Creative Planners: the industry’s new X-Men

Whether because of economic circumstances or technological developments, agencies are changing. As we steer into a different genre of advertising, both structures and roles must evolve, says Intermarkets' Siddhartha Banerjee.

It’s a lazy Friday afternoon and, for once, the sun isn't playing its usual game of hide and seek. Instead, it's raining outside - which is very unusual for this time of year. But since the entire world seems to be taking unexpected turns lately, we can't blame Mother Nature for joining in.

Take advertising, for example. All agencies are suddenly suffering. Clients are using the recession to try to reduce fees, and many agencies have made multiple redundancies. Others have enforced pay-cuts and frozen recruitment; essentially everyone is battening down the hatches, pitching like crazy and working hard to maintain their existing clients. And in this turmoil, we will slowly but surely abolish the agency pyramid structure.

The days are numbered for the suits, for creatives who only create spec work, and for planners who fail to think creatively. The latest track from Pet Shop Boys, “Love etc.” aptly epitomizes the future demands of advertising: “You need more…you need more…you need more.” It is a future that will be marked by mutation through integration.

One of my clients once voiced a concern to me about the inability of the agencies he commissioned to fully understand him, his product and the industry operatives specific to them. He felt that account managers lacked the understanding of clients’ business and industry. He further added that he felt it was beneficial to deal with the creative folks directly, since the overheads of management were too high.

I don’t think it is unfair to assume his comments reflect a more widely held opinion in the region. The problem lies in miscommunication through the organizational pyramid of the advertising companies.

To be fair to our ad guys, it's not always an easy task to handle clients, let alone fully understand their problem. Many of them hand over what we term "a brief from hell," which basically states increased sales," or fame for the brand" as a goal. In such a scenario, establishing a good understanding of the client's issues can be daunting (though not impossible). As advertising professionals, what we need to do is be genuinely interested in the business of our clients, so we can forge a lasting and profitable relationship with them.

In practice, I believe the clients' real concerns are that their problems get lost in translation - by planners who fail to convey a client's objective in their creative briefs, and subsequently by the creatives, who draw solutions that don't translate into sales. In both cases, the problem is not with the individuals or the agency, as commonly perceived, but rather it is differences in the way planners and creatives think.

Thanks to the Nobel Prize-winning research led by Roger Sperry, we now know about the left- and right-brain hypothesis. The problem, then, lies in the fact that planners use the left side of the brain (which is logical and analytical), whereas creatives use the right side of their brain (emotional and intuitive). Thus, a conflict of opinions is created. It would be preferable to arrive at a solution using both hemispheres of the brain, for a more holistic approach.

The Evolution

Back to the Pet Shop Boys' lyric, "You need more." We need more out of our planners and creative thinkers. We need to integrate at every level and dismiss the pyramid system; nothing will hamper work in the new economy more than the limitations of hierarchy.

After talking to some friends in the industry, it seems evident to me that people are looking for a change. Professionals are willing to mutate into a new role. One account planner I know says, "Today there's very little product differentiation, leading to tougher battles for market share. In this case, planners come to the rescue. Not the standard, number-crunching planners, but planners who can think creatively." She started her career as an art director, and perfectly exemplifies the crossover breed of the new advertising professional: the creative planner.

Who will these creative planners be? They will be people who understand the creative process, but also people who can think analytically. They understand the client's market and, most importantly, they can provide much-needed insights. They build a springboard for the creatives to leap forward with profitable ideas, rather than just award winning ones.

In my opinion, creative planners will be the X-Men of this industry. And I see the birth of two types: those who come with a strong strategic background, and those who start as creative purists.

Type 1 | The Creative Strategist

This guy brings to the table his knowledge and proficiency in understanding a client. Strategic thinking is definitely a pivotal part of this new role, but at the same time he can creatively interpret data coming from the client, and create a platform for the creative team. He gets a task from the client for which he creates an insightful brief. Then he briefs the creative team, giving them enough meat to create a campaign. The team then gets back to him with the solution, which he evaluates, keeping in mind the client's requirements and also the creative aspect. If satisfied, he presents the work to the client.

This type is suitable to handle brands where planning plays a dominant role, for instance skincare brands, financial companies and automobile brands.

Type 2 | The Strategic Creative

She is infused with creativity. She is a creative director or a senior creative who has upgraded herself into thinking strategically as well. Her prime focus is to design profitable solutions for her client. She takes a task directly from the client, bypassing the suits, writes a brief like a planner, and conceptualizes the idea along with the team before it gets finalized by designers. She then evaluates the work creatively and judges it from the client's perspective. If satisfied, she presents the work to the client.

