CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: When are creative agencies going to appreciate that account planners aren't qualified to be communications planners? I'm impressed and inspired by the skill of ad agencies in selling "contact/connections planning" above just creative advertising, however, please leave the comms planning to those that have experience in the field.

A: I'm not at all sure what this question means, but this is what I think this irascible correspondent is going on about.

Account planners in creative agencies may be perfectly qualified to identify the role for media advertising within the total communications strategy; but what makes them think they're entitled to identify the role for product placement, online banners, sports sponsorship, student ambassadorships, viral marketing ...?

Well, it all depends on what sort of account planner you're talking about. Many years ago, Stephen King (one of the founding fathers of account planning and therefore entirely qualified to be critical of its practitioners) classified a continuum of planners: ranging from Grand Strategists on the left of the scale to Advert Tweakers on the far right. Advert Tweakers, as their name implies, are little more than valets to the creative process: dusting off the dandruff here, straightening the tie there, reassuring clients and infuriating creative teams (or vice versa) in equal measure.

Advert Tweakers can barely be trusted to write a good brief for television advertising, let alone public relations.

The Grand Strategist, on the other hand, sits on a lofty perch - scrutinising the client's business with forensic rigour, combining a consultant's commercial pragmatism with a water diviner's gift for direction and discovery. Grand Strategists are perfectly capable of undertaking what you so inelegantly call comms planning.

As a matter of interest, what do you do?

Q: I'm an account manager and while I'm clearly very, very bright I stumble with some essentials. I can't work the photocopier, and prefer jeans and dirty trainers to a suit and tie. Should I become a planner?

A: One of the quickest ways to distinguish Grand Strategists from Advert Tweakers (see above) is by dress. Traditionally, Grand Strategists are conservative dressers, usually in suit and tie, often with black lace-up shoes and a trim haircut. Advert Tweakers, on the other hand, anxious to position themselves as part of the creative fraternity, favour jeans and dirty trainers. The last thing this world needs is yet another Advert Tweaker.

And if you really were very, very bright, you'd be able to work the photocopier.

What was your second choice before you went into advertising?

Q: My creative agency has just offered me a wonderful trip, with its principals and a range of other guests, for a long weekend in the south of France. Is this just plain bribery? Or are potentially improved relations with the people working on my advertising account a true justification?

A: One of my more boring reiterations is that all motives are mixed. What, do you suppose, lies behind this generous invitation? Your agency may be unusually philanthropic and be inordinately fond of you - but they will still need to justify this level of expenditure with some expectation of return.

Improved relations would certainly help both them and you (and therefore your company). For you to feel beholden to them, however, would be of great value to them but bring nothing but grief for you. So this is your test.

Imagine showing your colleagues the photographs on your return: the lunch table set under the olive trees and the agency's business development director in her bikini. Then imagine defending your agency's newest commercial against your colleagues' criticism. Then imagine their raised eyebrows and knowing looks. If you can imagine all this with impunity, then by all means go.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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