Close-Up: What is a 21st century planner like?

Will planners become the creative originators of the future?

According to some in the industry, creative directors may be about to lose their grip on being the ideas-generators for major campaigns.

It's no surprise that it's the planners themselves that hold this view. The 21st century planner, they say, will have overall responsibility for the initial campaign idea, and creatives will then be employed to flesh it out.

Giles Hedger, the executive planning director at Leo Burnett, says: "Planners will be the creative directors of the future. Twentieth century planners were midwives who helped ideas be born. Clients now want long-term sustainable campaigns, which means the idea will become the most valuable strategic item. This will come from the planner who will set the direction for the creative expansion."

In reality, life is rarely that simple.Rory Sutherland, the vice-chairman of the Ogilvy Group UK, and a creative by trade, agrees that, in essence, planning will become more important in ideas-generation for long-running campaigns - but also warns that it cannot exclusively replace the creative director.

"The mistake we've made is that, at the moment, planning comes after creativity. In the past, this was fine, but it needs rectifying now. However, there's a danger of creatives just becoming an execution team in the process. It still has to be collaborative, so I'd merge the two departments. Creatives and planners working together in parallel is the future," he says.

For an industry that has historically held the role of creative to be sacrosanct, statements like this seem almost like heresy. But there is an opportunity here for planning - and contrary to popular belief, it's not the explosion in planning channels (such as cultural, behavioural, real-time, micro and creation) that are shaping the planner of the future. After all, the new breed of planners are already conversant with these because they have grown up with them.

It's new skills that are going to add to the planner's armoury: ideas around geography, technology, data, analyticsand training.

Guy Murphy, the JWT worldwide planning director says: "In recent years, it has been the media channel debate that has dominated most conversations, but it's geography and an understanding of technology that a good planner needs now. Planners in the UK should do more to travel and go and look at things, and hear people talk in other cultures. They will need to become globetrotters."

The planners of the future will also need to work closely with external analysts, while also being highly analytical themselves, simply because of the amount and depth of raw data available.

It's a lot to ask of one discipline, particularly one that, in many agencies, operates on an already overstretched resource. Richard Huntington, the director of strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi, thinks that these new planners will only start to emerge if agencies begin to take the role seriously and offer the support and training that it requires.

He says: "At the moment, not enough planners are good enough. That's down to agencies not having trained them properly or pushing them to the back of the office where they have little impact."

Since the inception of planning in the late 60s, the discipline has developed at a furious pace. As the industry continues to expand, planning has a real opportunity to demand some recognition for the fact that it is one of the most important tools in an agency's armoury. It's a good time to be a planner.

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PLANNER - Guy Murphy, worldwide planning director, JWT

"I think the most important thing for planners in this day and age is that they need to take a broader view of the world. The world is a very connected place right now, and there's a growing need for brands to be global. Planners need to know how to manage a brand in different cultures, and take into account the attitudes of consumers in developing markets.

"What excites me, though, is that planners are beginning to make things themselves, rather than help people make things. Planners never thought before that they should create things, but now, because anything is possible, planners are well placed to go create it."

PLANNER - Nikki Crumpton, chief strategy officer, McCann Erickson

"In the past few years, the speed at which planning has changed has meant that many of us have had to learn how to work in new channels. However, the planner of the 21st century will not have to learn this. They'll just know it. The planner of the future is just the person of the future.

"However, they will have to be more analytical because we have so much more data these days - but they will still have to be able to synthesise this data into interesting solutions.

"They will also be conversant in comms planning and channel planning, which I believe will all end up coming under one roof."

CLIENT - Mark Vile, marketing director,

"Planners need to understand all the media channels, as there is so much potential to develop a campaign and reach consumers in a whole number of ways.

"Part of planning is to understand what channels will work best, rather than working out how to slavishly apply the campaign across as many channels as possible.

"The process of working on the meerkat campaign was far more collaborative than in the past. Planners are now more involved in the entire creative process, from insight to execution. They must be able to work effortlessly with the creative team, and quickly pick up on the challenges that the marketing director faces as well."

PLANNER - Richard Huntington, director of strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi

"The planner is the only person who has sole responsibility for making the work 'work'. There's something eternal about planning, and it's essential that the planners of the future remind themselves of that.

"This industry produced great work before the planning discipline was invented. So one of the joyous things is that planners have to justify their role in an agency every single day.

"However, agencies also need to change their attitudes towards planners. We're not here 'just to be clever' and think of lots of solutions. We're here to frame a campaign, and it's up to the planners to have the conviction to make sure that comes across."