January 26, 2010

5 Reasons Account Planning Needs To Die

As many regular readers of this blog know, I am a former science teacher turned copywriter, turned creative director, turned management bean counter.

Each of my incarnations has a little compartment in my brain. Consequently, I often look at ads like a science geek, or finances like a copywriter. It's very confusing, but it keeps me interested.

As a result of my background, I have a few prejudices. Before we rip into planning, let's get them out on the table:
  • I am highly skeptical of social sciences
  • I am thoroughly tiresome on the question of what is a fact and what is an opinion-masquerading-as-a-fact
  • I am a creative department chauvanist. I believe the creative department makes the advertising and everyone else makes the arrangements.
Now that you know my prejudices, let's get on with subject of today's rant.

I think it's time for account planning to crawl away and die. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Strategy is too important to be left to the strategists. Advertising and brand strategy ought to be done by the smartest people at the agency. I don't care if their titles are art director, billing supervisor, or ceo. The most important thing an agency does is make ads -- and the ads are worthless if the strategy isn't right. In my experience, the ability to synthesize an imaginative strategy is unrelated to job title. It has to do with intelligence. Let the most intelligent people do the strategizing, regardless of their titles.

2. There are no principles. I admit I haven't read many books on planning (or any, for that matter) but in my interviews and conversations with planners I always ask the same question -- what are the principles of account planning?  I never get the same answer twice. All I get is baloney and jargon about branding and engagement and conversations and the voice of the consumer. A discipline with no principles is not a discipline -- it's an amusement.

3. It has encroached on the authority of creative directors.  Although nobody in an ad agency has perfect pitch, one would hope that a creative director would have extraordinary insights into motivating consumers. In many agencies, however, creative directors have become supplicants who need permission from planners. Are there talented planners who are invaluable to some creative directors? Of course. But for the most part, planners are inserting themselves into areas where they have no business going.

4.  Planning has degraded account service. In agencies with large planning departments, account managers have become little more than project managers (see this.) We used to be able to attract talented marketing people to our account services departments because they had substantial strategic responsibilities. Fewer talented marketing people choose to work in an account services department anymore because their strategic responsibilities have been devalued.

5. There is no evidence that it works. Throw out the previous four reasons and we're still left with a compelling reason to get rid of it -- after more than 20 years, there's no evidence that it works. I have seen no reliable studies that indicate that advertising produced with the benefit of planning is any more effective than advertising produced without it. (If you've got some, please send it to me and I promise I'll change my mind.) If clients are to be believed, advertising has actually become less effective in recent years -- in direct correlation with the ascendancy of account planning.
Account planning has done its job. It's helped us wrestle control of consumer insights away from client-side research departments (see this.) Now it's time to move on.

Do we need research and data? Absolutely. Do we need reliable information about consumer behavior? Absolutely. Do we need people who can synthesize insightful strategies? Absolutely. Do we need amateur anthropo-psycho-sociologists? No thank you.

We need a discipline for developing advertising and brand strategy that is...
a) based on recognizable principles
b) not tainted with pseudo-science
d) verifiable
I don't know what that is, but it ain't account planning.

Because this post seems to be generating a lot of intelligent comments, and because I have a real job, I don't have time to do justice to responses today. Please leave your comments and I'll respond  in my post tomorrow.

Note: Unfortunately all the comments from this post were lost along with thousands of others because of a crappy 3rd party commenting program. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What if it is account planning who is left and account serivices dies. Leaving account execs to do the account services part and planning to handle the accoutn director/planning role?