For those of you who are daily readers of planning blogs HolyCow is probably a very familiar name. It’s the blog of Mark Hancock, Planning Director at Proximity London, one of the best relationship and direct marketing agencies in the UK. Here is an interview where Mark states that blogging has been very useful for planners. Find out why and also find out Mark’s view on account planning.

What is your definition of account planning?

Costin – this is an interesting one as I was about to revist Merry Baskin’s updated version of ‘What is Account Planning?’ that she revised from Sev D’Souza’s draft that we had knocking about at the APG for many years. And then I thought – what if that is largely incorrect – seeing as how things have moved on dramatically in recent times? So I have decided not to do that but to write this without a metaphorical ‘safety net’ as t’were. Here goes…

I think Account Planning is:

  1. The link between human beings and products and services (often seen through the lens of the ‘brand concept’) manifested through ideas.
  2. To be the 3rd member of the creative team.
  3. About synthesizing as much information as may be necessary to fuel and inspire the creative work that dramatizes a product benefit.

What do you think is the main difference between a planner working in an advertising agency and a planner working in a DM agency?

Historically this would have been quite a difference – however I am not so sure that in the UK there are many pure DM agencies still operating. The increasing use of brand film across multi-channel platforms means that most communications these days have a response mechanism attached and therefore perhaps everything is now ‘direct’?

It could even be argued that TV is becoming the new DM through the use of the Press Red mechanism and those ads that make a real difference are those that create a behavior change. The extrapolation would be that there is no difference between advertising and DM and therefore the planner in that sense any longer.

What do you think is the most challenging task of an account planner?

The most challenging task of an account planner is discover real Actionable Human Insights.

Why do you think so many planners have started to blog? Is blogging helpful in any way for a planner?

Blogging has been a godsend for many planners because it means you can test out original thinking and collaborate with like minds from other disciplines before applying it to a clients business. It also means that you have to synthesize and condense your thinking initially, then express complexity in an interesting way – which is the essence of great planning. It does lead one to the conclusion that perhaps the best planners in future may be specialist journalists from defined categories such as a motoring correspondent producing creative briefs for VW or AUDI or BMW – you follow my thinking here.

Why do you think that after almost 40 years since the beginning of account planning, there are still many advertising agencies that have not embraced the discipline? What keeps them from doing it?

If agencies don’t have planners then their demise is imminent I would say and ignorance would the reason.

What is the best advertising book you have ever read? Why do you think it’s the best?

As there is no ‘absolute’ truth – merely a series of possibilities, I feel it would be unwise to pick just one. I am currently re-reading a lot of the old classics – Bernbach, Ogilvy, Lois, Gossage etc where a respect for clients was paramount and the purpose of advertising was to sell through meaning and differentiation – not just image.

This is inherently a good place to return to as I think we have reached a sort of Advertising as ‘Prog Rock’ stage – where there is a real opportunity for change i.e. the communications equivalent of ‘Punk Rock’ – or the arrival in America of the Modernists in the 40s and 50s. We are just getting too carried away with execution and ‘noise’ rather than useful content.

What would you recommend to a young person that wants to start working as an account planner?

Be interesting.
Start a blog and read others.
Do an assignment at Russell Davies online planning school.
Talk to as many people as you can in the industry.
Be persistent.