The history of advertising in quite a few objects

29. Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King

Steven King
Steven King

Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King may have had brains the size of wardrobes, but no sartorial style to match their famous intellects.

Pollitt often seemed so preoccupied with his thoughts that he scarcely remembered to brush the cigarette ash from the lapels of his suits. And a colleague of King once remarked: "Had his dress sense been as immaculate as his thinking, he would've been intolerable."

But what really linked the pair wasn't their disinterest in their appearance, but their sharp and questioning minds that brought about a complete change in the way agencies across the world went about their business.

The remarkable thing about the men, now acknowledged as the joint fathers of account planning, is that, although they didn't work together - Pollitt was at Boase Massimi Pollitt and King at JWT - both were crystallising their thoughts and reaching almost similar conclusions in the mid-60s.

Indeed, the discipline they evolved has been described by one commentator as the greatest innovation in agency working practice since Bill Bernbach put art directors and copywriters together.

In the 50s, big agencies had pioneered market research. However, by the 60s, clients were evolving their own marketing departments, while market research agencies sprung up to meet the demand for more sophisticated research.

As a result, the role of agencies as unbiased marketing consultants was being questioned.

Pollitt and King provided the means for agencies to take a more proactive role within the changing communications landscape.

Pollitt concluded that account managers were not using information effectively because researchers were not involved in the advertising process. He suggested that specially trained researchers should work alongside account managers as equal partners.

King believed that clients would be far better-served if campaigns were developed with more reliance on scientific foundation.

Both reasoned that a good planner should be curious about consumers and devoted to setting strategies than didn't restrict creativity but allowed it to fly.

Today, their legacy is beyond measure. Account planning hasn't only been taken up by agencies globally, but has moved into other marketing communications fields that extend beyond advertising.


- Pollitt was famously eccentric, often turning his back on audiences at meetings, mumbling and losing his notes. A colleague once had to lock him in his office to stop him from attending a sensitive client briefing.

- King was renowned for "spotting bullshit at a hundred paces" and proved it with his response to a Unilever brief calling for blue-sky thinking that took no account of practical considerations. King suggested a raft of new products including spray-on socks and bed-making fluid. Nobody mentioned the brief again.

- Pollitt was just 49 when a heart attack killed him in 1979. King passed away aged 74 in 2006.