Opinion

Managing junior planners means making sure they find their own voice

For junior planners, the most important thing to learn is how to navigate the agency environment. Without a strong director to guide them through the politics, gossip and daunting presentations, they will fall at the first pay grade, argues Julian Cole.

For junior planners, the biggest challenge is finding your voicebox.

Coming head to head with people who have been in the workforce longer than you’ve even been alive is a daunting prospect. Without a strong voicebox that can convince, critique, and control a conversation then you will struggle to grow as a planner.

Everyone has different challenges. For creatives it’s dealing with creative rejection, account is managing multiple personal agendas, for planners their challenge is the expectation that they have a considered point of view which is consistently respected in a room of subjective thoughts.

Confidence is like fertilizer to a growing voicebox, it is the managers role to create an environment where the junior planner can find confidence in their voice.

Be lazy 

The best way for junior planners to find their voice is to use it all the time.

That will require you to become a lazy boss.

Rather than telling them what to do, they will be required from early on to use their voice to tell you how it’s going down and then you adapt from there.

When I started managing, I used to leave account meetings where they would ask for work and sit with the junior and tell them him how we were going to divide and conquer the request and then split the workload equally. This was considerate and saved everyone’s time, but it meant that the planner was not on a fast track to learning.

A couple of years ago, I changed to the lazy approach. I would walk out of meeting with a request for work and I would sit with the junior planner and would ask them: “How do you think we should go about tackling this assignment?”

I got them to work through how they would approach the request. This is an important first step in finding your voice.

Looking at the creative director/ creative team approach is a great example of how it should work. They let the junior team attack the problem first and they bring back their solutions which are then edited by the CD.

Don’t tell them how you want it, let them have a crack first.

Be the lazy boss.

Become Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg has the most guest features on songs of any rapper with 583 songs under his belt. Be like Snoop.

Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg in the California Gurls video

You no longer want to be the main planning act in meetings, your new role is to lend your voice and set up your junior planner in presentations.

You want to say as little as possible, get your junior planner’s voicebox going and owning as much of the planning as possible in meetings. You should get them to speak and only chip in if they are getting hammered on questions or the material is too complex.

At first your account, creative and client team will naturally just want you presenting. “We prefer when you do it, you just know the client so much better”, although this is a nice little ego boost, it is important to try and not do this.

It’s not only important from a growth perspective for the junior planner who will be doing rather than watching but from a financial/job safety point of view its key too. If you have a junior planner on scope and the client or account team cannot see the value that they’re adding they are likely to be cut when scopes will naturally get reduced the following year.

One small tip that I do is that I always try and get the junior planner emailing the client once a week, the best way that I have done this is to get them to send a trend report, so their name stays top of mind.

The other benefit is that you start to gain more weight for planning on the account, when you have two strong planning voices in the room you can help persuade and move people.

Hype

You need to become the #1 fan of the junior planner, especially to the wider agency. Highlight their wins and let everyone know how smart this person is and how lucky we are to have them on our team.

You should never get into talking shit about anyone on your team. Other people will like to have a gossip about them, and maybe point out their weaknesses (e.g nervous presenter, not a clear thinker, no understanding of politics). Don’t get involved, turn the conversations to their positives, or leave it and think how you are going to fix it.

Kill baddies in private

There will come a time when you’re going to need to give negative feedback to the junior planner. The most important thing is, that you do this in private. Make sure you never give feedback in front of other people.

Take them aside and let them know how they could improve for next time or ask them how they would do it differently. Help work through the solution with them as well. E.g If they are a nervous speaker, let them practice in front of you before the next meeting, average looking slides; find a designer or a course who can help them.

Every agency has politics.

Understanding the power dynamics that are at play in a room and the unwritten rules that exist is key to survival as a planner. It is important that the junior planner is paying to attention to not only what is being said, but how is it being delivered by everyone in the meeting.

Julian Cole is a strategy comms expert who has worked in Australia and the US. Sign up to his fortnightly Planning Dirty Newsletter. He shares the best tools and resources for planners.

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