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Career in account planning

WHAT IS ACCOUNT PLANNING?

Account planning is a particular discipline / approach in advertising. It is about:

- providing an advertising campaign with an important brand-positioning focus that will connect the audience to the brand in some important way.

THE MAIN PARTS OF THE JOB

Research
The account planner must carry out research on the client, the brand, the audience, the market place, the competition, and so on. It involves both quantitative and qualitative research (by and large, the account planner focuses more on qualitative research, and using the results of quantitative data that others have already compiled).

Coming up with ideas
The account planner must figure out a way of coming up with a big marketing idea that will somehow connect the brand in an important way to the audience. There are, broadly-speaking) two main stages or approaches to this. The first is creative-thinking (to come up with the ideas in the first place). And the second is analytical / critical-thinking (at a certain point in time the account planner must decide which ideas to focus and develop, and, finally, whittle those down to just one).

The Creative Brief
The creative brief is a formal document. It is the culmination of 1. ‘research’ and 2. ‘coming up with ideas’. The creative brief must be specific in what the goal of the campaign is. And it should, also, provide insightful background information. The creative brief is communicated to the client, the account manager, as well as the creative team (the creative team’s creative concept must follow or be relevant to the marketing / brand objective as set out in the creative brief).

Strategy
Offering overall strategic advice about the brand (this might involve predictions about the audience, the market place, and so on, and how to plan for this).

WHERE DOES ACCOUNT PLANNING TAKE PLACE?

Account planning was developed by the traditional, creative advertising agencies, and these are the places where account planning, most typically, takes place. Most of these agencies will have a planning department. Account planning, also, takes place in smaller advertising agencies (where there might be just one or two account planners, or in many cases, where account planning is combined with another discipline, i.e account management), in direct marketing agencies, as well as various types of marketing / branding agencies.
With the rise of digital media, account planning has, also, emerged as a core discipline in digital (advertising) agencies. Account planners in digital agencies often go under different job titles such as brand planner or communications planner, and their approach, generally, is more focused on the overall culture of how users interact with, and communicate with each other via, the Internet, mobile phone technology and so on) than account planners in traditional, creative advertising agencies, for example.

WHY WORK IN ACCOUNT PLANNING?

- One day is rarely the same as another (research work, coming up with ideas, strategic-thinking, working with very different kinds of brands, and so on)
- Get to work, closely, with different kinds of people (in particular, copywriters and art directors)
- Account planning can be a platform to a range of other interesting careers (in particular, brand management)

WHAT SKILLS DO YOU NEED?

  • Creative-minded
  • Analytical
  • Strategic-minded
  • Investigative (in research)
  • Inquisitive (inquisitive about specific project as well as about things / zeitgeist in general)
  • Flexible (in work approaches / how to think)
  • Being able to work alone
  • Interested in people / what makes people tick
  • Communicator (written / oral)
  • Being fun / interesting / able to make people laugh ..

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO YOU NEED?

No particular qualification (good, general degree or HND, although degrees in pyschology, the arts, statistics, marketing might be an advantage in some cases – but not by much).
Having an interesting and unusual CV is important – a CV that reflects an interest / knowledge in: marketing, what makes people tick, zeitgeist, culture, creative-thinking, and so on).

SALARY EXPECTATIONS?

Like most entry jobs in advertising: not great. There is a lot of competition for jobs in account planning. But account planning can lead to more promising salary expectations later on in one’s career).

GETTING INTO ACCOUNT PLANNING

ACCOUNT HANDLER (route)

It’s, generally, easier to get into account planning by becoming an account handler first. Your first job could be, entirely, account handling in nature. But with time you could switch to an account handling role where account planning is an important part of the job. And next switch, to a full-time account planning job .. 

ACCOUNT HANDLER, DIRECT (route)

More difficult.
The following, also, applies to one degree or another in finding work in account planning - and more so in a role where account planning could be an important part of the account handling job.

Be interesting
The most important thing is to build up your CV so that you have something interesting to say about yourself. ‘Interesting’ in terms of understanding: people / consumers, zeitgeist / culture, branding / communications, and so on.
So do things such as: work for your local newspaper or radio station, travel, various short arts courses in your free-time, creative-writing, amateur dramatics, going to the theatre, music gigs - anything interesting (and challenging) that gets you mixing with a broad range of people / that gets you thinking in a creative way / that helps you to understand a bit more about the contemporary world around you).

Work experience
Work experience (student paid work / placements) in work areas related to advertising – i.e marketing, PR, sales, journalism, and so on – would be useful. A prerequisite, though, would be to do at least one, work placement in account planning. You can apply for work placements by visiting (advertising) agency websites (HR, as well as, the agency’s blog section) as well as sending in CVs and ringing up.
Don’t forget that a work placement could lead to a full-time job.

CV – looking for work experience (sending in CV, cold, to possible work experience employers)

  • Be relevant. Research, well, the agencies you would like to work for (and tailor each of your CVs, in terms of content and style, to the particular agency you are applying to for for work experience.
  • Stand out from crowd. Make sure your CV stands out from the crowd and is interesting (‘else it will end up, directly, in the bin). Remember that account planning is about being creative-minded (so experiment with a different mix of CVs from safe-ish to more creative / risky).
  • Attention to detail. Get names (check spellings), job titles and so on. Ring up reception, even, if you want to check details.
  • Follow up. Don’t just send in CVs and forget about them. Give employers time to respond. Then ring up (or ring up some and email others). Be polite, not pushy. If the person is not there, then send them an email (or ring again, later on, when they are back).
  • Persevere. Don’t give up (until you have, at least exhausted all avenues).
    If you are applying for a full-time job by sending in CVs cold, then the same principles apply as above (although at this stage you should have some work experience in account planning to talk about on your CV – so your CV should be a bit different, overall, in approach – not just content).

Looking for full-time jobs in account planning

  • Sending in CVs, cold.
    Send in a similar fashion as described in section, above, on CVs. But approach should be a little different as you should have some work experience, by this stage, to discuss (your effort to make an impression shouldn’t be quite as forth-right, compared to your CV when you had no work experience at all – nevertheless you still want to grab their attention in a positive way).
    (Sending CV in for a job vacancy.
    If you’re sending in a CV to a full-time job vacancy then your approach should be a little different than if sending in a CV, cold. When responding to a full-time job vacancy you don’t have to vie so much for attention (because the employer is actively looking for someone). Plus you should have some work experience, by this stage, to discuss (same point as in last paragraph applies here)).
  • Job websites, employment agencies, newspapers and trade magazines. These are all, useful, and a possible way of finding employment. But don’t forget, these channels normally require some full-time experience (at least a year).
  • Networking: face-to-face. Use the work placement as an opportunity for networking (amongst other things, i,e learning about the job ..) and building up contacts (contacts who can help you find a job). Hang out in the sorts of places where advertising people go to after work, and so on.
  • Social networking on the Internet. Try LinkedIn social networking site (and like on all social networking sites, take care over privacy issues). You could, also, set up your own blog (you can make the blog private and use it like a CV if you like – with Google offering a free blog site service www.blogspot.com).

Updated 27 May 2010

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3 Comments

  1. Hi!
    I am looking to get into account handling, I am through an application process and they are asking to tell a good communication idea, can someone help me?

  2. As i am marketing student. Will complete my master course after few month as i want to build my career in advertising world. u r site is so much benfeciaries to me. thanks

  3. Your Blog is very useful and also help me to understand more about Account Planner but would like to know one more thing, did you used the word “above the line and below the line” in the account planning world because I am not sure is this a good word to put into my resume or not.

    Thank you

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