Times are changing in the agency world. New working models are emerging, old ones are being re-imagined. Diversity, meanwhile, matters more than ever. Against this background, CSOs and hiring managers are looking afresh at the qualities that really matter when recruiting planners and strategists.
Gone are the days, for example, when top tier university leavers or the products of a major player’s graduate intake scheme are the default option. Increasingly for hiring managers, a person’s attitude, natural abilities and personal qualities are more important than what degree they have, where they got it and whose in-house training scheme they’ve been on.
So, what should you look for when hiring planners? It’s a big question, because as criteria evolve and the new generation of non-traditional planners proliferates, defining the talent you need isn’t getting any easier. However, from speaking with hiring managers and CSOs, and in the context of WARC’s The Future of Strategy 2018 report, my advice is to look for planners who:
Take curious to another level
As we know, good planners are naturally curious and well-read. The chances are, they’ll have devoured every book on neuro-linguistic programming and will know Byron Sharp’s work inside out.
However, to bring fresh thinking into your team, look for the planner that goes further. What stories, for example, can they tell you about how they’ve lived and breathed the client’s product? Have they met end users and tracked cultural trends on social media? Can they demonstrate how they’ve triangulated a topic from multiple sources, say from a TED talk to a visit to an art gallery? The planner that gets away from the desk in the relentless pursuit of knowledge and insight is an excellent planner.
Simplify the complex
A flair for simplifying complex issues has always been a given in the planner’s skillset – but today it’s more important than ever. The more information data science and analytics dashboards give us, the harder it gets to extract the meaningful insight. The modern, data-savvy planner knows what questions to ask, what to do with the answers and from there, what single goal to get everyone laser-focused on.
Externally, planners should be able to clearly explain their work in lay man’s terms to people unschooled in the sophisticated techniques of strategy or marketing speak. The options and their implications - even the language of planning - can sometimes leave people baffled. The planner that simplifies gets the client onside faster.
Understand business strategy
As business consultancy firms continue their expansion into brand and creative services to stay ‘upstream’, advertising agencies are moving into business strategy. There’s nothing new about planners needing to have excellent business acumen, but with competition for strategic services now so fierce, it’s essential, not just desirable. Planners will need to widen their skillsets to include product development, sales and operations to deliver a successful marketing mix.
Provide real-time guidance
The planner should be able to provide real-time strategic guidance and counsel to everyone involved in a project, from start to finish – and beyond. Consumers today interact with brands through many channels. By monitoring their sentiments and reactions, planners can get the insights that keep existing campaigns on track via earned media and open up opportunities for new initiatives. This adds value at every stage of the creative process, from ideation, through production to completion. In other words, great planners don’t gradually withdraw as a campaign progresses, they remain heavily involved all the way through.
The era of the strategist in an ivory tower, hiding in a back office, is over. Clients want as much access to the planner as they do the account manager and the project team. Internally, creative wants to work with planning and account handling wants a partner. Strategists have a pivotal role. And they should use it to help boost team morale and keep motivation levels high when the going gets tough. So, your ideal planner is a communicator, a relationship builder and a genuine team player. A silo smasher.
Win the respect of clients and the C-suite
Agencies are leaner organisations than they once were, so client meetings involve fewer people. The planner will almost certainly find themselves visiting (or hosting) clients alone, so needs to project authority and gravitas. Similarly, they need to have the confidence to influence and push back against internal stakeholders and/or make things happen internally against opposition.
Zoe Edwards is senior consultant, strategy & planning at The Industry Club, a specialist provider of recruitment services, executive search and training for the creative communications industry.