Junior Planners: Everything I’ve Learned

P1: Working with creatives

Being a Junior Planner is hard. The role of a Planner is by definition, the expert in the room who guides people to do things. In many agencies, the junior role doesn’t exist at all because how can you already be a junior expert?

But if you’re lucky enough to find an agency that trusts you to take on the role, you’re going to make lots of mistakes doing it.

As a young Planner myself, I have found that practical, everyday knowledge is hard to come by. It’s mostly hard-won through mistakes made in the trenches.

That’s why I’ve decided to write down all of the mistakes and the painful lessons I’ve learned from them, to hopefully impart a bit of knowledge for you to bring to work each day. Here’s “Part 1 — Working with Creatives.”

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Mistake № 1: Putting too much pressure on the brief.

Too much has been written about the creative brief. The single thought. Piles of research it takes to get there.

It sent me — a hungry little Planner — on a search for the elusive single thought that blows everybody’s minds.

Sometimes it happens, but most often these kinds of single thoughts are hard to work from.

The Lesson: Aim for clarity above wit.

Briefs should feel like a clear challenge. They find a door worth opening, a path worth lighting.

It sounds counterintuitive, but oftentimes the best briefs feel obvious because they are just so damn true. People always knew your insight in the back of their heads, but they’ve never seen it written down so clearly.

Because it feels inherently true to them, they’ll leave your briefing with a bunch of first-hand creative insight to work from.

Mistake № 2: Wanting credit for thought starters.

Planning itself is a creative process. We come up with creative ideas that get sold all the time. Our natural instinct says we should get credit for those ideas.

The Lesson: Never expect credit.

Credit is for creatives. They get jobs based on awards and books.

The creative process is a fragile endeavor. As one creative put it — “I birth a child every day that’ll just get killed in front of me.”

If they liked your idea enough to put their ass on the line for it, just give it to them.

It’s beautiful to see your ideas and your briefs come to life in the real world. Take silent note of it and be proud that someone invested money to make it. Everyone will know that you had a hand in it.

Mistake № 3: Giving feedback based on client needs.

Planners straddle the world of creativity and business more than any other function in an agency. You’re pulled in two directions. An Associate Planning Director once said, “There are two kinds of Planners: Account Managers’ Planners and Creatives’ Planners.”

From my experience, we sit closer to the Account side in agencies. We participate in statuses, we have direct client feedback, and we partner with Account Managers every single day. You’re at risk of being seen as an Account Manager who Googles stuff. Accordingly, Creatives will become skeptical of your input, just as they are skeptical of Account input.

The Lesson: You’re the voice of the consumer.

If Account Managers are the voice of the client, you’re the voice of the consumer. Offer that. It’s something no one else can offer. Use that to your advantage.

Always have consumer quotes and insights in your pocket. It allows you to be objective and steer work in ways that satisfy both parties. If your feedback is that a consumer wouldn’t get it or like it, it’s unshittable. We work in a business that sells things to consumers. The only feedback that matters is what the consumer will think or do in response to the work.

Mistake № 4: Killing crazy ideas.

Creatives bring stunningly wacky and sometimes offensive ideas. It’ll happen constantly. You’ll feel like your brief birthed something that will go down in history as one of the worst things to ever be made. You’ll feel like it’s your duty to kill it and bury all traces of it.

The Lesson: Let ideas die a natural death.

There are so many checks and balances on creative work — often too many — so if there’s something you think is entirely off, wait a bit and see if someone who gets paid way more than you kills it. They’ve spent years in the business and rake in way more money than you to wear the crown of the contrarian. You’ll get there one day, but you’re not there yet.

Mistake № 5: Packing briefs with statistics.

Ad agencies love being data-driven. It’s how we justify our paychecks. We need to have some sort of data that proves what we’re doing is the right thing to do, so we pack our briefs with it and overwhelm creatives.

The Lesson: Only use powerful statistics.

If you can’t tell someone the stat in the hallway and surprise them with it, opt for words. Your brief should be based on what our President calls “an accumulation of data” — but it doesn’t have to make its way into the brief.

For example, if your target audience over indexes on watching When Harry Met Sally (128%), Along Came Polly (114%), and The Wedding Planner (130%) — just say “they love to kick back and watch guilty pleasure romantic comedies.” It’s more memorable and inspiring.

Mistake № 6: Giving handouts during the briefing.

You did the work. You printed it out. You handed it to them. Seems fine, right?

The Lesson: Never hand out the brief before the briefing.

They’ll flip it over and look at the deliverables and budget and pay no attention to you. Trust me. Wait until you’ve went through the briefing.

And finally…

This is less of a lesson, but more of a thing that we need to constantly remind ourselves: We are lucky to be working in a creative industry. The creative process is one of the most invigorating, awe-inspiring things to be a part of. We’re privileged as planners to spur this process and make ourselves useful along the way.