Career Boosters: What is a strategic account planner?

January 13, 2014  |  Rachel Scott and Trina Boos  |  Comments

Career Boosters is a monthly e-panel discussion that scouts out leaders in the marketing, digital, communications and advertising space to provide their perspectives on industry topics related to career development, talent acquisition and hiring practices.

Today’s panel: Allison Humphries is a senior planning director at Critical Mass, and Amber Foucault is the account director and account planner at Extreme Group.

What is a strategic account planner?

Amber Foucault

Amber: Planners uncover the insight that will speak to human behaviours and instincts. Ultimately, these insights help to build strategy, uncover truths about the target and hopefully create the foundation for great creative.

Allison: A planner’s role is to recognize the business problem, gain an understanding of what is contributing to the problem (culture, behaviour, market, category, brand) and then synthesize the findings into an inspiring strategy that the teams can build a solution around.

How will this role evolve over the next year?

Allison Humphries

Amber: I am currently in a hybrid role as an account director and account planner. More than ever, I believe there is an increased need for account people to be more strategic, to work to uncover insights, identify trends and develop strategy even for the most basic digital/social briefs. The added value of this kind of thinking is what helps to attract and keep clients looking for smart, long-term solutions.

Allison: Planners have traditionally been defined by a particular area of expertise. You were a brand planner, a communication planner, an engagement planner or a digital planner – each serving a specific role in the strategic planning process. While there will always be a need for focused expertise, looking ahead to the future – especially with the pervasion of digital – there is a growing need for planners to wear all hats.

Brands are becoming inherently digital and people’s expectations of brands have changed. As such, we are tasked with delivering experiences that are more sophisticated than ever before. As a planner, it’s helpful to have an eye to the future – to see the world as an exponentially evolving place that we need to stay ahead of in order to succeed.

Should they sit in the creative or account department? Why?

Amber: There is a benefit to having the planner sit with the account teams. It’s important to build the strong strategic foundation for the work before it reaches the creative teams. Keeping the planner involved through the process as creative is developed is also very important, but that can be facilitated by the account team.

Allison: Planning should be the bridge between both the business need (account) and the solution (creative/tech). It’s equally important to be trusted by clients as a strategic partner who is committed to driving business results as it is to be trusted by the agency team as an inspiration leader and advocate for the people we are ultimately designing brand experiences for.

What’s the ideal background of a successful strategic account planner?

Amber: Certainly there is a need to have experience exercising strong analytical skills, and the ability to digest and interpret qualitative and quantitative research. They should also be curious of the world around them, people, and how they think. I spent years on the account side of the business, and I think this is a great place to start because you develop an understanding about the importance of the briefing process and how critical that input/output relationship is to the success of the creative.

Allison: I’m not sure that there is an ‘ideal background’ as there are amazing planners that come from a variety of different places. I started out my career as a creative and made the transition to planning in the early years of digital. Others have come from business/account management, consulting, etc.

Provided you embody the qualities I listed above, there is a good chance that you are an ideal candidate for a Planning role.

Any tips for individuals looking to move into this role?

Amber: Start thinking like one in your current role! Ask your planner what their favourite sites are to visit, what kind of subscriptions they have, to identify their favourite campaigns. Ask questions and be curious!

Allison: Talk to a few people who are or who work with planners to get a sense of whether or not its something that you feel you’d love to do. It can be a demanding role so you really need to love it to be successful at it. Analyze brand experiences that you see in the market. See if you can reverse engineer the key insight that drove the experience. Polish off your resume and get out there!

Rachel Scott is the marketing and communications coordinator and Trina Boos is president of Boost Agents, a specialist recruitment provider to the marketing, advertising, design and communications industry.

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