Campaign Supplement on BMP DDB 1968-1998: The Pollitt ingredient - Despite being the antithesis of the suave adman, Stanley Pollitt was a pioneer of planning in the creative process. By Peter Jones and Karen Yates

Stanley Pollitt died when he was 49 after 26 years in advertising but, as the joint creator of account planning, with Stephen King of J. Walter Thompson - and its first full-scale exponent - he left a worldwide legacy that fundamentally changed the way agencies create advertising.

Stanley Pollitt died when he was 49 after 26 years in advertising

but, as the joint creator of account planning, with Stephen King of J.

Walter Thompson - and its first full-scale exponent - he left a

worldwide legacy that fundamentally changed the way agencies create

advertising.



The beginning was ordinary enough. Stanley joined Pritchard Wood and

Partners, a middling British-owned agency just outside the top ten, as

an account handling trainee in 1952 having studied law at Cambridge.



Stanley joined the PWP board as an account director eight years

later.



He was an acquired taste in this role, appealing to a relatively small

subset of clients. Think of the opposite of a suave, good-looking,

articulate advertising man and you have Pollitt: scruffy, badly dressed,

chain-smoking and often impossible to hear, let alone understand. Yet he

had a passion for advertising and a deep interest in his clients’

products. The people who gravitated towards Stanley were those who

enjoyed nothing better than talking about the ad business and client

problems well into the night, helped by huge volumes of red wine.



Like most account directors, Stanley muscled his way on to the PWP board

through his client relationships, primarily his hold over the Izal

toilet paper business, PWP’s biggest account. Izal Medicated, a ’hard

paper’ which was then brand leader, was under threat from the new soft

products. Having seen copious volumes of research, I am convinced that

only Stanley had the stamina to trade punches with the client on arcane

topics like the physical pleasure of hard paper and the negative

psychological fear of poke-through with soft tissues.



Once established on the PWP board, Stanley was given other

responsibilities.



In those days, directorships were largely confined to account handlers

and a handful of creatives. More mundane departments like media and

research had no direct board representation but relied on a gifted

amateur to represent them. In this way, Stanley was put in charge of

media in 1963 and turned his attention to the research and planning side

of that discipline. He found an ally in Bob Jones, then PWP’s media

research director.



I joined the scene from the LSE in 1964 as a media researcher. Stanley

had to confirm my appointment, apparently a formality. I left his office

after a traumatic half hour completely uncertain of my future. A

cigarette had been thrust into my hand in the first minute of the

interview and lit which, as a non-smoker, got me severely on the back

foot. I heard only one word in three as Stanley mumbled away and had to

guess at the rest.



I got through and, later, Stanley told me he had been impressed with my

grasp of TV audience research techniques and my readiness to argue my

corner.



Planning began at PWP from a base of media research. The department won

many awards, impressing several key clients, and Stanley’s board brief

was extended to cover all the agency’s research departments. There was a

desk-based marketing research operation, a survey group and a

qualitative department.



Planning took centre stage in the creative process via qualitative

research.



We pioneered the use of illustrations together with soundtracks as our

stimulus for developing television ads, thereby completing the planning

circle.



Around the same time, Martin Boase became head of account service and

brought in Gabe Massimi from the US to spice up PWP’s staid creative

product.



With BMP’s breakaway in 1968, planning became an integral part of the

new agency’s operations, but luck also played its part. The agency

struggled at its inception. Cadbury Foods was the only significant

account to move from PWP, thanks to the relationship forged by Stanley.

Cadbury’s Smash was BMP’s biggest account and John Bartle was in charge

of research at the client end. The first commercials produced by BMP for

Smash were unresearched before production and were so poor that,

following post-production research, we advised Cadbury that they should

be scrapped.



Cadbury footed the bill on the tacit understanding that any future work

would be researched before production. The long search for new Smash ads

confirmed that Gabe Massimi was not at home in a small agency

environment and his departure allowed John Webster to emerge as a talent

in his own right. The Martian campaign was the reward for a painful

creative development process.



