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Strategy Planning – The Brilliant Ambivert

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Strategy Planning – The Brilliant Ambivert

The strategy planner is the first of the five-part feature on the who-is-who in advertising presented by The Voice.


Strategy or Account

The strategic – or account – planners* are a hybrid breed of an advertisers and researchers. Although they were originally only found in Europe, planners have now made their way into every large agency around the planet. They are responsible for creating the long-term brand strategies and developing the underlying objectives of campaigns. Planners collect and analyze data that can provide insights into the clients’ target market through qualitative and quantitative data. This is done in order to, not only to predict the success or failure of a new product, but also to set a product up for success. In this edition of the Who-isWho in advertising, we’ll be taking a closer look into this seeming fortuneteller.

* There is quite some debate on the difference between account planners and strategy planners, but the difference is quite marginal compared to the difference between other roles in the agency. Account planners concern themselves with discovering new information on the consumer and setting objectives to reach them efficiently and effectively. Conversely strategy planners’ – as the name suggest – focus on the specific strategies as to how to reach this consumer. They find themselves more on the execution side of the process. However, these two roles are both concerned with brand overall brand strategy and are treated equally in this feature.


The Ad Universe


Kirk was was relatable and had the warm human approach.

For a moment, please imagine that Star Trek’s USS Enterprise was an ad agency. Okay, admittedly agencies might not have warp drives, photon lasers, or holodecks (at least until the Oculus Rift finally makes its way into advertising), but bear with me for a second. The whole crew, traveling through the ad universe, fighting off other agencies, in search for awards and working with the alien race called the Klients. In this agency Spock might seem a good fit as a Strategy Planner – highly intelligent, multitalented and lethal. But, it is rather Kirk who would actually fit the description of a strategy planner. Although he is the captain and seems to be able to save himself out of any situation, he knows that he would be nowhere without his team. Sulu to control the ship, Uhura to maintain the communication with the Klients and Scotty to keep the ships ad-engine running. A strategist develops the plan, but knows when to listen to people who are more expert at something. Planners can relate to people and adapt themselves. They are team players and always have the end-goal in mind – to explore human behavior and reach the customer.


The Consumer’s Voice

Back when admen still wore hats

Back when admen still wore hats

Just like most roles within advertising, the strategic planner also wears many hats and the role is one suited for those that are slightly hyperactive and multitalented. Planners must develop a deep understanding of the target group and their behavior. On the one side they soak themselves in theoretical information such as performing research and reading papers, but on the other through hands-on experience, training and interaction with that target group.

On Monday they are the introvert bookworm who spend hours reading and analyzing. On Tuesday they are flying around the office working together with all the members of the team. Meeting with the account team to clarify the advertising objective; consulting the creative side as how to implement their strategy; deliberating with the digital and media planners what channels will be most efficient to deliver the message. So even though they work on a micro level with the customers, strategy planners maintain a bird’s-eye view within the agency.

Planners are often called the ‘consumer’s voice’ in the agency, making sure that the ad is relevant to the target and that every form of communication is in line with the brand’s values.

Every now and then you will see an ad that is superficially funny or touching and actually enjoyable, but seems to have nothing to do with the product or the target audience. These are the type of ads that strategy planners are supposed to prevent, because they do not deliver the right – if any – message. Simply a waste of resources. Other times you will see ads that might seem to have no message, but actually have a deeper strategy, such as happiness promoting commercials by Coca-Cola. These are examples of great strategy work.


The Lads From London

Strategy was the third discipline in advertising after accounts and creative, back in 1968. Stanley Pollitt, after moving from copywriter to accounts, noticed that there was an increasing amount of data available. He saw a conflict of interests in the fact that account men, who stood in between the creative and the client, decided whether or not to conduct research or to present the data. Data could get in the way of business. He started a planning with Martin Boase and Gabe Massimi, who started the agency Boase Massimi Pollitt (Now DDB London).

Stephen King From J Walter Thompson

Stephen King From J Walter Thompson

Around that same time Stephen King, working in the marketing department at J. Walter Thompson, was having similar insights and was concocting his own solution. He was man who was intrigued by human communication and was frustrated by the way it was conducted at his agency. The creative side never saw all the results of research – just what suited the account side. Subsequently the creative side chose whether to actually use the research and the results of work was eventually poorly monitored.


In the following years he developed the T-plan or today known as the planning cycle. A method to evaluate the steps taking to promote a certain brand by asking the questions: Where are we; why are we there; where could we be; how could we get there; are we getting there? Although skeptical at first, the method proved its worth and serves as a basis for account planning even today. In 1971, King started the first account planning department at JWT and new way of advertising was born.

The famous T-cyclye

Other notable planners are:

  • Jane Newman – The woman who brought planning to the US in the 80s
  • Mike Hall – Made huge advances in advertising theory
  • Tony Stead – Coined the term Account Planner, also worked with King







The Road to Being a Junior

It is wonderful to have role models to look up to. They inspire us young advertisers, to work hard and to one day be in their shoes, admired by the industry. But before that day comes you first have to land a job as a junior strategist. Besides a college degree in a related field and having done at least a decent amount of internships, what else do agency recruiters look for in young planners?


  1. Finding patterns where others do not see them/filling the gaps
  2. Passion for learning and understanding
  3. Getting into the customer’s heads and turning it into something useful for business

Understanding Others

  1. Collaborating with everyone in the team
  2. Adapting to whomever you speak with, be it the tech department or the client
  3. Making your ideas relatable and being able to sell them

Analytical Mindset

  1. Quickly finding the core of a problem
  2. Assembling the widely ranging answers from research together in a creative manner.
  3. Structuring bits of data logically and connect the dots

If you have all these characteristics and are lucky enough to be hired, here are a couple of things you can expect to be doing on a day-to-day basis.

  • – Design and implementation of research projects to address client business issues, gain insight into target audiences and testing ad concepts.
  • – Collaborate with clients and give them deeper insights into the dynamics of their business through the development of disciplined and thorough sales, marketing, and consumer analyses.
  • – Partner with creative and account management peers to develop disruptive ideas at all points of customer contact.
  • – Bringing a strong analytical foundation to uncover fresh and innovative insights/business opportunities
  • – Development of brand strategies, writing creative briefs, guiding development and presentation of the creative work.


What Role Will You Play?

So before you decide to send that motivation letter to Ogilvy and Mather, DBB, or J Walter Thompson to become their new planner you need to ask yourself some questions. Are you someone who has an unsaturated lust for learning and knowledge? Do you agree that in a team one plus one equals three? Do you see things where others do not (in a mentally sane way of course) and are you not afraid to ask the right questions? Are you a strategy planner?


In next week’s feature: The Art Director – King of the Creative Jungle























Want to learn more about account Planning?

Read one of the following articles

  • Account Planning, John Treasure, Admap, March 1985
  • The Anatomy of Account Planning, Stephen King, November 1989.
  • What is a Brand? Stephen King, 1971



Or check out these videos