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In the Beginning. A Mostly True Story About the Birth of Brand Planning.

Brand planning, sometimes referred to account planning, began at ad agencies in the UK in the sixties to ensure the consumer was represented in the creative process. The story goes something like this… 

Over a pint in a pub, an account director and media planner were trying to fix a problem – clients were no longer as satisfied with agencies as they had been. The duo was trying to figure out why the agency model was struggling. 

Their conversation landed on an analysis of the core drivers behind the people who were on the traditional Account Team – typically an account director, creative team, and media planner. They reasoned that since an account director is responsible for keeping the client happy, creative for developing distinctive even award-winning work, and media for delivering reach and frequency at a good price, agencies were no longer creating campaigns that really connected with people. There was no one on the core team whose primary driver was to represent the consumer in the process. 

Now the role’s core responsibility was defined, they sought a name. Keeping it simple, they took the “account” from the account director title, and “planning” from the media planning title, and created Account Planning. 

At least this is the story I’ve been telling aspiring planners for years- and I believe it is a close variation of a story my mentor, Justin Holloway, told me, though I fear it has morphed in my mind. Even if it is factually inaccurate, the intent of the story reflects the aspirations for account planning then and remains true today. 

It took 20 years for the practice to cross the pond to the US. Chiat brought the Account Planning to the US in the eighties by way of Jane Newman. And the Jay Chiat awards remind planners of this fact year after year. 

In a 1983 memo Jane wrote to the Guy Day, she explains that Chiat Day’s commitment to relevance and distinctiveness is reflected not only in the work it created but also in how it organized its teams. She proposed adding an account planner to the core Account Team structure so that insights about the audience would be continually front and center. This model continues today in many agencies, though fewer than I would hope. 

It was a simple solution. As any marketer knows, today marketing is not so simple. The proliferation of audience data can often feel overwhelming, irrelevant, and even wrong. So what role does the Brand Planner/Account Planner play today? 

I still believe this model is key, but we need to adapt new skills and embrace hypothesis in order to do the job we are supposed to do – representing the audience at the advertising and marketing table. We must look beyond the numbers in the cells and see the trends. Look for what is not present in the data as much as what is. Reason out the ‘why’ when all we have is the ‘what.’ Relentlessly question if that action, advertisement, or user experience (UX) is right for the people we are seeking out, hoping to build a relationship that is worthwhile for our brand and for them. 

My message is simple. Our business partners may understand the business dynamic more than we do, but marketers must ALWAYS know the audience better than anyone. Champion people and successful business outcomes will follow. 

P.S. I’d love your help. This content hub is meant to capture ideas, aspirations, and real-world examples of marketers managing the delicate balance between building brand and driving leads – usually through digital acquisition tactics. So how are we supposed to do both, if at all? Please, share your thoughts and observations with me. I am only as wise as the crowd around me so please do crowd in.