are. By which I mean we trust the instincts of people whose instincts have proved to be right in the past - we build up form. and that has to be earned with a team. Now one can always stamp our authority on the situation however, that tends to do little in the long term to create a climate where your gut feel is trusted by those around you.

That said I think you make a vaid wider point about the nature of communications. Much of the thinking that is taking place at the moment on communications supports the idea that we respond emotionally and often subconsciously to communication and rational cognitive proocesses are far less important than we have previously believed (see anything recent by Wendy Gordon). Consequently the convesations that dominate the day to day lives of agencies and clients are probably irrelevant to the actual efficacy of the work.

Posted by: Richard at March 2, 2006 11:22 PM

I'm in the middle of trying to move from being a media strategist to becoming a planner, and have got a few informal chats lined up at agencies in the coming weeks. If you were interviewing someone like me (2.5 years in media, young, excitable) what sort of questions would you ask, and what one thing would you want to see in me, over and above anything else?


Posted by: Ali at March 21, 2006 03:01 PM


I can only speak for me but my central piece of advice is prove it.

Account handlers don't have to prove themselves in interviews because talking a good game is half the point. Creatives don't have to prove themselves in what they say because their book speaks for them. But planners have a problem - they need to prove they are good but how.

This is hard enough for senior planners but by and large their work (providing they were instrumental in delivering it) is in the public domain and a planning director can make up their mind on the basis of this. But if you are starting out how on earth can you prove yourself?

Too many of these interviews are about wannabe planners enthusing for the discipline and asserting their ability.

So my advice is get to strategy fast - what you love, what you consider to be lame and how you would make it better. You have an interesting start point because you are already a strategist. You will have your own communciations strategies up your sleeves and you will have an opinion on the strategies from clients and creative agencies you work with.

If you have the confidence encourage the interview to turn into a strategic 'jam'. Draw out a brand from the interviewer prior to the interview or during it and do strategy on the hoof. This is the easiest way for someone to get a feel for how you think.

I still think a strategy book would be a great idea but no one wants to take me up on this.


Posted by: richard at March 21, 2006 08:37 PM

I have taken you up on the strategy book thing and using all my spare time putting one together at the moment.

Do you recommend wannabe planners send thier book direct to Planning Directors or recruitment agencies that deal with Planning?



Posted by: Hannah at March 24, 2006 03:59 PM

I'd use it as a way to get in to see the planning director - but don't just send it to them. Either send an example and say there is more where that came form or send an email asking if you could show it to them and get there advice. Much the same way that creatives do with their books.


Posted by: richard at March 24, 2006 08:31 PM


Posted by: hannah at March 26, 2006 05:21 PM

A thought on Ali's post.....

Don't get out of media strategy although you might want to consider where you work and how that company defines media strategy. Account planning and media strategy are going to blend although where the thinking gets done is up for grabs. As Richard says - "see the world differently to everyone else", so why not try to develop communication strategy from a contact-content centric point of view rather than a message-centric point of view? Classic advertising agency account planning with some great exceptions of course, is unfortunately is still too often tied to a sterile broadcast-message mentality that is less useful these days. Media agencies are still years from realizing their true strategic and creative potential so I understand the temptation but stick with it.

Posted by: Malcolm at April 21, 2006 09:01 PM

Speak in analogies ... and metaphors -- yes typical Planners'talk shop :)
I would also add: speak in terms of straight (brand) propositions, usually that's what the majority of creatives look for in a brief or are expecting to hear from a planner. It's the starting point, they're goal is to present those propositions in disruptive/imaginative/creative ways (ie, methaphors, analogies, euphemisms, hyperboles, demonstrations, etc.)

Posted by: hidden persuader at April 23, 2006 09:02 PM

hidden persuader you have made me ascend the soap box with that one.

I'm not suggesting that propositions should be metaphorical I think that if they are they lose a certain accuracy and authenticity. But that the best planners think constantly in analogies - by which I mean that they are wired in an odd way that allows them to make seemingly random connections between events, people and ideas which add carity and preciseness to the point they are making. One of the first tricks I was taught about interviewing planners was whether they spoke in analogies and I think it is stilll helpful.

So metaphorical propositions no. But I'm not sure that I buy your keep it straight for the creatives business. Sure if the thinking is really good but I am concerned that this becomes an excuse for lame thinking. One of the reasons I left the agency AMV.BBDO was that I worked out that all they wanted from planners was bland thinking that creatives good express brilliantly. They really hated edgy or radical thinking and wanted something more straight. Fine if you see you job as serving the creative department - I'd rather think of their job as dramatising my thinking. Discuss.


Posted by: Richard at April 23, 2006 11:55 PM

(laughs) You're quite right. The things is, from my own experience (anyway I'm just a 3 year old junior planner) I find it desolating when you try to express some sort of consumer or product insight bla bla bla ... by means of metaphors, analogies, etc. and the creatives always snub them because you're trying to hard too be "creative" (laughs).
But yes - good quotations, good power point and visual skills, good analogies and parallel thinking, lots of curiosity and human observation - are quite handy and should be part of every planners'innate curriculum.

PS:: Did you like Ken Wilber's "A Theory of Everything"? It's a great book isn't it?

Posted by: hidden persuader at April 24, 2006 01:36 PM

I´m an acct sup that´s looking into getting into planning. I started working in the U.S and now I´m in Spain, where there´s absolutely no planning culture and they are pretty much behind in everything.

In the U.S. there´s a course by the Miami Adschool (planning bootcamp), is there any sort of course in London that you would recommend and that can help me get into planning?


Posted by: maria at June 19, 2006 10:31 AM

The best start point is the APG - there is a link in the select links part of the site.

I'm not sure that there is anything quite like the planning bootcamp but the training network is excellent if you are in London for an extended period of time and there are loads of other APG courses you should have a look at.

Posted by: richard at June 19, 2006 10:32 PM