To be successful as an advertising account planner you'll need to be creative, imaginative and skilled at thinking strategically. Work experience will help too

Advertising account planners are responsible for creating the communication strategy for an advertising campaign. This includes targeting the right audience, as well as setting the tone and message of the campaign.

As a planner you'll be responsible for writing the formal brief and providing the ideal environment for creative development.

You'll combine market data, qualitative research and product knowledge within a brief to enable the creative team to produce innovative ideas that will reach consumers.

You could be involved in working with a number of clients at the same time, and will need to identify the specific business needs for each one.

Responsibilities

Working as an account planner you'll:

  • liaise with clients to identify specific business problems and develop ideas;
  • communicate with colleagues within the agency, such as creatives and account managers, in the process of developing a campaign;
  • gain a comprehensive context for advertising strategies by analysing a range of information in great detail, including demographics, socio-economics and the market for the client's product and market share;
  • commission research from outside organisations to inform advertising strategies, using both qualitative methods, such as focus groups and structured interviews, and quantitative methods, such as demographic profiling and questionnaires;
  • run research groups;
  • find an 'angle' on a specific product or service on which to base an advertising campaign;
  • research the product or service to be advertised, which may involve gaining technical or specific knowledge;
  • reconcile the differences between consumers' current perceptions of the brand and the way the client wishes the brand to be perceived;
  • meet the client to learn the background of the brand and advise on possible approaches to the target market;
  • provide the creative team with a clearly defined brief that contains concise information on the product, audience and strategy;
  • present conclusions and ideas to clients and other agency staff;
  • analyse and interpret customer response and sales data to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign.

Salary

  • Salaries vary widely according to the size of the agency, the area of specialisation, geographical location and individual performance, but can range from £18,000 to £22,000.
  • With three to five years of experience salaries can be in the region of £30,000 to £45,000.
  • Senior directors can earn over £70,000.

Freelance work is becoming more common as good planners are highly sought after, but this is more likely for those with a substantial level of agency experience and a good reputation. Re-employment after a career break is increasingly common as employers are more open to considering flexible working options.

Company benefits may include a car allowance, free gym membership, profit sharing, pension and health insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Visiting clients is a regular feature of the job, which often means working extra hours.You'll be expected to work these on top of normal office hours, but it's unlikely that you'll be asked to work weekends or shifts.

In some agencies, focus groups tend to be held in the evenings.

What to expect

  • The demands of adapting to client requirements, meeting deadlines and working creatively mean that the job may be stressful.
  • Smart dress and social confidence are expected. The office atmosphere is informal.
  • Economic recessions affect the advertising industry and redundancies are common.
  • Jobs are widely available. The majority of the larger agencies are in London, but opportunities also exist in other major cities, such as Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester, where large agencies may represent not only regional and local clients, but also national and international clients. Other agencies are based in rural areas within reach of motorways.
  • Large advertising agencies are increasingly international in scope. Many are part of a larger media and communications group, whose parent company may be based in another European country or in the USA.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent, but overnight absences from home and overseas work and travel are uncommon, unless you work for international clients.

Qualifications

Advertising is open to all graduates, and a good honours degree or HND is usually required. Subjects that require a wide base of knowledge and applied research skills, such as psychology and economics, can be an advantage.

Agencies seek a broad diversity of degree backgrounds in their teams, with a particular emphasis on a mix of the arts and sciences. Your personality, skills and having an interest in the way business works are usually more important than your subject of study.

Entry without a degree or HND is unlikely, unless you start in an administrative role and work your way up within the agency.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification will not provide you with an advantage at entry level, but may increase your employer's expectations of your progression.

There's intense competition for the few graduate trainee posts that exist and many are gained through speculative applications. Contact agencies and relevant industry bodies, and network whenever possible to build a list of contacts. For member agencies see the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) Agency List.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a combination of analytical skills, curiosity, and a strong interest in people;
  • creativity and imagination (this is an industry that is receptive to new ideas and new people);
  • shrewd common sense and commercial awareness;
  • strong communication skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team and listening skills when dealing with consumers, clients and colleagues;
  • presentation skills;
  • ability to think strategically;
  • numeracy;
  • ability to work with a range of market and research information;
  • excellent organisational skills and the ability to work under pressure.

