AGENCY MANAGEMENT: So, who needs a planning director?

A new job title is becoming more common in agencies - the planning director. With large salaries on offer, what exactly do these people do? Mary Cowlett investigates.

A quick flick through the rec­ent news and appointments pages of PRWeek shows that the latest must-have for PR agencies is a planning director.

Weber Shandwick hired one in February, swiftly followed by MS&L in May. Meanwhile, Fishburn Hedges and Consolidated Communications are both in the final throes of recruiting for the role and Trimedia has just promoted Katy Cosh to the post in a part-time capacity.

Hill & Knowlton recently raided Ogilvy Interactive for advertising and digital stalwart Candace Kuss who, as planning director, reports to the agency's consumer chief.

To be fair, some industry stalwarts, inc­luding Bell Pottinger, Freud and Porter Novelli, have had dedicated planning functions for many years, but there is still some confusion about the role and what it delivers.

‘What a planning director must not do is take strategy away from account teams,' says Fishburn Hedges MD Fiona Thorne. ‘The reason we are looking to recruit is to develop the planning function internally and bring it right to the forefront.'

She adds that as FH creates bespoke teams for every client, the intention is to help team members crystallise their strategic thinking.

Dominic Payling, planning director at MS&L, says the role should be about providing a constant reminder to colleagues of how they address their stakeholders.

‘I see myself as representing the clients' audiences in the agency,' he says. ‘I am
the person who gathers information, analyses it and then provides the insights that make PR messages more persuasive.'

Weber Shandwick's planning director for EMEA, Leo Rayman, agrees. ‘My job is to make our creative output more insightful and more effective,' he says, ‘whether that involves story planning, choosing the right channels or identifying what motivates particular audiences.'

Currently in the process of building a virtual WS planning network, Rayman is also using planning procedures to meet client expectations.

‘Other marketing disciplines put numbers behind their arguments, but in PR there seems to be this inability to marshal data, which doesn't impress marketing and comms directors,' he says.

In practice, this means Rayman is the person who makes demands of clients; summoning usage and attitude studies, talking with brand tracking experts and listening in on other marketing partners' focus groups.

When backed up by consumer and media consumption trends and, where necessary, bespoke research, this usually results in a one-page creative brief.

No doubt such a rigorous approach helps inform the comms and creative process and provides the coup de grâce in pitches. But what do clients get out of it all?

Shirley Horn is senior director global marketing and comms for the Almond Board of California, which works with Porter Novelli. She says that using a PR firm with a dedicated planning director helps keeps comms proactive.

‘News now travels faster than it takes to make a phone call. We ship to 90 countries, so it really helps us understand how we should be interpreting stories and scientific findings in each of those countries,' she says.

Likewise, Charlie Hiscocks, group director of brand comms at international bre­wer SABMiller, says that having a PR agency with a planning director has helped him structure his thinking around word of mouth and digital comms.

Currently working with Bell Pottinger's Jon Leach, he says: ‘Jon is effectively a thought partner and leader for me in terms of putting together a framework within SABMiller that raises the standard and capabilities of our brand comms around the world.'

He adds that Leach's experience in above-the-line marketing also brings advantages in terms of taking a long-term strategic view and getting beyond the boundaries of PR as simply media
relations.

Obviously, there can be no question of opting out of PR planning. But, with recent job postings offering salaries in the region of £70,000, for many small and medium sized agencies a dedicated planning director can seem a luxury too far.

‘It is a great idea and we have thought about it. But we do not have a planning
director as we do not have enough of the right work to keep them busy,' says Eulogy chief executive Adrian Brady.

He argues that any agency boss who maintains that a planning director is an unacceptable expense for clients and would centralise strategic thinking in one individual, is making excuses.

But adds: ‘I do wish that more advertising and below-the-line marketing planners would get off the sidelines and tell us how if tweaked, their skills could be used more effectively in PR.'

PROFILE OF A PLANNER Mary Baker
Research and planning director, Porter Novelli
2000 to present Planning director, Porter Novelli
1994 Senior planner, Countrywide Public Relations
1990 Research manager, Poulters
1988 Research manager,
Rex Stewart
1984 Research and planning executive, J Walter Thompson

‘My role is to help our clients and account teams get under the skin of the target audience they are looking to reach, so that we understand their motivations, opinions and values.

Mary BakerThis helps us develop ideas that really influence behaviour and generate a bigger impact for clients.

When I first started in research and planning, our focus was always on getting the widest possible exposure for client messages in terms of reach. Now this has shifted to influencing the individuals who can make the most difference to a market, campaign or brand. There has been a real shift from quantity to quality.

One tool we have developed, and of which I am particularly proud, is EuroPN Styles: a panel of consumers that we use to identify trends and attitudes when planning campaigns.

When we set up the first panel it was solely in the UK with a sample size of just 500. Today it has now grown to cover 16,000 consumers across Europe and gives us something unique that we can offer clients.'


PROFILE OF A PLANNER Dominic Payling
Planning director, MS&L
2008 to present Planning director, MS&L
2002 Planning director, Consolidated Communications
2001 Planner, Consolidated Communications
1999 Strategy manager, Consolidated Communications
1998 Retail marketing consultant, Clark Marketing Partners

‘I love my job because I am the sort of person who wants to know about things and understand them. Really, I suppose I am naturally nosy.

Dominic PaylingI like the whole process of finding things out. If that is done through reading reports, so be it; if your data come from real people, so much the better. People are constantly surprising and you cannot know enough about how they think and behave.

This job is about bringing that information to life, for my colleagues and clients. You have to be so selective in what you feed back. It is easy to be overwhelmed with information these days.

Insights have to be genuinely useful and move the task at hand forward; be it a strategic development or a springboard for the creative process. I call this "insight cut-through".

In many ways this is the planner's chance to be creative. If what you produce does not have an immediate, positive impact on decision-making then you are getting in the way.'

DOS AND DON'TS
Do...
-- Look for planners with a strong digital/integrated interest
-- Give them space. Planning works best when given room to think
-- Be prepared to make extra investment in research tools and insight generation
-- Find someone with entrepreneurial spirit and skills to create cultural change
-- Ensure you hire a numerate planner - PR needs to fall much more in love with numbers

Don't...
-- Make planning a profit and loss in the first few years - it creates a barrier to usage by the account teams
-- Hire an introvert planner; it won't lead to sufficient integration with your business
-- Expect immediate results; planners from other disciplines will need to absorb the PR world for the first few months
-- Think that you can turn any bright person into a planner overnight - they need to learn the craft of planning first

Source: Weber Shandwick

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