Paper 15 A research director’s view – Annie Wicks

First published in Admap April 1980, ©Warc. Published with permission of the copyright holder. Visit for more articles like this.

Another interesting piece of history.  A research department head (at McCann Erickson)  pushes back on this new fad for account planning.  I was interviewed by Annie Wicks a few years later when she was Planning Director at Geers Gross. So she took the planning shilling eventually!  But since she declares that she wouldn’t hire a planner without at least 3 years experience perhaps that is why I didn’t get the job!  I only had 18 months experience as an advertising researcher at the time.

Annie represents the demand for solid craft skills. You get a flavour of that from the Bert de Vos paper (see below) but he rejects the need for account planning at all.  Annie’s position is different. Her argument is that without the necessary research craft skills planners simply don’t know enough to be able to formulate a judgement on whether advertising is likely to be effective and whether it has performed well.  Let’s start with letting you get your hands on the paper: Annie Wicks Research Director POV

Annie makes 2 points. Firstly that researchers can and should be brought out of their silos and in with the rest of the account group. And that they are capable of integrating. And it is essential that the do so. It is foolish to expect a 22 year old with no craft skills to engage with and even challenge a marketing director who has decades of skills.  In other words there ought to be a solid basis of craft for which planners should be properly prepared and trained. You have to know the rules before you know how to go about shortcutting or breaking them.

Her second point is equally telling. She argues that the idea of a planning system does not apply to all advertising accounts and should not. So there accounts which should have constant planning input, and account where there should be occasional or limited planning input. And there are even accounts to which planning is irrelevant. The example she gives is that of the entrepreneur who has built a company by the seat of the pants.

You don’t want to put planning onto every advertising account

It would seem that she is wary of what she perceives to be the pernicious influence of a planning process which itself becomes inflexible.  And another layer to be negotiated in the development of good creative work. And she is concerned that in its desire to be taken seriously that planning as mandatory runs the risk of overclaiming.  Being applied where it is neither welcome nor needed and where it may not be shown to be effective.  It is the idea of the planner being handed power without the experience and the authority to use it well. What seems to have happened over time is that planners have not had the power – they have had to make their case by dint of persuasion. But it shows how fragile the situation was where the account group could turn around and say they just didn’t feel the need to add a planner on the business. So there was a perceived need to try to ensure that a planner was always assigned whether welcome or not.

Annie also warns against the cleverness of planners. That does not mean they are right or commend them to the rest of the team. She introduces the idea of advertising intelligence which the account director or the creative teams are just as likely to possess.   And is not the unique possession of the account planner. Certainly not a young one!  As she perceives it planning comes about when all the members of the account team are contributing and planning takes place in the centre of what she calls 4 circles (she doesn’t name them – would this be research, creative, account handling and the client?)

Her parting shot is to warn against the creep of rationality. Advertising needs to be developed with heart as well as head. And she suggests that the left bunion aka instinct also has its place. And that planners need to be adept at using all of these and not settle for being the computational being in the corner of the meeting room.

Good provocative paper. Worth thinking about when there is a temptation for planners to hide behind analytics. Or worse still bluff without any depth in analytical thinking and craft skills at all.

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