Work experience

Previous advertising, marketing or market research experience is highly desirable. Some London agencies offer work experience opportunities. A good starting point when researching which agencies to approach for work experience is the IPA Agency List.

For free specialist careers advice for those seeking to enter advertising, and for those looking to develop their careers within it, see the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS). NABS runs a mentoring scheme and other employability initiatives that can help graduates break into the industry.

Other relevant experience might include publicity work for a student society or involvement in innovative fundraising campaigns for charities.

Employers

Agencies range in size from hundreds of employees to fewer than ten. They vary widely in approach and ethos and fall into the following categories:

  • full-service agencies;
  • media independents;
  • direct marketing agencies.

Large advertising agencies will have a separate account planning function and some recruit new graduates as trainees directly into this area.

Other large agencies recruit new graduates to be advertising account executives or advertising account managers with a view to moving into account planning after gaining some experience.

For posts after graduation, approach agencies with a targeted CV and covering letter, starting in the October of your final year for large London agencies. Also find out how to prepare for interviews.

In smaller agencies, the account planning function is generally part of the management role.

In recent years, much traditional full-service advertising has been taken over by specialist creative and media agencies. The strategic, creative advertising agencies offer a service to clients that follows the entire process of developing and implementing an advertising campaign.

There has also been a growth in the number of interactive agencies, which offer a mix of web design and development, search engine marketing and internet advertising.

Media agencies plan the best way to reach their target audience, arrange for their campaign to appear in the relevant media and then assess its effectiveness. Many agencies, especially smaller ones, buy in services as appropriate.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies.

Professional development

Training varies from agency to agency, but graduate recruits are most often taken into the account management department for their initial training period. This usually provides the broadest view of the different functions of the various departments involved in the advertising cycle.

Training's mainly on the job and time may be spent gaining experience and insight into agency work before you take on a client portfolio. Some agencies provide mentoring support through a more experienced colleague during the training period.

After this initial training you'll move into account planning and receive further training in areas such as:

  • managing information sources and data (quantitative and qualitative research);
  • core research methodologies to follow a brand's performance and relationship with external factors, and using these to identify new strategies;
  • creative empathy in order to be able to translate analytical data into a basis for creatives to develop advertising;
  • communication and presentation skills, for use with colleagues, clients and research groups.

Programmes of courses, appropriate to your level of experience on a range of subjects, can be found through the APG.

Because of the fast-moving nature of the industry, training continues with career development.

The continuing professional development (CPD) accreditation standard for graduates working at IPA member agencies is provided by the IPA which also runs a training programme to meet the needs of key stages during an advertising career.

Courses are also offered on advertising issues in addition to seminars on areas such as emerging technologies.

Training courses are available for new recruits and established account planners seeking CPD from industry bodies such as the:

Career prospects

Planning is not usually the first role that a graduate enters in advertising. In many agencies, experience will initially be gained in account handling or management before new employees are offered a planning role.

In many smaller agencies, the role of advertising account planner is part of the work of an advertising account executive or advertising account manager and it's common for graduates to enter planning work through this route.

Advertising is a meritocratic industry, encouraging excellence and leading to the possibility of early responsibility. Advertising can provide a long-term career, and you can progress your way up through the organisation from a junior planning role to head of planning and senior positions in other areas.

Accomplished account planners are increasingly included in management teams that are setting up their own agencies, and the development of internet commerce has led to further opportunities.

With experience, a good reputation and contacts within the industry, other options might include setting up your own agency or working on a freelance basis.

It's increasingly recognised that communication is a central part of every organisation's strategy, which has led to advertising experience being greatly valued.

The transferable skills gained through working in planning, especially business management, people management and creative thinking, can be applied to many other industries and used in areas such as brand consultancy, qualitative research, communications and broadcasting.