This type is suitable for brands where creativity plays the central role: for example, mobile phone brands, electronics and apparel.

If you look at these examples carefully, you will notice that they are client specific; each of the two models suits different client groups. So the most effective tactic for an agency would be to assess the client in question and, if possible, to apply the relevant talent.

The only question now is, what will happen to the suits? Well, it's not yet the death of the account managers, since the watchword for the future is integration. They will exist, provided they can embrace the creative planning process in addition to their traditional roles.

The Future Starts Here.

What we have here, of course, is speculation on the way forward for us as agencies. It's evident that clients are getting more demanding and tightening their purse strings, so we as professionals will be challenged for every iota of creative expertise we possess. Meeting this challenge is achievable, but I believe we must all integrate roles, roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.

Ultimately, whether it rains or shines, we must all mutate to survive the new industry climate.

- Siddhartha Banerjee is senior copywriter with Intermarkets Dubai. Via.


Guest's picture

Really interesting! I believe you!

Guest's picture

really insightful - as a suit i hear all your comments about the need to embrace the creative process, role your sleeves up and make your own contribution to ideas that will provide sales/profit for your clients.

I've heard lots of clients asking to bypass the account management role in the last 12 months which i can understand given the costs involved. We (suits) need to ensure that next to the account managements fees on the cost estimates the client sees some real value - mainly that comes from understanding their business better than them. Or at least the parts they have little time to gem up on or take time out to consider.

Interesting times, and it sure is hard, but it's also going to be change for the good i believe. Too many layers, too much paper pushing and jobs for jobs sake both in marketing departments and agencies.

Bring it on!

Guest's picture

Great motivation for new ways of working and thinking - thank you!
I moved across from Creative (after 9 years), to Client Service - mostly from a sense of bordom of only using one side of the brain. You've just reminded me why I wanted to be on the Suit side, and not to lose focus in the paper-pushing tasks.
I'm all for mutations!

Guest's picture

I really enjoyed it!
as a beginner in the advertising world I find it fits with the situation I'm living... at the begining I wanted to be one of the "suits" (totally rational), but now I realise that this is not enough to face a communication problem of a client. I do really think planners have to take part in the creative process, being in the middle until the end (when the idea is presented to the client)... so in my case I try to combine things, sometimes I suit up and other times I just put on my jeans and a pair of converse ;p

bullzeye's picture
Activity Score 252

thanks for the great article Ivan

Guest's picture

Hi Ivan,
great article! I´ve created a course on Norwegian School of Creative Arts ( called Advertising and Brand Communication based on the excact same arguments.

The background were as follows: the best practitioners in advertising is/were the ones who can/could shift between analysis, strategy, and creative work. All the best speechwriters do this (Churchill, Clinton, Obama, etc.). All the best creators do this (Bill Bernbach, James Webb Young, Ogilvy, etc). The interesting thing is that they all were trained in rhetorics, the basics for learning the art of persuation.

Creators today is nothing less than speechwriters for brands. By learning how to find good arguments and later polish them to create awareness you can become like the best!

I´ve studied over 5000 different advertisement expressions - many of them from adsoftheworld (thank you for this excellent site, Ivan). And I´ve found a rhetoric pattern in creative advertising products. I´ve not come very far in my blogging yet, but if you visit me at, I will show how to recognize the patterns (homograph, metaphor, simile, antimetabole etc.).

The blog is bi-langual, since I´m norwegian, but if I get a lot of traffic I might take the effort to just write in english/norwenglish :)

Stian Rønvåg

ivan's picture

Very very nice project. You should write a book about this. Don't give up.

Guest's picture

This is a great article, but I can't help thinking why hasn't this been happening already?

I joined my agency as an Account Director (suit) about a year ago, having worked for many years at a small niche agency (who didn't have any of the typical roles you find in ad land). My role there started in a creative capacity, and I then moved into client management. What stunned me when I arrived at my current (large) agency were the imaginary walls where people's roles stopped and started.

I would argue that it's the role of the suit to have this strategic and creative thinking ability, and apply it to their client's businesses everyday. I often witness a suit sending something to the client which has been signed off creatively, but they know it can be better. The first time I provided 'creative feedback to a designer (given my knowledge of the brand and the client, and previous creative experience) I was met with "It's not your job to comment on the creative", and when taking it up with the Creative Director, he agreed with my points. The same has happened from a strategic point of view.

I see the suit as being a key role, but that suits should be better at thinking like planners and creatives. The suit should be the client's voice in the agency. They must have a deep understanding of their client's business, and review work critically with the client's needs in mind. The suit should not just be an organiser of people and tasks, but be the conduit by which the client and agency connect in a seamless fashion. We all know, what happens behind the scenes can be hectic, but we want the client to see us as highly competent technicians.

