In all our 41 interviews we have never, not once, ever, done a junior interview with someone in Planning. Our friends who want to get into planning kept complaining. And complaining. And not getting jobs in planning. We felt like bad friends so we found Mark Pollard (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net/), Director of Strategy at McCann Sydney. Mark’s earlier years spent building websites give him bucket-loads of that digital savvy-ness — all the kind stuff you need to get yourself strategising the shit out of digital. He also wrote for Inpress magazine, and published his own zine Stealth (http://www NULL.stealthmag NULL.com). So it’s no surprise when he shed light on what it takes to get into Planning doing different things outside ad-land was at the top of the list. Enjoy y’all.
Junior: Ok, let’s start at the beginning — what’s your background?
Mark Pollard: I was at Uni doing a couple of degrees, and when I was 19 I started making websites. While I was finishing off one of the degrees, I started working at a digital agency. I was about 20 at the time, working on Levi’s first big website in Australia. I was teaching myself how to make my own websites, and I wrote for a lot of street press like Inpress and 3D World for five years, and did a lot of radio. Then I published my own magazine, Stealth (http://www NULL.stealthmag NULL.com). I was always involved with, or working full time with an agency at the same time. Tribal DDB in Sydney gave me 20-30 hours a week, and then allowed me to work on my magazine at nights. I did that throughout my mid twenties, and then moved more into digital production, project management, account management, information architecture – 300 page scoping documents, for e-commerce sites and online training sites – and, finally, planning.
M: Yeah, it’s ok. I think that now, more than ever, you have to have the experience of an all-rounder. But then I decided to specialise. I was always interested in strategy. I played chess from a young age. I went over to Leo Burnett, just freelancing as a producer because I didn’t want to go full time, and ended up working with Todd Sampson – who offered me a full time job to go into strategy. It was a bit of an experiment: give a job to a person whose adult life had grown out of the Internet, add some planning skills and see what happens.
Jr: Was the experiment a success? What did you learn there?
Well, it’s been an interesting journey – one that continues. At Leo Burnett, the things that have stuck with me most are workshop techniques (brainstorming, problem identification) and, then, in my last year, working with Scott Davis from BMF, made me get much tighter with my thinking.
Jr: Do you think many strategy planners around town have the skills you do, with digital as their background?
M: I don’t know of many. I also think that any role with the word ‘digital’ in it will disappear in the next three to five years. You’ll have a more generalist strategy role, and then you’ll have specialists in different fields. Architects, online content creators and project managers who have specialist skills. Producers – in the general sense I’ve seen the word used in Australia – will start disappearing.
Jr: So what you’re saying is digital will become the day-to-day?
M: Well, it has to. But then, what’s digital? We’re really talking screens here, right? And, as screens become ubiquitous, ‘digital’ in advertising will need to be. The problem for me is that people use ‘digital’ to talk channel when it’s actually a cultural difference – inside the agency itself, how the agency interacts with clients and so on.
Jr: Strategy seems like a hard area to break into as a junior. There’s not really an entry-level position…
M: No, there’s not. And most Planning Directors will recruit people who they think have done interesting stuff outside of advertising as the entry level. There are plenty of interesting stories about geographers, magazine publishers, schoolteachers and lawyers moving into that space because there’s a risk that if you grow up in strategy it could be a little bit tricky. You need those real life adult experiences.
Jr: If you had to give advice to young wannabe planners, what would you say?
M: I always try to convince people that planning should be simpler than some people might let on, and it’s about understanding what the real problem is. Really honing in on insights – we’re talking about insights as being an unspoken human truth. A lot of people put into briefs a lot of insights, which aren’t really insightful at all.
And then, trying to focus on lateral thought in two ways – one, in how you express words (it’s always the counter intuitive combination of words that makes things stand out); and, secondly, in non-advertising ideas. I think there will be an emerging pool of people who will focus on non-Award School type ideas, because I think our advertising industry is so based on words and pictures – and that’s a big part of creativity and people who are awesome at it are incredible – but there’s a whole world of thinking out there that you might solve a problem without doing any advertising. I think the planners that excite me are in that space as well.
Jr: How closely do you work with the creative teams through the creative process?
M: My preference is to work as close as possible, but a lot of creatives are great strategic thinkers as well. It always depends on who you are working with, and how much time is involved. Some people like playing by themselves. I try to stay as close as possible throughout but will dip in and out depending on the process and where it is.
Jr: Being a strategist you must have a few thoughts on where our business is heading – so what do you think the future will bring?
M: Our industry is competing with every other industry to get get smart people, and a lot of the other industries do a much better job at mentorship and training and bringing people through the ranks. Ad agencies are survival of the fittest.
For me I think the future creative mind will be a combination of Edward de Bono and Steven Spielberg, meets Facebook and Google. It’ll cover all sorts of areas: understanding content and information and how people access it, how people interact with each other and things online and offline.
Jr: Sounds like change is afoot — what do you think this means for juniors?
M: I wonder for how long the Art Director/Copywriter paradigm will exist. I’m interested in people that are journalists, setting up street press magazines, comedians or those who have just written something. Because everyone is going to need an additional skill. If you can write and film something, bingo!
For me it’s becoming less about advertising and more about content, utilities, communities. The business models need to adapt to allow for more of that – as do people new to the industry.
Advice: stay curious, invest personal time in researching and reading as much as possible and stay nice to deal with.
Mark has also supplied some recommended reading for those interested.
How to do account planning – a simple approach (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net/how-to-do-account-planning-a-simple-approach/), Why strategists should make stuff (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net/why-strategists-should-make-stuff/) and 10 strategies for a strategist’s career – right now (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net/10-strategies-for-a-strategists-career-right-now/)