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
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
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
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
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
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
Planning took centre stage in the creative process via qualitative
We pioneered the use of illustrations together with soundtracks as our
stimulus for developing television ads, thereby completing the planning
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
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
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
Stanley gave generously to people he believed had a contribution to
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
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
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.