Do ad agencies need an Account Planner – Digital?

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A LinkedIn alert about a contact becoming ‘National Head – Account Planning, Digital’ got me thinking and I asked this on Twitter:

As you can see, many believe that the comparison to ‘Account Planning – Radio’ is wrong as the former is just a medium, which ‘Digital’ is not. I agree – ‘digital’ encompasses a far more complex mesh of new media & its various platforms, ever-changing technology, plethora of devices & screens and most importantly, a new mindset. It refers to a whole new way of media consumption by consumers and calls for an understanding how brand communication plays a role. Some client organisations have created a new role – that of a Chief Digital Officer. In my view, the role of a CDO is to rally everyone who is part of the brand team (including the agency teams) to shed old thinking and embrace new media. It maybe a necessity now, when ‘thinking digital’ is still not second nature to all of us. As Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer of Group M says, ‘It is probable that by 2018 no company will have a chief digital officer. In fact many will wonder why it was they ever had one’. Rishad Tobaccowala, Chairman, DigitasLbi and Razorfish says, “CDOs should be the evangelist for ensuring the company remains relevant to changing behaviour. His role is important in the early years of digital to ensure a voice for tomorrow.”

From an agency perspective (be it a specialist media planning agency or a creative one), there is merit in identifying that one person or a team which plays the role of a ‘digital evangelist’. It is common to find a separate media planner for digital – that person maybe ‘more familiar’ and skilled than a traditional media planner who was brought up on traditional media. It is very difficult to find that special, hybrid talent who is well-versed in all forms of media nowadays – be it print, traditional TV scripts and ‘new media’. So it is natural that agencies have an ‘add-on’ approach, as it were – find a digitally savvy talent – be it creative, Account Management, Media or Tech and attach them to a brand team. But willy-nilly it will always end up being just that – an add-on, an after thought. In the long run, it will be detrimental to the agency business and will only make the clients approach several specialist agencies instead of an integrated agency model. I realise that it is easier said than done to develop a team which gets it all – from TV to social media to mobile apps. It may take years to achieve that. But why delay the process by consciously creating silos? I find the concept of a separate planner for Digital most jarring of the lot. A brand is meant to have one strategy and one voice. It’s execution may vary across channels – so you may have copywriters, coders and social media specialists working together as a team. But they work on a single-minded brand strategy and brief. I can’t see why the strategy part has to be split as ‘regular’ and ‘digital’. Your view? Do comment in.

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  1. It makes sense for a digital lead to participate in strategic planning, but a dedicated lead for account planning on digital media doesn’t. It smacks of short-sightedness on the agency’s part, or desperation. In the long term, if a digital specialist is required, it will have to be technologically driven, rather than from a media/planning perspective. This might actually already be the case.

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