Close-Up: Live Issue - Is there a dearth of senior planners?

Why are agencies in the UK finding it difficult to fill their top planning positions, Noel Bussey asks.

For the past six months, JWT has had the unenviable task of finding a head of planning.

After meeting numerous pros-pects, the agency settled on Hugh Duthie, a talented Canadian planner who has spent his entire advertising career working on the other side of the Atlantic.

While there is nothing approaching a crisis in senior planner recruitment, Duthie's hiring could be seen as indicative of a shrinking pool of UK senior planners in which to fish.

The head of strategy role places huge demands on individuals. Not only do they need to be able to create strategies for clients, they also have to run a big department and help senior management steer the agency. Even if someone is a brilliant planner, they may not be suited to higher management roles.

Russ Lidstone, the chief strategy officer and managing partner at Euro RSCG London, says: "This is known as the Peter Principle. Planners often feel uncomfortable running departments because it's not what they were trained for."

The talent pool is being further drained by the demand for planners in other disciplines. As well as being tapped up for jobs in foreign markets, planners who started their careers on the creative side of the business don't generally feel the need or desire to stay in the industry when faced with senior management positions.

In fact, it is often the case that they feel constrained and feel the desire to broaden their experiences and their knowledge.

Simon Francis, OMD's managing director for Europe, says: "If you're trained in empirical research and data analysis, you have a certain type of mindset. Many good planners are not content to be the third creative working on 30-second spot after 30-second spot. They want to stretch their brains."

Russell Davies, the former head of planning at Wieden & Kennedy, made this decision and moved to become the global planning director at Nike.

He says: "I wanted to try new things. I learned more in a year on the client side than I did in the rest of my career in creative. You get to see problems from different perspectives and brands from different angles."

However, Lidstone believes there are still many senior planners and strategists who don't feel the compulsion to move out of the creative industry.

Rebecca Morgan, the chief strategy officer at Lowe London, has just moved into the role from BT, where she was the head of marketing communications.

She was previously a planner at Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She says: "It's easier for planners than for any of the other disciplines to move client-side (and I'm living proof of that), but I certainly wasn't inundated with CVs from agency planners while I was a client at BT."

Francis also notes a sea change at the client end that is affecting the way in which younger planners are developing: "The clients are no longer brand managers, they are ad managers, and need a different skillset - less analytical and more based in the creative.

"The formerly fundamental empirical skills have atrophied into an auxiliary creative resource. It is becoming harder to have a conversation with agency planners about data and research, which is surely critical for a senior creative agency planner."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haynet.com

AGENCY CHIEF - Alison Burns, chief executive, JWT

"At JWT, the head of planning is an integral part of the senior management trio, so it has to be exactly the right person. That is why my search was so widespread.

"There is also a significant departmental role, so there are many skills needed for the job.

"It's not a case of struggling to find a good planner. I interviewed a lot of very talented people. They just have to fit the agency perfectly.

"However, what is a real phenomenon in the UK that isn't so prevalent anywhere else, is that planning is so integral to an agency that a lot of the really good ones generally have their name above the door of an agency by the time they're 33. That ties them into a role for a number of years until they hit their earn-out."

HEADHUNTER - Mark Rapley, partner, The Garden Partnership

"It's wrong to say that there is a shortage of good planners in London, but a good creative agency does have to take its time finding one, because the fit has to be absolutely right.

"It's such a significant position now. A top-level planner will always be a part of the senior management team.

"A lot of planners are tempted to move to different pastures, but most will only stay away from the creative industry for one or two years. The thing that keeps them coming back is the creative work and the creative people."

HEAD OF STRATEGY - Russ Lidstone, chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG

"When hiring a senior planner, the agency has to be right for the person. A big part of the sell to a good strategist is offering them the chance to create change and enable freedom of thought.

"Some network agencies' strategic development processes are tightly run via mechanistic processes and box-ticking. If this is the case, the hiring process will be more difficult. Good strategy doesn't come from processes and boxes, it's about applied knowledge and intuitive leaps.

"However, there is a difference between a planner who is good at what they do, and a planner who actively enjoys running a department as part of an agency management team."

FORMER PLANNER - Russell Davies, former global planning director, Nike

"It's not that there is a lack of planning talent for creative agencies to attract, it's more that there are loads of planning jobs out there now.

"There is demand for planning skills across whole swathes of the industry - digital, media, publishing. Planners are being chased by all types of companies. By their nature, they are ideally suited to the future of advertising, working across many different media.

"A good planner is very curious - they have to be - so there is always a desire to go and try new things, and the growth in demand gives them the freedom to move where they want."