Fake it ’til you make it… as a planner

Al CrawfordIn a piece that first appeared in Encore, Clemenger Sydney’s Al Crawford tells us how to do his job.

What does a planner do?

Alongside ‘are you a good and generous lover?’, this is the question that most strikes fear into my heart. I pity the fool that lobs this one at me – generally cab drivers and sympathetic souls that see me looking lonely at barbecues.

The layman’s version: if you’re selling a can of beans and want to advertise, we work out who you should be talking to and what you should be saying to them. And, if you’re lucky, we might even throw in ‘where’ as well. We are also happy to take this devastating expertise and apply it to other categories, such as fridges and toilet paper.

Oh, you’re still here, are you? Well allow me to hit you with the deluxe version.

Originally, we were ‘the voice of the consumer’ doing research groups, mining data and writing briefs that produced more excellent and more relevant ads. But the job’s a lot more varied than that – you have to be a creative fluffer, client whisperer, culture vulture and media maven all rolled into one. We’re like the mixed martial artists of the advertising world except without any of the muscle mass or naked aggression.

What skills do you need to be good at the job?

It’s not really that technical: basic motor functions, an average level of literacy and numeracy, plus fluency in the native tongue, get you quite a long way. Beyond that, it’s as much about character traits as skills. So, in no particular order:

Be nosey. There’s a hair’s breadth between good planners and stalkers. Most good planners, if they weren’t gainfully employed, would probably be the spying next door neighbour twitching their net curtains or the oddball that fossicks in your bin for personal details.

Live as normal a life as possible. Generally, we have grossly inflated salaries and live in gilded cages, but if you lose touch with your average Joe and start acting like Marie Antoinette, then you’re toast.

Be good at communicating. If you are a weird beard-scratching social misfit, it might get you some curiosity value, particularly if you are a woman, but you won’t make the grade.

Be brilliant at simplifying stuff.

Possess a finely tuned, but not debilitating, sense of paranoia that what you’ve come up with is not quite good enough.

Oh, and an uncanny ability to dress either like a dishevelled school teacher or an ill-at-ease teenager.

Is there any lingo we need to know to do the job?

I am only wary of two things in this life: Greeks bearing gifts and planners bandying around lingo. Jargon is generally the refuge of the bullshitter. And, in an industry full of bullshit artists, we have more than our fair share in planning, so I plump for common-or-garden variety English every day of the week. I’ve always thought The Bluffer’s Guide to Marketing’s description of planners as ‘a smart arse who turns your brief into baby talk for the creative department’ is about the most apt.

Who are the people you work closest with?

Probably other planners. Not because we’re an Amish community that only mixes with our own, but because we spend a lot of time in an open plan office, airing our latest thinking with our colleagues before somebody from another department beats the hell out of it. Other than that, it’d be creatives, who regard us as occasionally useful, but mostly annoying. Beyond that, we spend a lot of time with account men, media partners and clients. I think some people have this stereotype of planners as hanging around crunching numbers in a mildewing office somewhere out the back of the agency, but we don’t do that. In fact, we’re hardly ever in our mildewing office at all.

How do you become a planner?

Based on personal experience, start out with a dream; a dream of giving something beautiful back to the world, like writing a book, penning an epic poem or conceiving a groundbreaking piece of conceptual art. Then when that dream dies, revenge yourself on the world by spending a lifetime thinking up new and ever more devious ways of selling people things.

Al Crawford is the executive planning director at Clemenger BBDO, Sydney.


Encore issue 32

This story first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.


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