Wednesday, October 10

Who wants to be a planner?

It is always nice to see I am not the only one looking for my lucky break into planning. It motivates me even more. Thanks no man's blog
via Asi Sharabi

Right. So I'm settled in Grand Union; couldn't ask for more, really. Now its time to reflect back a little, and give some advice to all of you looking to break into planning. I didn't know whether to write just a quick list of tips & advices or to write something more personal and reflective. I'll try to combine the two. For those of you who don't have time for the longer one, here's a quick 8 point version (not in particular order):

  1. Don't go to recruiters/head hunters: they don't see any business in you.
  2. You need a rich parents (or in-laws, or nicely paid flexible job) that will keep you going until you get your first planning job.
  3. Never ever send your CV either by email or post. Even if you've printed it on a purple A3 sheet.
  4. Read read read and read some more. Anything you can put your hands on, particularly planning/branding/advertising blogs.
  5. Start your own blog and document your job hunting experience and creative/strategic development.
  6. Think creative, act creative, live creative. Getting a job as a planner should be your first guerrilla marketing job. Creative pestering is your tactic.
  7. You need a great deal of patience and determination. You need to hang around planning directors long enough until they'll just ask themselves: how is it that we didn't give him/her a job yet?
  8. Head(s) of planning are both very busy and usually don't give a damn about you don't take anything personal.

Now to the longer version, but first, a quick reservation/qualification: I'm a bit of a special case: when I realised that planning is my calling I was what you can easily call : overqualified, under experienced. I was just about to finish my PhD, 31 years old, no relevant experience. Forgot something? Oh yes - I'm a foreigner, and creative agencies are strikingly homogenous (that is, British, white, middle class). So my starting point and the rest of the story are quite personal and subjective. Nevertheless I think there are still some lessons to be learned.

I can't remember exactly how I discovered planning but when I did, it was 5% knowledge of what is planning and 95% very strong intuition that this is the right thing for me to do. It simply felt like a great match and I was religiously convinced that this is what I want to do. But at the same time it's quite challenging to convince someone that you can be very good at something which you don't really have a clue about.

Now, if you're just out of uni, you're young and ruthless and can live with your parents, than go to one of the big agencies graduate schemes and work yourself up. But bare in mind the closing date for applications is February, for a programme that starts the following September. For me it wasn't really an option both time and money wise.

As far as I remember, John's planning above and beyond was my first 'wicket' to planning. A couple of weeks after my planning 'revelation' I crushed on one of the free tap evenings he runs every now and than and this is where I first started to talk with planning directors and kick-started my self-marketing. At the APG they gave me an obvious yet wrong advice to talk to head-hunters. Those I've met were completely blunt and discouraging.

So I decided to go on my own and at that point I was making that utterly stupid mistake of sending my CV to planning directors and realised that its time for something more creative. So I made this file (Download a1.Sharabi.pdf) with a friend, and turned it into a big boxed 96 pieces jigsaw puzzle. Two notions influenced this idea. The first was inspired from Honda's 'hate something-change something' campaign. I really couldn't stand the idea of that dull, lame and boring CV template. The second was the 'age of engagement'- I knew that I needed these people to spend some time with me, not just their random attention. I made15 copies of this and sent it to every head of planning in either a big (JWT) or an extremely desirable (Mother), ad agency. Out of 15, these puzzles got me into 12 meetings (money well spent!), and so I started a frenzy tour in almost every creative agency in town.

So if there's one (quite obvious actually) lesson to be learned is that if you want to get a job in creative agency, than work yourself in creatively. And when it comes to getting your first job, we're still in the age of interruption. Big time.

To make a long story short, after few almost, and same amount of disappointments, I was offered my first 3 weeks placement at WCRS working on a pitch for Strongbow. Unfortunately (back then) they didn't get it and so I moved on to 5 weeks at AMV BBDO.

It takes 'maturation time' and lots of learning to come to grips with the planning craft (I believe it takes at least one year of learning and doing to start being a would-be planner) so observe and absorb and try to get as much experience as possible. As much as I seriously toyed with the idea of hunting down some of these heads of planning and chairmen I met that promised to call tomorrow and never did and than ignored my emails and calls, I now know that I got my job when I was brand/planning-literate enough to convince someone that I am not only talented and nice but also know what the fuck are we talking about here.

So be patient and talk to as many people as you can. Make sure to leave every coffee meeting you get with at least 3 contacts: friends, colleagues, whatever, talk to planners and ask them general and specific questions like what they do, how they became planners and so on (98% of the planners i met were genuinely nice people so you’re in a good company).

Another thing to think of: there are roughly 5 months in a year 'March to July' to try to break into the agencies. There's no one to talk to in August to mid September, then they all need to rest from the summer hols. By the time they've rested and caught-up it's already November and then everyone is trying to get to the end of the year with a tight budget. Then it's x-mass. Then there's x-mass hangover. February is the saddest months of the year. March. Hello, world! Time to go back to full-time (job) hunting.

That dead time and degrading avoidance on behalf of the agencies, can really take you down don't give up. Try to channel this frustration to creativity. Learn the agencies' clients and start writing creative briefs and strategies to real or imaginary brands. Write some crazy (yet thoughtful) presentations to some business or communication problem you observed or read about and send it to the directors. Read Russell's blog and be passive or active student in the planning school of the web. By that time you are, of course, reading campaign every week so you know who won some and who lost some so you know who to keep hounding and who is not the best agency to call right now. Tact and knowledge are really important here.

While at AMV I started to feel that perhaps advertising agency is not exactly where I want to be. Especially in AMV it felt too grown-up and corporate and somewhat archaic. There were too many people there who seriously believed that the 30 sec ad is still the main event. At that point, while still hounding these heads of planning, I started to shop around digital/new media agencies and ended up with job offers from Naked and Grand Union where I am today.

So, to conclude, be resourceful and creative, adopt creative pestering as your most precious trait and read W+K blog every day, even if you hate them for being so effortlessly cool and clever and optimistic one day you'll be there too.

And last but not least, it really helps if you have an amazing partner that reminds you how worthy you are and keeps you sane all the way through the ups and downs. Thanks babe.

*good luck and feel free to email me for more info and advice.

1 comment:

  1. Best of luck and feel free to shout if you need any help.

    ....wind up bird is indeed one of the best books EVER.