What skills does the planner of the future need to have? A tough question for today’s agencies, in which the traditional brand planner often needs to share room at the (client’s) table with CRM strategists, social strategists, content strategists and all the rest of the roles that have popped up over the years.

It’s a question that the Account Planning Group (APG) has tackled in some new research launched at an event in London yesterday. Research lead Shekhar Deshpande, who's also the global planning director at JWT London, interviewed 25 senior planners and ex-planners, and put these findings against an online survey of 300+ APG members. Both groups were asked to rank a series of “planner skills” on a 1-10 scale.

The top skill overall – across all groups – was one of the traditional ones: "Understanding people". Number two? "Defining problems". King and Pollitt would be proud. More broadly, as Deshpande pointed out, the scores between the groups, and across agency types, were “incredibly consistent”, with each skill rated as almost the same level of importance in each case.

These findings will probably resonate with a lot of planners. And they certainly did for me. That’s because, for the last few months, I’ve also been talking to senior strategists around the world as part of some research we have conducted here at WARC.

Our Future of Strategy report, which will be launched in July, is our overview of where we think the planning/strategy role is going in future. And many of the themes touched on in the APG’s skills work – specialisation, fragmentation and the tension between business problems and communications problems – are also reflected in our findings. (Delegates at the Cannes Lions can get a sneak preview of the full results at this session, held at the Palais des Festivals on Thursday 22nd June.)

Both surveys have their gloomy moments, with some planners confessing to dark thoughts about a dystopian future that doesn't involve them. “The agency of the future could be where the only human there is the IT guy doing weekly maintenance of the machines,” Deshpande suggested. But there’s a happier scenario, too. It’s a future where planners maintain their traditional skills and stay open to new ones. This means the CSO of the future is adept at dealing with specialisms. To Deshpande: “You need to work with all of these guys, and really understand what they bring to the table. As you become a manager, you become an orchestrator of other planning skills.”

The APG’s skills findings are going to form the basis for the organisation’s future training courses. And hopefully the WARC report will give the planning community some valuable future guidance, too.

Why agencies have a planner problem This report dives into a study by the 4A's  and LinkedIn around why planners like keeping their options open—and what  agencies can do to retain talent. Get the report