Point of View: Planning's genius

John Griffiths
Spring Research

This summer, I fulfilled a long-standing ambition: to interview all the account planners from the pioneering age of account planning. I wanted to know how they had been chosen, how they actually did the job and how account planning thinking has shaped what they did subsequently.

When I launched Planning Above and Beyond with an online presence in 2000, I realised that planning had expanded far beyond its tentative beginnings. There were literally tens of thousands of people calling themselves planners, many of them visiting the website. It was usually clear what they thought planning was. It was less clear how they had acquired their skills and how able they were to influence the quality of work in the communications agencies they worked in.

I am still analysing the 20 interviews I conducted with planners from both JWT and BMP (including two from Pritchard Wood, the agency which preceded BMP). So all I can do is to give you a taster of what I found and what we can learn from what has been christened 'Planning: the first generation' – stretching from the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s. If your impressions of the beginnings of account planning come from reading Stephen King papers, you might get the impression that the planners planned by following 'to-do' lists and processing schematics. They didn't. They worked in a collaborative environment of thoughtfulness, debate and persuasion, inspired by two extraordinary individuals, Stephen King and Stanley Pollitt respectively at JWT and BMP, who my interviewees still speak of with affection and reverence.