To be successful as an advertising account planner you'll need to be imaginative, commercially aware and a strategic thinker

In the role of advertising account planner you'll be responsible for creating the communication strategy for advertising campaigns. This includes targeting the right audience, as well as setting the tone and message of the campaign.

You'll be responsible for writing a formal brief and providing the ideal environment for creative development. By combining market data, qualitative research and product knowledge within the brief, you'll ensure the creative team produce innovative ideas that will reach consumers.

Responsibilities

As an account planner, you'll need to:

  • 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

  • Starting 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' experience, this can rise to between £30,000 and £45,000.
  • Senior directors can earn over £70,000, and above £100,000 in some cases.

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.

Depending on the agency you work for, you may occasionally need to attend focus groups in the evening.

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 confidence are expected. The office atmosphere is informal.
  • 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 unless you work for international clients, overnight absences from home and overseas work and travel are uncommon.

Qualifications

Advertising is open to all graduates with a good honours degree or HND. 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 an agency.

Having a postgraduate qualification won't provide you with an advantage at entry level, but may increase your employer's expectations of your progression.

There is 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'll need to show that you have:

  • 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)
  • you can handle working for a number of clients at the same time, identifying specific business needs for each one
  • 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
  • good presentation skills
  • the ability to think strategically
  • numeracy skills
  • the 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 about entering and working in the advertising industry, see the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS). NABS offers career support and advice through mentoring and coaching schemes and other employability initiatives.

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, and vary widely in approach and ethos. They fall into the following categories:

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

Large advertising agencies will have a separate account planning function, whereas in smaller agencies the account planning function is generally part of the management role.

Some large agencies recruit new graduates as trainees directly into this area, while others recruit new graduates to be advertising account executives or advertising account managers, with a view to moving them into account planning after gaining some experience.

If you're interested in working for a large London agency, try approaching them with a targeted CV and cover letter in the October of your final year.

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

The number of interactive agencies has risen, offering 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:

Specialist advertising recruitment agencies, such as Major Players, DNA and Reuben Sinclair, 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.

You'll receive most of your training on the job and may spend time gaining experience and insight into agency work before you take on a client portfolio. Depending on the agency you're with, a more experienced colleague may give you mentoring support during your training period.

You'll learn how to manage information sources and data and how to follow and analyse a brand's performance. From this, you'll become able to use analytical data to develop effective advertising strategies.

Training courses and workshops on a range of subjects, appropriate to your level of experience, can be found through APG - The Home for Planners & Strategists.

Because of the fast-moving nature of the industry, it's essential that you keep refreshing and developing your skills through training and that you stay abreast of current cultural trends.

The following industry bodies offer training programmes designed to meet the needs of your advertising career CPD.

Career prospects

In many agencies you'll work your way up to a planning role from an account executive or account management role.

With the right amount of luck and effort you can expect early responsibility in this industry 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.

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.

The transferable skills gained in your planning role, such as 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.