JWT India will double the strength of its planning division in 2018: Tarun Rai, CEO, JWT, South Asia

J Walter Thompson is globally celebrating 50 years of the account planning division that was first set up by Stephen King in 1968

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Feb 7, 2018 8:58 AM

Stephen King believed in the idea of a ‘grand strategist’ and the need for that kind of an account planner who sees all and understands all is greater today than it ever was.

As the J Walter Thompson Group gears up to celebrate and observe 50 years of the account planning division as envisaged by Stephen King, Guy Murphy Chief Strategy Officer, J Walter Thompson Company, says, “The world has become unpredictable and technology remains a wondrous mystery. Change is hard to navigate, so you need people who can take a big picture view though this uncertainty and try and make sense of it. Therefore, the need to have really imaginative strategists has never been greater.”

Therefore, JWT in India will double the strength of its planning division by the end of 2018, said Tarun Rai, CEO, J Walter Thompson South Asia. Rai in fact believes that going forward, the differentiation among agencies will be on the sweet spot that combines strategic planning and creatives.

In the 50 years since King created the division of account planning in agencies by pulling together the media and marketing departments account planning has pervaded many other disciplines beyond advertising. “Celebrities, and countries even, today are managed like they are brands; people think about managing these sectors a strategic account planning kind of way,” says Murphy.

Account planning like other disciplines of the advertising business has also become specialised over years this has also meant that King’s vision of ‘grand strategists’ is very relevant today. “So agencies are having to invest more in planning to get multiple specialists involved. While clients are finding this to be very helpful, the flip side of this is that planning has to keep a sense of big picture. One can easily get lost down the rabbit hole and get obsessed with technology and particularly use of media and you have to manage all the pieces,” observed Murphy. 

King too warned the advertising fraternity about getting lost down the rabbit hole when he memorably said: I believe in fact that the most fundamental scale on which to judge account planners is one that runs from Grand Strategists to Advert Tweakers. And that nowadays there are rather too many agencies whose planners’ skills are much too near the advert-tweaking end of the scale.

This grand strategist who sees the big picture is essentially understanding the consumer, notes Rai. Because brands are communicating to the same customer through different platforms, there is a serious change of that brand essence getting completely diluted by the time it reaches the consumer, says Rai. “With so much fragmentation, it is important for somebody to be the gatekeeper and I believe the planning person is increasingly playing a bigger role in being the gatekeeper of the brand essence,” he further adds.

In a world where the core beliefs about what a brand stands for is becoming more and more amorphous, “account planners have to help brands navigate this complex world and find business opportunities for brands,” observes Rai.

The advertising business has been seeing the rise of a new competitor - the consultancy business. In this ecosystem where consultancy firms are acquiring advertising agencies, competent account planners will give an edge to agencies believes Murphy. “What distinguishes planners from consultants is that planners can inspire execution. And that’s hard. You need to understand the consumer, and know how to brief the creative department is a real skill. And that is not the culture of consultants,” he adds.

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