Strategy planning is in our DNA: Tarun Rai on JWT celebrating 50 years

Rai, Bindu Sethi and Shaziya Khan of J. Walter Thompson on the brands’ humble beginnings and how the planning discipline came to evolve

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jul 12, 2018 8:56 AM

Years ago, one classic agency showed the face of planning to the world. Ever since then, account planning has developed into a job function that exists not only within the advertising agencies but also in client marketing departments, direct marketing agencies, media independents et al.

Needless to say that J. Walter Thompson’s Stephen King is regarded as the undisputed father of account planning. So as JWT account planning basks in its 50th birthday, exchange4media spoke to Tarun Rai, CEO, J Walter Thompson South Asia; Bindu Sethi, chief strategy officer, J. Walter Thompson India; and Shaziya Khan, SVP & Executive Planning Director, JWT on the humble beginnings, how the planning discipline has come to evolve and what planning really means to them.

As Rai shows us the King’s papers handed over by the King himself, he reminisces, “When I joined the advertising industry at JWT (those days it was called HTA) in 1989, we were the only agency that had such an important role for the strategy planning function. You didn’t hear of any other agency talk about their planning function. For us, strategy planning was in our DNA.” He let out that the team had workshops to help them internalize the Thompson Way of producing great creative work that was rooted in consumer insights and focused on behaviour change, leading to business growth for the brand.

Sethi explains that planning not only plays an integral role in building brands but also in building categories. “Strong brands build strong categories. Brands start revolutions on how people choose to live, eat and love. They persuade consumers to find new behaviour and thought. If Kodak would have viewed the role it played in the lives of people rather than the product it sold, it would have found the eyes to reinvent itself,” she reasons.

Khan decodes the secret for acing it all. “At the heart of planning is how do we build a business, category and brand? We convert the business challenge into a human challenge,” she shares. She cites instances of the diamond category. “India has always been a gold market. J. Walter Thompson, for many decades, created the advertising for the diamond category. It nurtured this category, in close partnership with the client, from something like number 20 in the world to close to the top 3,” she reveals.

Speaking about how the planning arena has revolutionized, Rai points out, “The function has evolved over the years as the environment and the consumer has changed dramatically. With the rapid change we have seen it is more important to understand how the consumer is reacting to this change. On the other hand, there is so much more data on the consumer that is available that a good grip on data analytics is increasingly becoming a core part of the planning function. He reveals that over the years other agencies realized the importance of this function started to devote attention to it and JWT helped by exporting some of our planning talent to other agencies.

Sethi feels that in the creative context a planner’s role is to suggest where creative needs to point the spotlight. “Planning cannot be, should not be seen as an insight provider to creative, that minimises planning and the planner. It is about inventive thinking. Planning in the modern age needs to reveal its own insights. Understand how the changes in the world are changing us as people. And what do ‘changed people’, who are both exhausted and exhilarated with technology, need to live rewarding lives,” she continues.

Khan shares that understanding big data is where planning plays a role. “However, it has to be done from a very human consumer lens. We see that at times people are cold to logic. They require empathy and warmth. It is not just about throwing logic but humanizing it,” she explains.

What is the way ahead as the agency reaches this milestone of 50 years, we ask Rai. He shares that they’re investing in people. “Already JWT has the largest team of planners in the country. And I want this number to double in the next twelve months. We are also diversifying the capability of the Planning function by getting digital and data analytics people into the planning team,” says the CEO with an air of finality.

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