What does a planning manager actually do?

In this feature, we take a look inside the working lives of people whose job titles often warrant the question: 'but what do you actually do?' This week, we speak to Jeremy Lewington, planning manager at PHD.

What do you actually do?

A planning manager’s day-to-day is all explained in the title: planning media and managing expectations. There’s a massive amount of time doing the latter in meetings, on emails, on the phone… Maybe I just love a chat more than the next person, but a planner spends A LOT of their time as a ‘suit’, tapping away at client requests, sending and receiving feedback, and jumping in on all-staffers. If you don’t love the sound of your own voice, you might not love a role in planning.

Client communication is priority number one, two and three. Open lines and direct conversation is so important. Effective communication (whether a planner admits it or not) tends to deliver stronger responses.

You can always tell that your communication has been good when the feedback is, “you answered all our questions,” especially when the answer is not necessarily what the client was expecting. If you’re a planner, you’ve got to be available all the time. To find a way to make communicating easier, we set up WhatsApp groups, sends loads of texts and always call before sending an email.

What do your best and worst days look like?

Better days involve actual planning – it’s just fun. A super collaborative day involves checking in with strategy to make sure your approach makes sense (and doesn’t stink!), going to the investment comrades and checking that you’re not promising more than you can actually afford to, and pulling in some outside brain power for an ideation session – my favourite part of the day.

This is followed by packaging up everyone’s thoughts into a neat PowerPoint for the sell-in. Days spent planning are the best because you’ve literally spent the whole day problem solving and your most out-there wacky idea can even lead you to one of your smartest media solutions.

On the other end is admin days, they hurt! Spots in boxes, pulling reports, formatting and the worst of the worst (for me anyway): setting up a master media schedule. I get it, admin stuff is the ultimate therapeutic relaxation for some, I understand the satisfaction of making things match, but for me it’s nowhere as exciting as a planning day.

What does it take to be a good planner?

Confident client service, communication skills, stamina – all the standard media stuff. But the most important trait for a planner is a drive to “know everything”. Well, as much as you can anyway.

Every strategy is supported with data, found by tonnes of reading and research. Every channel recommendation made is supported with data, found by tonnes of reading and research. Every investment allocation is supported with data, found by tonnes of (wait for it) reading, research and interrogation (something extra on there for you).

Every question hurled at you by the client that’s answered is supported with data, (yes… again) found by tonnes and tonnes of research and reading. Catch the common theme here?

If you want to be good, pick up a book, keep up to date with the trade press and speak to your strategy team more, they’ll point you in the right direction to some great articles that will help drive meaningful conversations with your clients. You’ve got to love to read.

This a massive media cliché phrase, but it’s true: things change overnight. All the time. A willingness to learn will set you up as a decent planner. A passion for learning, however, will set you up as a great planner. Every single recommendation made needs to drive results, and what worked last year may not necessarily work next year – and it’s important that you’re open to that.

Being open in general is crucial. Coming up with clever ideas is one thing, but an even better planner is one that is so collaborative, they’re willing to ‘kill their own babies’ i.e. the clever ideas, and work with the collective smarts to bring forward even cleverer ideas.

You get one good idea after writing out 50 others on a piece of A3; when there’s three or four of you all working on that page of 50, you’ll more often than not find that there are four or five more ideas that will blow you away. If team members aren’t an option, stress test it with someone else who doesn’t work on the same account. If it doesn’t make sense to them, it won’t make sense to consumers.

Last, but not least, good planners (as mentioned before) chat to their clients a lot. Not just about their weekends, their briefs, their campaigns or their ideas; but their business. How do things operate there? What processes are they working through? What are their pain points? And why do they keep on sticking to that channel?

Meaningful conversations about their day-to-day empower planners to drive positive change in more than just their campaigns, but in the way they work with their client.

You might just find a decrease in late night requests if your day-to-day interactions have answered all their run of the mill pressures internally. So give it a try: “What’s your week looking like?”


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