LIVE ISSUE/PLANNING AT JWT: JWT brings in consultants to regain planning high ground - The agency wants to draw on the very best strategic minds. John Tylee reports

Two agencies can justifiably claim joint parentage of account planning in Britain. So when one of them declares its intention to rethink its entire approach to the discipline, the industry is compelled to take notice.

Two agencies can justifiably claim joint parentage of account

planning in Britain. So when one of them declares its intention to

rethink its entire approach to the discipline, the industry is compelled

to take notice.

J. Walter Thompson which, along with BMP DDB, gave birth to the account

planner more than 30 years ago, wants to supplement its account planning

department with strategic consultants. They will not only use JWT’s

resources to service their own business - from which the agency will

take a cut - but put their brains to the service of JWT’s clients.

Marco Rimini, JWT’s head of strategy and development and the driving

force behind the changes, claims they will benefit everybody. The agency

can draw on the best strategic thinkers to put before its clients. The

consultants can continue enjoying the flexible working arrangements

without the feelings of isolation that freelancing can bring.

In some ways, JWT is formalising a long-standing but never publicised

arrangement under which agencies draft in outside help when their

planning departments are in danger of caving in under heavy workloads.

One planning chief at a leading agency says he used almost a dozen

freelancers for one-off projects last year.

The difference is that JWT wants to make the consultants an integral and

permanent part of its offering. The agency recognises a changing

employment climate. While Rimini insists he has no difficulty attracting

talented planners into staff jobs, the fact remains that such people are

becoming increasingly hard to find.

The dearth is partly a legacy of the industry’s severe cutback on the

recruitment of graduate trainees during the recession-hit early 90s. The

good planners that remain can have their pick not only of agency jobs

but of other opportunities within marketing services companies.

Some have switched to client companies. Others look to management

consultancies for fulfilment. ’The big advantage in working for

management consultancies is that you gain access to the people at the

very top of a company,’ Lucy Purdy, the Publicis planning director,

says. ’For planners, that’s very seductive.’

Meanwhile, the communication revolution has made it much easier for

planners to combine work with family commitments.

JWT is determined to reclaim the high ground at a time when clients are

besieged with strategic advice from every direction.

Rimini is determined that the new department, @JWT, should include not

just planning consultants but anybody capable of innovative strategic

thought, be they former account directors or experts in new-product


The result, he hopes, is that clients will consider the agency for tasks

they might never previously have thought to assign it.

Can such a bold experiment work? Rimini claims the agency is already

getting expressions of interest from top ’thinkers’. It’s clear,

however, that despite JWT’s promises of flexibility, prospects may take

a lot of persuading.

Chris Forrest, the former planning chief at Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters,

says he would have to weigh any firm assurances against the benefits of

the consultancy work which enables him to have more time with his three

small children.

Jackie Boulter, the ex-Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO planning director who

went solo last year, is reluctant to be drawn back into an agency where,

she says, planners can feel devalued by being part of a chain. Nor does

she accept that consultancy is a lonely life. ’There’s lots of

collaboration between people like me,’ she says.

Another big question is whether a group of transient superstars will

demotivate staffers in the agency’s existing account planning


Rimini insists that @JWT will actually incentivise the department as

people get an insight into future career opportunities.

Also debatable is how such a change will affect relationships between

agencies and clients who need the comfort of knowing their planners are

permanently and deeply immersed in their business.

John Ward, Bates UK’s vice-chairman responsible for strategy, believes

planners cannot be truly effective if they operate at arm’s length.

’There is always a need for the physical presence of a persuasive

planner,’ he comments. ’Planning isn’t a distant discipline. It’s about

selling too.’

The litmus test for what JWT is doing is whether or not clients will

give it the thumbs up. John Hooper, director-general of the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers, applauds the agency for a bold move but

worries about confidentiality. ’I would need to feel very confident that

these people are properly tied in and are not working on competitive


Raoul Pinnell, Shell International’s global head of brands and

communications and a major JWT client, also welcomes the move as

evidence of agencies regaining their rightful place but wonders about

the financial implications.

’I believe agencies give clients consumer insights that consultants do

not,’ he says. ’But if this is being presented as an added-value

service, we have to be quite clear how it’s to be paid for.’

A leading agency chief and former planning director sums up the

collective confusion. ’It’s clear what @JWT is not, but not what it is,’

he says.

’Is it a planning department or an independent consultancy? If clients

are offered a superior form of planning as an add-on, does it imply that

planning isn’t central to JWT any more?’

Leader, p25.