The History And Future Of Account Planning: A Female Perspective

A panel commemorates the contribution of planners to the business of advertising.

The strategic planning community gathered last month to recognize the induction of Jane Newman into the Advertising Hall of Fame and garner support for her charity, The Thorn Tree Project, which funds education in northern Kenya. To mark this event, a panel was assembled to discuss the continued role of planning in advancing creatively relevant, strategic ideas in the world of advertising.

The panel, which was hosted at Grind and moderated by BBH’s Sarah Watson, included Jane Newman, MT Rainey, Lauren Turner, Rosemarie Ryan, Robin Hafitz and Merry Baskin. Newman led and trained the panelists at Chiat\Day (whom were all women) back in the 1980’s before the agency had merged with TBWA and Omnicom. Chiat\Day would not only come to be recognized as Agency of the Decade, but it would also become the first American agency to harness the power of account planning in the advertising and media industries (before media agencies were separated into independent entities). Jane kicked off the panel by talking about her path from birthing Account Planning, which had already been established in the UK by the late 60’s, to the establishment of The Thorn Tree Project.

She kicked off the panel with a snippet of her history, “I joined a fledgling creative agency called Boase Massimi Pollit in London. They wanted to introduce a new position to the team and called it an Account Planner. Terrible name. Really bad. Very confusing, but what he wanted was someone on the team that was responsible for the relevance of the advertising to the consumer.”

A Quick Note on Jane Newman’s Contribution to Planning

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If you are asking yourself who Jane Newman is, you are in for a treat. The British woman is recognized as a trailblazer in the world of account planning. She was hired by Chiat\Day in 1982 to introduce planning to America and did so by assembling a cast of thinkers that would go on to become pivotal in the elevation of strategic planning in America. Most notably, MT Rainey was one of the first hires to work on Apple at Chiat\Day. She is responsible for saving Apple’s 1984 ad and the line “why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.

The panel acknowledged this ad as the work that gave both the agency and planning at large the credibility in the early 80’s to become adopted by other agencies. According to MT Rainey:

The TV ad was an extra thing, and therefore, to clients, it was expendable. They thought it was scary, and started questioning it: who are all these old guys, this is horrible, how can our product be associated with these awful people, it’ll lead to nightmares…etc. They couldn’t see how it would blueprint the Apple brand forever. Quant research was also telling them some weird stuff. I articulated the argument for why they should want the ad. My contribution there was about persuading the client to run it, against what market research was telling them.”

Rainey’s central argument was that the TV spot is about the radicalization of the strategy. The print ads were not radical enough for the vision that Steve Jobs had about giving computing power to the people. Without the radical ad, it would be a beautiful product launch but it would have taken much, much longer for Apple to get to where they are today.

Five Key Takeaways For Those Shaping the Future of Planning

Throughout the conversation, panelists conveyed key ideas on the state of planning today and its future.

BE RADICALLY USEFUL
“First it was years and years of why planning and then it was years and years of wither planning. There was a lot of people that talked about how threatening we were from account to creative, which I found to be kind of weird because I personally found that if you make yourself radically useful, you didn’t threaten anyone. And the creative people at Chiat were very used to finding planning radically useful. The account people took a while longer, but they got use to it too because we could sell. Because we take these disparate points of view and get them into a story narrative that people could buy into. And that is a certain kind of intelligence that almost every agency can benefit from and it’s a very powerful thing” Robin Hafitz

“It was always about work, not about planning for the sake of planning, or strategy, or research. It was always about what are we putting out in the world.” Rosemarie Ryan

PARTICIPATE IN THE BIG DATA RENAISSANCE
“I think planning will need to have a renaissance in the world of big data. Planning has never been about the answers, but always about the questions. And the key thing about big data is that you can’t really look at it in this passive, pattern recognition thing, which is what everyone was predicting. That the machines will tell us what is going on, I just don’t think that’s true. But I think planning can help data [scientists] ask better questions.” MT Rainey

MAKE RELEVANT ADS BY UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE
“When planning was invented in the UK, it was about bringing someone who had something to say about relevance in the process of developing ads. It’s not just how creative it is, or does the client love it, but how relevant is it. Because we are all forced to be professional listeners, listening to the marketplace and people, I think it actually turns us into being people focused. And that people focus as long as you don’t let it become some scattershot pile of tactics is really the grounding of what we do. Our job is about understanding people.” Robin Hafitz

