The value of the planner in-house

Planners are often missing from in-house agencies, but adding them can lead to better, more strategic briefs and greater focus on effectiveness


As in-house agencies mature, and the diet of work moves from a focus on efficiency to delivering effectiveness and transformation, new roles and competencies are added. Typically, this begins with the addition of conceptual creative teams and senior creative leadership. Production and account management (or client services) are also added in order to manage the new scope of work.

But as the IHA takes on more and more of the role of the typical external agency, often the last piece of the puzzle to be added is planning. IHALC’s recent IHA Benchmarking Survey found that only 35% of IHAs in the UK and EMEA currently have planning as a discipline while just 22% have a strategy director. Bringing in a senior planner was top of IHA leaders’ list when it came to which roles they wanted to add.

So what can planning bring to an IHA and why do so few have it? Liz Baines, head of planning at The Agency at Specsavers, joined the an episode IHALC’s In-House Life online series, to explore just that (IHALC members can watch a recording here). Here’s what she talked about:

The team
Baines joined Specsavers 18 months ago, having previously been head of planning at Engine. She heads a team of four planners at Specsavers, who work across all 11 countries that the brand operates in and have a mix of brand planning and customer experience skills.

The key differences being in-house
Baines made the point that a planner at an external agency is guided by the scope of work and budget for each client, which determines how their time is spent and on which projects. In-house, it’s typically less of a transactional relationship, which means that planners have much more freedom when it comes to where they direct their attention. Building relationships with marketing and colleagues across the business is vital, as it leads on to being part of conversations and identifying opportunities to bring a planner’s skills to bear where they can be of most use.

Planners are there to ask questions
Briefing is a major challenge for IHAs (as it also is in external agencies). Where planners can add value is in questioning client briefs upfront and trying to get to the heart of the problem to be solved. In many IHAs, marketers may be used to handing out tasks rather than engaging in any debate about why a brief is needed and what it is trying to solve. The presence of planners can engender a culture change, one that it is ultimately aimed at getting to more effective work, saving time by not trying to refine a brief through the creative process.

Planners support the creative development process
As Baines told the podcast, planners help explain how and why the work works, not just what it looks like. Having planners unlocks new ways to look at briefs, which is doubly important in-house when you are working on the same brands all the time. In those IHAs which lack planners, creatives often have to work to marketing briefs, with no-one to translate them into creative ones. Planners turn the marketing brief from the client, which defines the problem in terms of audience and outcome, into a creative brief that uses audience insight, cultural insights and psychological insight to unlock the problem and help the creatives look at how to solve it. For creatives, that should be the springboard for the work that follows.

Planners then also act as the guardian of the idea as it goes through the creative process. They have the theoretical grounding to be able to explain why a particular approach has been taken, removing some of the subjectivity around assessing creative work. The planner acts as a supportive bridge between client and creative, keeping the idea on track and guiding it to the right outcome.

In-house planners bring value to the organisation as a whole
The role of creative strategy is something that all areas of a business can benefit from. Planning brings lateral thinking into the heart of a business, seeking different and better answers to problems.

If you want to bring planning into your IHA, focus on effectiveness
For anyone wanting to bring in planning, but struggling to make the case for it, the best argument to make is around effectiveness. As Baines said, CMOs want to make ads that work and that is the job of a planner – to turn what is a business issue into something that is going to change people’s behaviour. But it’s also important not to overlook the role that planners can play in building an agency culture. By protecting the integrity of the idea and making sure the people who come in and out of contact with that idea along the way understand it and get behind it, and collaborate on it, planners can help build happier teams that work together effectively to achieve a common goal.

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