Account Planning/Research in Advertising
Account planning, an import from British advertising agencies, is a relatively new discipline in the United States. Most of the larger agencies and many of the smaller ones have embraced it. Account planning uses qualitative research to determine why consumers behave the way they do. Planners function as the voice of the consumer within the agency, and their main goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the way consumers react to their clients' product or service. Planners burrow into the consumer's mind, plumbing for insights about the product, its position and competition, and research is their tool. They live with the brand and its consumers. The insights they gain are considered the target market's psychographics - their attitudes, opinions and values. These consumer psychographics help copywriters and art directors create more effective advertising.
To obtain their insights, account planners visit with customers, conduct focus groups and telephone interviews and observe current and potential customers interacting with the clients' product or service. "Interviewing is an art form in search of a deeper truth," said Pen Pendleton, senior vice president for account planning at Rubin Postaer and Associates. "The most brilliantly conceived marketing plan is nothing if the copywriter or art director can't make an ad. Account planners generally work alone and are as curious as hell. You have to be to uncover the gold nuggets that are buried in consumers' minds." Typically about 40 percent of an account planner's time is spent on new business pitches, since demonstrating a firm understanding of the potential client's target market is a critical step in gaining credibility and, hopefully, the business. A love of ads, determination, curiosity and a continuing desire to challenge conventional wisdom are the requisites for the job.
The flip side of account planning is quantitative research. In the larger agencies, the functions of account planning and quantitative research are divided. In many agencies, however, account planning incorporates both qualitative and quantitative research. The goal of quantitative research is to determine the "facts" of consumers and their behavior. Using sophisticated techniques, researchers determine demographics (such things as age, gender, occupation, education), purchase and usage patterns, brand and advertising awareness and other issues that are crucial to understanding the consumer and making ads. Strong analytical skills are a plus for a researcher. Successful account planners and researchers possess not only a love of advertising, but also inquisitiveness and a somewhat "cynical" eye towards what they see. Put more simply, they aren't so quick to take what they see at face value - their curiosity about human nature motivates them to look deeper. Researchers and planners are able to step outside of their own skin to get a better understanding of the clients' target market, and understand how advertising can really work to influence their attitudes and behavior.
Depending on experience, salaries range from $30,000-$35,000 for entry-level jobs to $160,000 for a department head. The workweek can reach 60 hours a week, depending on client deadlines.