(Some Rather Bossy) Advice for the next generation of (student) planners
Read. Feed your Head. Think about what it means to you personally. Discuss with others. (This’ll get you smarter faster – why try and reinvent it all again from scratch? Just build on it in your own style and using your own experiences. It’s all out there nowadays for the taking). I just spent a week with the Advertising/Planning students at University of Oregon and was appalled at how little actual reading some of them do - apart from devouring all those nice chatty blogs and twitters etc. (Nothing wrong with these incidentally, but not if that is your only diet. It’s like living on beer and crisps. Great fun to start with but ultimately a bit gassy, bloating and gives you spots.) And these guys are students – isn’t that the time of life when you are meant to be reading? And thinking? And writing papers? There are some amazing tomes and think pieces out there which are incredibly substantive, astute, informative and practical, written by people with considerably more intelligence, wit and experience than the average Ad student, so why not benefit? These books will also require you to think and reflect on how they apply to your market and your brands in today's climes, since their wisdom is not spoon fed in sound bites for you to regurgitate. Four ESSENTIAL account planning books (which should be on your reading lists – recommend them to your professor if they are not - are A Master Class in Brand Planning by Stephen King (OK, I co-edited it but I make no money from this promotion, all royalties go to Stephen's widow, this is perennial wisdom from the co-founder of our discipline), Jon Steel's Truth Lies and Advertising, Adam Morgan's eatbigfish, and the recently published APG GOLD book - a compilation of the best award winning planning case histories from the past 15 years or so. And if you are into research, especially qual, then Wendy Gordon’s Good Thinking is brilliant.
Be Curious. Be Relevant. Be Persuasive. My cocktail party job description is “I get paid to be nosey”. But the key next step to my job is what am I going to do with what I have found (or seen heard felt thought)? ‘Knowledge Application’ is the key practical next step – how can we use this stuff to get to where we want to be? (aka Stephen King’s Planning Cycle). Then it’s Team Persuader – NB not leader – that’s the account people - How am I going to get everyone to come along with me?
Check out the APG website if you have not already. In addition to ordering the Gold Awards book and the Stephen King book, check out two things – without wishing to sound like Mandy Rice-Davies, the piece on 'what is account planning' which, although I wrote it 10 years ago, is still quite pertinent about what craft skills the job of account planning entails, and think about how you can set about acquiring some of them. The other is the booklet 'Testing to Destruction' which you can download. Again this is even older - 30+ years - and while certain passages have not stood the test of time, sadly all of the appalling methods and models of thinking he describes are just as prevalent, especially in the US, today. The next generation needs to do something about this. God knows my lot have tried, and some progress has been made, most notably by Hall & Partners. Maybe you can succeed where others have failed, given the dramatic changes happening in our industry and the wider communications world we operate in these days.
If you are a student, I do not envy you trying to get a job in this economic climate. Read the above books, digest and be ready to develop your own well thought through theories on the back of them and you will be able to shine head and shoulders above anyone else at interview. Oh and it is a good idea to spell check your e mails, since errors make you look unprofessional, inattentive to detail or a bit thick when presumably you are trying to make a good first impression. Or is that just me being old fashioned?
Merry Baskin is Planning Director at Frame, founder of Baskin Shark and former Planning Director of JWT London and Chiat Day New York.