Don't do it. Seriously. If you have what it takes to be a good brand strategist, then you probably have what it takes to run a microcredit operation that can bring thousands of people out of poverty, or be an investigative journalist, or make organic goat's cheese. Any number of things that will almost certainly be better for your soul, and your stress levels, than planning.
If you must do it, do it with disproportionate zeal. This will mean learning people skills. I didn't have any for the first, roughly, twelve years of my career. I eventually found I needed some (and they are still pretty rudimentary) because I find my job involves a lot of pushing and persuading. For example, persuading people that it's a good idea to investigate things deeply, never rely on what's worked before, challenge all assumptions. This is not an approach prevalent among marketing professionals with an average job tenure of 18 months. A lot of businesses do OK in spite of their marketing efforts, not because of them. Results can always be better. Thinking never stops. There is always a more lateral way. There is always a way to make a boring brief un-boring. If people can feel your passion and investment, it may rub off on them. Be warned: it’s tiring. Very very tiring. You will need a lot of vitamins, or alcohol, or massage therapy.
Explain to your account management colleagues that strategic development requires as much time as creative development, and is also a creative process. This may require daily repetition for up to two years before it is universally accepted. Be patient.
Become an expert in human emotions. My biggest struggle in recent years has been to convince certain clients that human nature is not rational. This has always seemed evident to me, possibly because of my own comically irrational life choices. Luckily for those starting out in the profession, the catastrophic global financial meltdown triggered by the domino effect of greed (which is an emotion, folks) has caused a widespread questioning of traditional economic theory, and its assertion that people make rational decisions. The new band of behavioral economists (Dan Ariely, Nassim Nicholas Taleb et al) are having a long overdue day in the sun and are being listened to. They assert that human decision-making is extremely emotional, irrational and sometimes random. Some marketers already know this. But for those that don't, the new behavioral economists and the emerging evidence from the world of neuroscience / neurobiology / epigenetics help support it. (For example, the disconcerting recent-ish confirmation that we operate on the basis of our conscious mind around 5% of the time, 95% of the time we're operating on our subconscious mind.) All this will eventually filter into marketing departments and make for stronger marketing and communications, based on a more refined understanding of what drives people. As someone clever once said, emotions lead to action, while thinking only leads to conclusions. Emotion fuels economies, wins elections. Emotion rules the world.
I recently had the privilege of meeting some young planners at Miami Ad School. I was refreshed and delighted to see that many of them drew insights very widely – from data but also from history, literature, films, life experience, current affairs, psychotherapy, physics, anthropology, sociology, art, the bus stop, the café..….This cross-fertilization approach obviously makes for the richest, truest and most relatable insights. I actually think it’s been much neglected in comms agencies and marketing. Yes, it takes time to read widely and NO, YOU CAN’T JUST READ MARKETING BOOKS, IT MAKES YOU REALLY BORING. So, young planners, my advice to you is to please remind us of that, every chance you get.
You MUST do pro bono work for good causes in addition to paying clients. There is no excuse. You MUST do it. You will sleep better. Or, start a social enterprise arm in your agency, if it doesn't yet have one. It's the way the world is going: governments can't get everything done. Business needs to step in. Business needs the credibility too: consumers don't trust businesses any more, by and large, with good reason.
There was a seventh point. But I forgot it. I became distracted. That happens in this business.
Victoria Kaulback is Brand Planning Director at Y&R New York.