Stanley Pollitt’s brand of planning and John Webster’s creativity were

made for each other. Planning produces major insights but is inherently

dull. Webster’s creativity was always at the cutting edge but prone to

disaster. Stanley had a huge respect for creativity and insisted that

the process was respected by his planners, especially because most of

them came from a science rather than an arts background. He was scornful

of pseudo-scientific creative research techniques that purported to put

numbers on essentially qualitative judgments.



He demanded proper debriefs following creative research and was always

looking for the process to build on the positive rather than emphasise

the negative. Webster saw that the planning department was providing him

with well-researched briefs and the creative research process was giving

his best ideas a chance - since BMP planners controlled the process and

clients were involved from beginning to end.



Planning is very hard on ads with no central idea and those that rely

excessively on treatment and presentation. It thrived in BMP, where

Martin Boase and Chris Powell kept the agency true to often impossibly

high standards of creativity. It may seem sentimental to talk about

Stanley’s continuing influence nearly 20 years after his death, but his

emphasis on high-quality trainees helped spread the gospel to all parts

of the world.



BMP took on its first tranche of planning trainees in 1970. They

included Jane Newman, who took planning to the US, initially through

Needham Harper Steers and then, most tellingly, at Chiat Day. Jon Steel

joined BMP as a planning trainee after Stanley’s death and has since

made a massive contribution to the development of Goodby Silverstein in

San Francisco.



Stanley gave generously to people he believed had a contribution to

make.



Messrs Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty struggled in their early days at TBWA

but Stanley was certain of their ability and offered encouragement over

a series of long lunches.



Ross Barr and Chris Cowpe, joint managing directors at BMP, were taken

on as planning trainees in 1972 and James Best, now chairman of the

agency, in 1975. David Cowan, Paul Feldwick and Nigel Jones, the

planning directors that followed me, were heavily influenced by

Stanley.



Outside BMP, many planners trace their roots back to the agency or were

trained by those involved with BMP. The IPA Effectiveness Awards owe

their existence to Stanley’s ideas.



When I toured South America a couple of years ago, planning was being

practised in non-DDB advertising agencies in Argentina, Brazil and even

Colombia, as well as at below-the-line agencies.



Everywhere it goes, planning is associated with high-quality creative

work because, properly practised, it has intellectual rigour and an

honesty that comes from constant dialogue with the consumer. Stanley

Pollitt transmitted that integrity with a passion made all the more

convincing by his own obvious humanity.



In horse-racing terms, he was a prepotent sire. In simple English, he

was the daddy of them all.



Peter Jones, one-time planner, is chairman of the Tote



BMP PLANNING TODAY



BMP bosses have two slides they like to show prospective clients.



One shows the size of BMP’s planning department (the largest in the

world) and the other shows the number of IPA Effectiveness awards it has

won (four Grand Prix out of the last nine). Both reveal that, while

account planning has changed dramatically over the years, BMP’s

commitment to it hasn’t faltered since the days of Pollitt himself.



Indeed, the culture fostered by Pollitt remains remarkably intact,

preserved through a blend of careful recruitment and regular nurturing.

This process is currently the responsibility of Nigel Jones, who has

been BMP’s head of planning since 1994.



Jones describes the typical BMP planner as both analytical and creative

- ’ a mathematician who is also a violinist’, or ’a painter who also has

a degree in physics’. But his main rule when touring the provinces for

new recruits is that candidates are so passionate about something that

they can convince him of its merits. ’It could even be crochet,’ he

says.



Nonetheless, the discipline has changed - physically with the advent of

computers - and in purpose. Planning was born through a desire to

improve the pre-testing of creative work once it had been conceived.

These days, the focus groups are used much earlier in the process, not

just to assess the impact of work, but to help develop the strategy of a

brand in the first place.



There have been other changes too. As technology has delivered more

instant information directly to the brand owner, planners spend less

time number crunching and more adding value. As Jones says: ’The client

no longer needs us to tell him what his market share is.’ Instead, the

client needs them to do what BMP planners pride themselves at doing best

- creative thinking.



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