March 13, 2014

Day 2: On unemployment

I had been unemployed for a rather significant period of time. Not proud nor ashamed of it, it's how things go. But what I came to realize in those moments is that (1) having too much time in your hands can lead you to do stupid things and (2) you must never stop learning your craft.

I am an account planner, before I was unemployed I thought the job was about making presentations and post-rationalize people's behaviours to improve the creative ideas (the advert tweaker end of Stephen King's planning spectrum). After that I started a new business and failed miserably at it. I learned that (1) I cannot do everything myself, (2) the language of business is finance and (3) commercial success is based on a very extensive distribution channel strategy. See how I completely ignored the comms part of marketing? 
Now, how has those experiences influenced my view of advertising and specifically account planning? 
Well, first and foremost, we're not important in the grand scheme of things. We like to think of ourselves as the pillars behind businesses growth, we are not. CFOs see advertising expenditure as a sunk cost of doing business. That's why we are no longer invited to the big boys' meeting, that's why CMOs are kind of relegated in their organizations and that's why we are seen as mere vendors rather than strategic business partners.
Secondly, an account planner job has a twofold nature IMO. 
  1. A planner has the responsability to ensure that anything the agency does for a client responds to their business objective, period. Even if the client's brief is shit or only set comms objetives, the planner has to ask himself/client/suits "what is the commercial objective behind this?". Failing to do that is failing at doing the job. If we set a role of comms like "we want to change people's attitudes towards our brand." we are chasing a unicorn. Research shows that to change attitudes you ought to set some kind of behavioral change (behavior trumps attitudes), therefore the role of comms should follow that straightforward logic. We change people's behaviours to get the client's objectives done.
  2. Stephing King, in his overwhelming wisdom, outlined a scale in which account planners can be measured, Advert Tweakers and Grand Strategist. I strongly believe he's right, planners are either strategist or tacticians. As Dave Trott said in his great book Predatory Thinking: "Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the little pictures that make up the big pictures." A planner ought to set a clear and simple brief, one simple-minded role of comms and a clear, evidence-based way to achieve it. A planner ought to become involved in the creative process but not a creator himself but as a facilitator for the copywriters and art directors.
Why is this called On Unemployment? Because unemployment makes you change your point of reference and evaluate under a different light your actions, your goals and yourself.