Account planning what it means and how it affects the agency – John Bartle

john bartle founder account plannierFirst published in Admap April 1980, ©Warc. Published with permission of the copyright holder. Visit www.warc.com for more articles like this.

John Bartle chaired the 1980 IPA conference about account planning. At this time only a handful of agencies had started their own departments following the lead set by J Walter Thompson and Boase Massimi Pollitt. Some agencies cynically had rebranded their research departments as planning departments and went on as before. So John articulates what a planning department actually does and how that changes the dynamics of how an agency operates. At the point of writing the paper, John Bartle is head of planning at TBWA. He is very experienced not least because as a research manager at Cadburys he had been on the receiving end of account planning at BMP from day 1 and even before that.  But at the time he gave this paper Bartle Bogle Hegarty did not exist. 2 years later it did.

First here’s how to get your hands on the paper. Account Planning what it means and how it affects the agency

Next a brief commentary on the paper: his paper starts with a bit of a history lesson – useful since Bartle worked right through this. And the dramatic fall of numbers of people working in advertising agencies by some 25%. And research departments came under threat.  Ad agencies had to choose between losing their researchers or turning them into something else that could be justified.  Researchers were too peripheral to the development of advertising. Planners were at the heart of it. This wasn’t entirely welcome to the creative department or to account handling. But planners bring something that neither of them were capable of doing entirely by themselves. Which was to think objectively about how advertising worked.  And what is interesting is about John Bartle’s take is that the planner’s authority comes from the continuous analysis and interpretation of data – and he specifically mentions the limitations of data. In other words data is not to be overworked in the pursuit of selling creative work or campaign success. But the planner is to be objective about what it can and can’t do.  However, this does not reduce the planner to being an evaluation geek but someone with a distinctive point of view about how the advertising is working. And someone who can inspire creative people.  And it is because of this unique role that Bartle argues that it is far beyond what a repurposed research department can achieve.   He describes planners working with account handlers much as writers work with art directors in a complementary way. However, he is already pulling away from the BMP model that there should be a planner for every account person. That is over the top.

Account planners need to be proactive – not just rebadged research people

There follows a discussion about the internal benefits of having a data proactive person in the team. And the external benefits when working directly with clients. Of giving them the confidence to be more adventurous. This is not the same as deploying the planner as an intellectual sales person for the creative work.  And this shouldn’t emasculate the account man (if I may use genderised language briefly). The account handler retains the primary relationship with the client but shares the task of strategic development with the planner.

Bartle concludes by warning that rebadged researchers will not do. And account planners left to their own devices by account handlers will crash and burn. It is the creative tension when planners work closely with the rest of the team which makes the system work. He also reminds us that this is a British development. And contrasts what is happening in London with the creative barrenness of the USA where creativity was hobbled by excessive dependence on research.  Very timely since it was around this time that the Americans started to look seriously at importing planning from the UK. Within a couple of years planners on telephone number salaries were heading across the Atlantic to show the Americans how planning could be done.  Our book 98% Pure Potato (yes I am going to refer to that again!) covers how Doug Richardson attempted to take the philosophy of planning to Ogilvy’s in New York. And it was a real struggle. And how Jay Chiat after seeing how planning was being used at CDP in London tracked down Jane Newman one of the star BMP planners now working in New York and hired her. And Jon Steel a couple of years later went to Goodby Silverstein on the West coast and started a successful planning department there.

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