Account planning is no rocket science
It is no rocket science in the sense that it is not complicated. There is no certification required like the ones that doctors do, nor does a planner need to have specialised narrow ‘expertise’ like an actual rocket scientist might need. A role of a planner is rather that of a ‘generalist’ in that sense. Any human being with enough common sense and intellect to ask the right questions, can be a successful planner in advertising. He/ she needs to be a quick learner and an effective applier of learned processes and perspectives. That is one of the most beautiful aspects of being a planner. A planner is forever learning new things. He cross pollinates ideas from various new insights and learnings and conversations. He is alive with possibilities and perspectives. He is human. He is involved in a productive convivial exercise among equals. Ivan Illich would have admired (well, actually hated) this profession.
Account planning as Role playing
Expertise based professions tend to get to play a 2D role – that of a ‘doctor’ or an ‘engineer’ or whatever. The doctor is made to wear the robe of ethicality and seriousness. The patient becomes an idiot who must blindly follow the instructions. There is that bit of blind faith involved in the institutionalised expertise, which is systemically harmful. (Read Counterproductivity as defined by Illich) The whole expertise-based system dehumanises the practitioner and the recipient of its practice.
Account planners in that sense do not play any role while interacting with their colleagues or clients. They instead have to be really ‘present’ there and react honestly to creative ideas and strategic choices. There is an inward and active reflection and outward attempt at articulation. Both acts very real.
However, the planner gets to play a thousand ‘roles’ when he is sitting by himself trying to craft a brief. For him/her to figure out the exact emotional need, the exact insight for a campaign, he has to relive the life of another person – vicariously through an earlier market research, through a novel, through memories of interactions with people earlier, through walking the streets as a observant shell of an individual…
It is an enriching experience not just from a professional, but a philosophical perspective. A planner gets to see through many eyes, if only for a small while.
A moral choice
A doctor and an engineer are much more consequential to actual people, rather than the system. They directly help improve/ ruin lives of people. Planners on the other hand, have a consequential role in the systemic machine rather than the direct lives of actual people.
The globalised system is perverse in a sense: it dehumanises jobs that are essential for humanity and humanises jobs that are inessential (to humanity). Money is no longer in serving people, but in serving the ‘system’.
Overall, the moral choice when choosing planning as a profession is that between – ‘individual fulfillment’ v/s ‘being useful to people directly’. Most good planners tend to be aware of this trade-off and hence (to compensate) become the moral compass of advertising agencies, mostly. (So a planner tries to influence the creative work towards not just being more effective but also being morally responsible.)
A planner is involved in devising ways to massage the malleable minds of consumers on behalf of the consumerist system. Knowing this puts a responsibility on us: We must contribute to positive cultures, not the negative doubt-inducing cultures. Our ideas must ‘incept’ culture that makes people more aware, more inquisitive about the context, the status quo. Our ideas mustn’t incept culture that makes people duller, degenerating in their own bubbles. It is our moral responsibility to be clear ourselves about the choices we are introducing in people’s lives – are they confounding or empowering? are they useful or trivial?