Not only the UK or the US advertising agencies have planning departments. We all know that. But I guess we rarely think about what happens in other countries. Still, for Romanian agencies (and not only for them) it might be more relevant to learn from the experience of those countries who adopted planning later on. What were the problems they had to confront at the beginnings, how is planning seen from their perspective at the moment. This is why after I had talked with Kerstin Foell, Head of Planning at Aimaq Rapp Stolle in Berlin I thought it would be great to share her opinion on things. But before we start, let me introduce Kerstin. She has studied Business Administration at the University of Cologne. During her studies, she fell in love with advertising and attended an evening academy on advertising, since advertising got a raw deal at the university. She began her career at BBDO Düsseldorf as an account executive back in 1996. There she discovered planning (hadn’t heard about it before) and moved to the planning department. At BBDO she has worked on many international projects, especially with AMV BBDO/London. After two and a half years she changed to Rempen & Partner Advertising Agency as Head of Planning & Research. Afterwards, she worked as a freelancer for many different agencies and client companies as well. She joined Aimaq Rapp Stolle, one of the most creative ad agencies in Germany (see to convince yourself), in 2003 as Head of Planning. Last but not least, you should know that Kerstin has just finished writing her doctoral thesis about (hold your breath) “Consumer insight and emotional communication”. It may be one of the few papers ever written on this subject. And you’ll get more details by reading the interview.

The basic question I always ask planners. What is the role of the account planner in an advertising agency?

Basically the planner brings in objectivity and the consumer’s perspective. But his or her role comprises much more: sparring partner, source of inspiration, base of knowledge, conscience, challenger, “bad guy” (the one asking the important bad and critical questions). The planner traces out the “landing place” for communication by taking the consumer, the brand, the competition and the market into account, and takes care that the communication will stay on track right into the mind of the consumer.

What do you think is the most difficult task of the ones the planning department inside an advertising agency must fulfill?

To become accepted, especially by the creative department! The planner is the one who should feed objectivity into the communication development process. Therefore you might have an opinion others within the agency do not share, mostly the creatives who try to protect their ideas, since it may endanger them. In my opinion, a planner has to be sincere and ready to fight for the best solution (as far as he or she is aware of it). Unfortunately, many people (and planners) tend to submit themselves to the (agency) majority and take the line of the least resistance instead of fighting for effective communication. It’s a tightrope walk – you have to convince the creatives without offending sensibilities. A planner shouldn’t be afraid of confrontation and arguing – it’s an important part of his or her job.

There are only a few strategic planners in Romania. Because of this, Romania does not yet have a community of planners. How are things in Germany?

According to the register of members, the German Account Planning Group (apgd) counts 190 members – not all of them are planners and not each and every planner is a member. But it gives you a good impression. In Germany, Planning got introduced in the late 1980s. There has really been a rise of planning since the mid 1990s when I started in advertising. Back then, only the multinational agencies had planning departments, strongly influenced by their UK advertising agencies. Since those agencies were quite successful and had a kind of competitive advantage via this “new” discipline, independent agencies wanted to establish planning as well. Furthermore, many new agencies were founded by people who worked for network agencies before and were familiar with the concept of planning. Planning became more popular and even more and more clients asked for it. (Very few) Universities put it on their curriculum. Today even many of the smaller agencies have a planner working for them, at least a freelancer. To sum it up, the adolescence of planning in Germany took about 10 – 15 years and is still on its way. By the way, the apgd was founded in 1996 (modeled on the APG UK) – that was in the earlier days of German Planning.

My recommendation: go ahead, gather the yet few Romanian planners and give birth to the Romanian APG to support the rise of Planning in your country! With website being the nucleus of it.

I know that you are writing a doctoral thesis about “Consumer Insight und emotionale Kommunikation”. It’s obviously a very challenging subject as the definition of consumer insight has always been a controversial one. Still, planners have their own definitions about consumer insight. Briefly, what is yours?

To me, the controversial – or lacking – definition is really a problem. I think of Consumer Insight as a concept which helps you increase the effectiveness of your communication activities – no, the scope is much broader – your marketing activities. Since it remains unclear, what a Consumer Insight is, it became a tag for many things – and that’s why many people think of it as a buzz word. Mostly the term is used for simple “knowledge about the consumer”, market research data respectively. In my opinion Consumer Insight is much more since it involves a creative process, a new combination of thoughts, ideas, truth about the consumer. The intention behind my doctoral thesis is to lift the clouds around this almost “mystical creature” and to create a solid ground for discussion. So, with this not so brief introduction in mind, here is my definition: Short version: “Knowledge about the consumer + inspiration”. Longer version: a new, illuminating realization about the consumers’ motives referring to a specific category, product or brand.

You’ve got both the experiences: how does planning in a multinational agency differ from planning in an independent agency?

Spontaneously, two things fall into my mind: toolbox and degree of establishment.
In a multinational agency, from the very beginning your planning toolbox is much larger. You can make use of many proven brand tools, studies, collected knowledge etc. In an independent agency you have to be much more creative in finding your own way of doing things since standardized procedures are lacking. That’s not really a disadvantage – maybe you make much more use of your brain cells since you can’t fall back and rely on standardized procedures and methods. It might block your intuitive abilities – and these are extremely important for the detection of Consumer Insight.
When I changed from a multinational agency to several independent ones as a freelancer, I found that in the former planning was more established and accepted since it had grown “naturally” in an international context. In independent agencies I often felt like a missionary. But that was a great task – I really like to fight for my beliefs!

You are a Planning Director and you sometimes recruit planners. What kind of qualities do you look for when hiring a planner?

To me, the most important qualities are definitely curiosity and passion. Planners should have antennae in all directions, be open towards everything, read much, have an urge to discover and to know more. And they should be absolutely dedicated to planning – like you! To me, you seem to have enough passion for ten young planners as it comes across in each line of the emails you’re sending me and the fact that you set up The Planning Director of your agency should keep an eye on you… Self-evidently, there are many more qualities which I look for, such as intuitive skills, analytical skills, speed of thought, empathy, toughness etc. These skills constitute kind of the chassis – passion and curiosity are the engine of the (planner) vehicle. I always found it very hard to discover really good planners which meet all my expectations. I’m convinced that those skills have to be there in the person – you can’t build them. So you have to choose even more carefully.

What is the best book about advertising you have ever read? And why.

I have to admit: I don’t read too many books about advertising since it’s my daily life. I find it much more important to read about other things – there are so much more interesting themes and topics which provide inspiration for my work in advertising… neuroscience, psychology, art, travel, history, culture etc., etc. (remember, antenna is important for a planner). So there isn’t the book about advertising but quite a few that I can recommend:
BERNBACH, B.: (forgot the title, a small brochure by DDB); great quotes, gripping truths about people, advertising, emotion. OGILVY, D.: Confessions of an Ad Man; why: see above. STEEL, J. (1998): Truth, Lies & Advertising: The Art of Account Planning; the “Got milk?”- Case is great, I admire the smart thinking behind it! DRU, J.M. (1996): Disruption; a simple but very effective way of thinking. MORRIS, D. (year?): The Human Zoo; not exactly about advertising but human beings, once recommended by an UK planner while I attended a seminar on creative planning in London – very interesting insights into human nature gained by comparison of humans with animals in a zoo.