The strategic planner in advertising

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The strategic planner a.k.a. the strategist is an important team member of the advertising agency that is in charge of discovering and building creative strategies for the agency’s clients. Usually, this position is part of a team dedicated to developing advertising campaigns for a certain list of clients.

A quick history on the strategist job

This advertising strategic planner job exists for only 55 years, as before the planner was a researcher disconnected from the creative process.

The first role of a planner in an agency happened in the mid-60s in Australia when Unilever researcher David Brent put into practice his experience inside an agency.

A couple of years later, in 1968, the famous ad man Stanley Pollitt proposed to his peers that an advertising researcher could be trained and work side by side with the account management team.

He put his idea into practice in 1968 in his own agency, Boase Massimi Pollitt, rebranded in 2004 as DDB London. Funny fact though, the same idea was independently applied during the same year by Stephen King at J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, where the new department was called “account planning” (as we know it today).

What is the purpose of a strategic planner?

The focus of the strategic planner is to study thoroughly consumers and for this reason, it has been associated with “the voice of the consumer” in the ad agencies.

Just like in many other marketing jobs, there are great responsibilities when performing the tasks of a strategic planner as it may lead the team either on a fertile creative route, or (seldom) in a void.

How should a strategic planner find an idea?

In order to find a fresh strategic idea, the strategic conclusions of a strategic planning process must be based on reliable marketing research but also on a variable amount of inspiration.

To whom does the planner report?

In medium-sized and big agencies this positionĀ reports to a senior strategic planner, while in smaller ad agencies it directly reports to the strategic planning director or head of planning.

There are also cases where there is only one position in planning in a small agency and without a head of planning, the respective strategic planner would report to the Client Service lead.

What does a strategic planner do?

The strategic planner

Besides research reports on the consumer and monitoring brand performance, if it is experienced enough, the planner must be in charge of the creative briefing process and of writing the creative brief.Ā 

You might find out more details about the creative brief in 3 previous articles:

The definition of Creative Brief

The Creative Brief: 11 questions answered

Creative Brief template #1 (how to solve a Big Issue)

Job duties

The typical tasks performed by a strategist in an advertising agency are very diverse:

  • Needs to research for clues, insights, and arguments that can solve the marketing brief;
  • Prepare, write and present the Creative Brief;
  • Prepare presentation for the clients;
  • Inform the team about new insights discovered related to the brand, the client, the market, the consumer;
  • Assist the Client Service team to debrief a brief received from the client;
  • Plan and hold creative brainstormings the agency;
  • Provide support to the creative team during their work;
  • Keep an eye on agency’s and brands’ competitors;
  • Write case studies for competitions such as Effie Awards.

What makes a strategic planner great?

It needs to have a great contribution to creating successful advertising campaigns. The planner must be not only a skillful consumer researcher but also a reliable and inspiring team player.

There are quite a few qualities that make a strategist great:

  • Discovering fresh consumer insights;
  • To be a fantastic listener;
  • To be seen as a source of inspiration for the whole team, including by the creatives;
  • Being a ferocious reader;
  • Showing on above the average curiosity;
  • Demonstrating great presentation skills;
  • Magnetism or convincingness;
  • Great intuition;
  • Cross-domain experience;
  • last but not least, patience in dealing with the unknown and the unexpected.

Who are the best strategists?

There are many role models in strategic planning, and some of them are still active today. I would mention here John Steel, Seth Godin, Rory Sutherland, but we shouldn’t forget about the founders of advertising research, Stanley Pollit and Stephen King (mentioned above).