Happy birthday, account planning, may you never go out of style! It is account planning's 50th birthday this year! Or to put it more accurately, it is the account planner’s fiftieth birthday. Yes, there is some discussion around whether it was Stephen King of JWT or Stanley Pollitt of BMP who was the world’s first account planner. But many are content to give the title to both jointly. In fact, they supposedly met in January 1968 for lunch to discuss the importance of consumer responses to advertising, something that both had been thinking about simultaneously and would eventually lead to the creation of an account planning department.
Both were fired by a passion to get advertising right. However, there is no argument that the term ‘account planner’ was born at JWT. Stephen King is known to have pleaded with the JWT management in April 1968, to create a separate department which a few months later in November 1968, would be known as the account planning department.
The name ‘account planning’ itself was coined at a JWT away-day attended by media planners and account people. By the time it moved to North America however, the title morphed into ‘brand planner’ and the more impressive ‘strategic planner’ which is still in vogue today.
Both King and Pollitt came from different backgrounds. JWT was a large organization with a marketing department established in the late 50s, while BMP was the startup of the 60s. I believe at one time, there were as many planners as account managers at BMP then. Many have made false promises to change the ratio of planners to account men, but sadly it has never happened and the promises have got lost in the dust of time.
So how was it born? King joined the JWT London Marketing Department in 1957 and by the early 60s he had become unhappy with the way creative people were being briefed. Which is why he published a short document called the T – Plan which then became after a little resistance the official creative brief for JWT.
Speaking of resistance, the first few account planners did face resistance wherever they were in the world. I remember that when JWT India (then HTA) introduced the discipline in the late 70s there was some caustic criticism that it had to encounter. Largely because it was resented by account people, who saw it stepping on their feet and usurping their own thinking powers. But that was never meant to be.
Clearly there were two schools of thought in the early days of account planning. All-you-need-is-a-good-account-person-and-if-he-works-with-a-planner-it will-be-even-better school of thought. And the other was All-you-need-is-a-good-person-and-besides-I-don’t-like-planners-although-I-haven’t-worked-with-them school of thoughts.
Unfortunately, there were more of the latter than the former those days, although the equation has changed completely over the last 50 years, and planners are now welcomed rather than shunned. But it was not always so. All evolution is a means of dealing with change. And account planning was an inevitable evolution of the advertising agency as we knew it in the 60s. It completed the circle. And created a specialization that both clients and agencies needed.