Dear Junior Series // 07

Reinventing yourself in this business ain’t easy, let alone getting a foot in the ‘Planning Department’ door. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Remember Mark Pollard (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net)? He’s been a busy boy since we last spoke. Having departed from McCann Sydney to move to Saatchi & Saatchi New York – he has just started a new gig at Brooklyn agency Big Spaceship (http://www NULL.bigspaceship NULL.com/). And, he’s even managed to take a bit of time out to pen us a “How to get into planning” guide. So, if the grass seems vibrantly greener on the other side of the agency and you fancy yourself as a Planner, Creative, Producer, or whatever really, read this — there’s lessons for everyone.

So, you fumbled your way into an agency through a friend of the family, the front desk, an intern programme, or a job in account management or production, and you want to move into planning. Planning seems interesting (you get to learn and say smart stuff) and you’ll probably earn more as a planner, right? You’ll go to work in your planning outfit and project your important voice in meetings in-between awkward pauses that you deliberately make to keep the room off kilter. Maybe you’ll develop a hint of an English accent to really keep everyone guessing and in awe of your thinking. The world will take you more seriously and you might be able to upgrade your shitty television. Oh, and you won’t have to pay as much attention to deadlines and costs. Dream job.

I love planning. Well, I love the idea of planning – specifically, my idea of what planning is. In planning, you get to learn about people, business and ideas. You get to impact culture if you’re in the right agency with the right clients. You get to wrestle with problems and hopefully invent something. I believe strategy is ideas and I get an adrenaline rush out of ideas. So, I completely understand why you would want to move into planning. The catch is that making the move is hard: there aren’t a lot of planning jobs around (especially junior roles) and it can be a bit of a game to cross over.

I got my break in planning at Leo Burnett when Todd Sampson was head of planning. I was a digital producer elsewhere – back a few years ago, being a producer meant you did strategy, account management, project management, finances, functional scoping and user experience – but I was burnt out. I was working long hours doing a whole bunch of stuff, but I knew I only liked part of it. So, with my firstborn on the way, I quit my job and was fortunate enough to freelance as a digital producer at Leo Burnett thanks to Louise O’Donnell, Andrew Robertson and Nicole Still. It was, and still is, hard to find digital brains, so I felt I could maintain a freelance producer role for a while (come in, do the work and go home, right?).

At this time, I didn’t really know what planning was. Digital was so tangible – you drew up wire frames, had something made, watched what happened and improved it. I knew I liked working things out and I knew I liked what I thought strategy was. Fortunately, Mr Sampson gave me a shot as a bit of an experiment – take someone who’s grown up digital and help them develop planning skills. That is how I crossed over. And, having watched others cross over since, here are a few tips to help you hungry little planners-to-be make the transition.

The first and main point is that you need the planning director to want you. It’s like dating: if you’re too keen and available, you may seem too easy and not enough of a chase. You have to strike the balance between enthusiasm and desperation. If you read ‘Obliquity’ by John Kay, (http://www NULL.johnkay NULL.com/) the indirect way is most effective, so do everything you can to build a reputation that makes its way to the planning director ahead of your request.

Second, make the request. This can be difficult as some agencies are extremely hierarchical and perhaps your boss will flip out at you if you do. If you’re in an agency like this, try to move to a new one. Even though CEO’s will often say “we’re all the culture”, “we” really aren’t – a fish always rots from the head. Build relationships with the planning team. Ask to help with research, show initiative. Ask about books to read. Ask to do a planning course. Persist politely.

Third, ask for access to projects currently in the mix and put a one-page response together. If you follow the guts of this article, How to do account planning (http://www NULL.markpollard NULL.net/how-to-do-account-planning-a-simple-approach/), I’m sure you’ll put a dent in some good thinking.

Fourth, get a new job. It’s very hard to reinvent yourself in agencies. I’ve seen it time and time again. People get looked over for certain roles or pigeon-holed with certain tasks only to leave the agency and do brilliantly elsewhere. At the very least, a new job offer may get your current agency to re-consider you. However, from what I’ve read, the counter-offer situation rarely lasts long anyway – the employee tends to leave within the following year.

Five, build your external profile with interesting projects. If your agency has a lot of brands that sell to mums, set up a blog about mums and their online behaviour or do a study of the trends in ads aimed at mums from the past decade. Find an angle, build it and promote it and use it as proof of your dedication.

Six, time it. In change management the experts talk about a ‘critical state’ needing to happen before change happens, and, in planning departments, someone resigning could be your critical state.

Things that may turn planning directors off include: being aggressive and angry, talking about yourself and your desire to become a planner while showing no actual initiative, email nagging, saying blatantly dumb things (weird, unusual, unexpected are all good) and acting like a know-it-all (that can come later). Most will look for a period of effort and consistent contribution. Planning directors want smart people in their teams – but they also want people who fit their personal style, their clients, their projects and add a slightly different twist to the team.

Good luck.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 17/01/2012