PITCH NEW BUSINESS LIKE IT’S NO ONE’S BUSINESS
“New business is a great place to start planning because you start with a completely new slate, “at that time, all we did was pitch. And everybody wanted us on the pitch because they wanted to hear about this planning thing. You want to get ahead, get on a pitch, because it’s the fastest, most fun thing you can do. You’re working with everybody, from junior to senior, the energy is there and when you win it’s fantastic.” Merry Baskin

FIND A JOB THAT ENABLES YOU TO BE BRAVE
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who said they found themselves at Chiat\Day. They were always kind of getting in trouble for opening their mouths and getting in trouble for blurting out what they thought, and they started to learn to choke it back. Then you came to Chiat\Day and Jane would be like “Just say it! You have to say it!” Jay Chiat made me stand in front of the board of Miller Brewing Company with a sign that said in quotes from consumers, “Miller High Life tastes like pisswater”. It was this culture that was being created that Jane was so much driving that was about be brave, tell the truth and get on with it.” Lauren Turner

 

What is the Role of Research and Trends in Planning?

The panelists provided superb insight into the role of research and trends in the planning process. The general consensus seemed to be that while it was useful, research could do great harm to a great idea.

Quantitative research is especially harmful without someone that understood and could contextualize the consumer. MT Rainey asserted, “the biggest challenge to us was the marketing research. There’s no question. Clients all did copytesting and persuasion scores, they’re still doing it, but it was a big barrier. We had this archeology of data for client, so inspiring them to do something that was brave, creative or special was always a battle.”

Lauren Turner added to this in talking about the importance of isolating the impacts of safe research methods like copytesting and focus groups in the decision-making process, “we were doing research in strategy development and then we were doing research on rough kernels of ideas and bringing in the client with us. By the time we were presenting things we really want to produce, they were kind of pre-sold. So we were incorporating research in a different way, at a different point in the process.”

When it comes to qualitative research, Robin Hafitz hit the nail on the head when she said, “clients are demanding research that is both high tech, high touch”. She described how more expensive research methodologies like ethnographies are increasingly seen as content opportunities and add-ons rather than mechanisms to uncover insights: “Ethnographies seem to have grown up. It seems that what is happening is that clients are simultaneously interested in both higher touch and higher tech research. It’s kind of a macro trend around high-tech, online research and a counter-trend around high-touch (since microtrends and countertrends seem to occupy the same space). Where they get hung up is that they usually want it as an add-on as opposed to being the primary methodology or because it’s expensive. But from a planning perspective, ethnography is one of the things that can make the most amount of difference in your narrative. And ethnography yields video like nothing else.”

Women Brought Planning to America in the ‘Mad Men’ Age

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The point on bravery should not be underestimated. The odds were stacked against Newman and her team but their roles rapidly became pivotal, “You know Mad Men? It’s like that. I was the only woman with a non-secretarial job. I was so lucky to be a planner because my job was to give information and to synthesize the data and come up with a strategy, a strategic focus. I didn’t have to worry about the office politics or even the sexual politics. I was just gung-ho for the idea. They couldn’t ignore or talk over me.” Jane Newman

Of course, the company culture of Chiat\Day played a big role too; MT Rainey brought up the fact that “Jay Chiat was gender-blind. Complete meritocrat. He tolerated, encouraged, accommodated, and loved a huge variety of types of people. There was a lot of eccentric people in the company at the time, in all aspects. He paid attention to the guys that did the print, the AV guys, every single person was respected for the contribution they made.”

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Robin Hafitz fortified this commentary and brought it into today’s ad world. She did this by asking those in the audience to work towards undermining what she called a culture of self-effacement, “I think it’s actually very easy for women who have by nature who have quite powerful character to claim that they never experience sexism. And I am one of them and was one of them because I was raised by wolves (i.e. lesbians)… I had not been trained in a certain cultural of self-effacement that women are still trained in today. I’m sure there’s a lot of women in the room who constantly cross themselves out for their entire life and I just want to say: don’t.”

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