For me, the suit needs to be a jack of all trades, and a great 'people person'. They should be able to recognise sound strategy and strong creative, and be allowed to provide feedback, based on their intimate understanding of their client. This makes them hugely valuable to both the client and the agency.

Any suits who don't do this are an expensive overhead and shouldn't have been getting away with it until now!

I think because I haven't come up through the agency in a traditional manner, these inefficiencies stick out like a sore thumb for me. In summary, I totally agree with what you're saying, but surely the creative strategist and the strategic creative roles should already be being filled by a talented suit?

Guest's picture

Don't you gotta love the creative who tells the suit it's not their job to comment on the creative. If the suit has done their job they are close to the client; they should understand the brand inside out; they should have developed or co-authored the brief. So the notion that it's not their job to comment on creative is absurd and in my experience usually comes from creatives who are overly protective of their ideas ( usually because they don't come easily). The best creatives listen, interpret and find fresh answers. The best creatives are prolific at generating ideas and provided intelligent insight is being delivered work to get the best idea possible. The worst craft average ideas needlessly and then protect their polished turd regardless of how wrong headed it is.

Guest's picture

Maybe the future in Dubai looks like that but I haven't learned anything from this. I find it a rather old fashioned way of thinking. I guess Dubai has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world. Keep trying.

Guest's picture


Totally agree with you a hundred and one percent! Having worked across various continents, agencies here are very old fashioned in their thinking - in the past clients were o.k. with our system of learning but now "operational efficiencies" are forcing agencies to rethink their models. The current market scenario is making everyone efficient - from shopping, to work, to marketing - all areas - where there is abundance (in our case advertising money) we do not need to optimise and be efficient - we can get away with things and client wouldnt really notice it. Today this is different.

I strongly believe that CS are the backbone and everyone else around them are support functions - CS needs to understand the clients business, the operating enviroment, Planners need to understand Consumers, Creatives bring all that to life to solve the issues. When one of the above parties is not equally/efficiently operating then we have a problem. CS take care of the brand and its direction, Planners that its relevant to the consumers and Creative package all that and bring it to life. Obviously im not stating that there will not be spill over on all sides.

We need to catch up and guess what - if we dont, we're out - very simple and straight forward. The agency world is going through a clean up now - spring cleaning.

Many people are probably thinking - but the clients are also of not much help - here I agree. What we also need to do is to educate them - we are need to reposition ourselves to be "marketing advisors" as opposed to "account managers" - we need to consult the client on the wider business and offer him solutions that might be totally unrelated to advertising. For example I had a big client come to me and talk to me about their problems one day over drinks - my solution was related to distribution - THAT WAS HIS ISSUE - yes I could have convienced him to run an ad campaign and given him short term growth but actually this would not solve his issue - now if he is smart he would trust me the next time he had an issue and I advised him to run a campaign :-)



Guest's picture

Let’s talk about where this article is coming from…

I liked Siddhartha’s cliché “As advertising professionals, what we need to do is be genuinely interested in the business of our clients, so we can forge a lasting and profitable relationship with them.” Nevertheless, Intermarkets lost ALL its main clients in 2008, well before the economic crisis that started hitting Gulf States only by the end of the year.

Strange that the article is all about planners’ participation in creative process while Intermarkets always relied on “hope it hits his eye” approach in its creative. So Mr. Siddhartha thankfully has got some tiny rest of imagination to talk about a problem that never existed in his professional world.

To add to the joke, Intermarkets has never had real Creative Director! Most of its so-called creative directors were survivors, industry expelled or showpieces. The actual one was promoted from joblessness in Beirut to Creative Director in Dubai. As stupid as it sounds! But to be fair with him, he could stand as an Art Director in Saudi Arabia for a while.

In Intermarkets, where Siddhartha calls for the suits to participate in creative, the real creative call has been always the suit guys one. The fun is that he wants more of this.

Creative planning, a problem that’s debunked with flatulence by a writer who wants to shift to planning without using his portfolio.

Those who can, do. And those who can’t, shift.

Intermarkets ex-employee

Guest's picture

I absolutely agree with each word said by the last guest (Ex Intermarkets employee).

To be more accurate, the creative director, G. K., which they could easily replace by a drum or any eve none musical instrument in the office, is still in masked joblessness.

The suit guys who were taking the call most of the other times, Mr. H. to name one, are spread around the Middl East waiting for someone with hollow optimism to pick them up.

The key person to destroy the esteemed name of Intermarkets in Dubai was its CEO, M. R., who somehow believes he's the Middle Easter David Ogilvy - well, a very much Middle Eastern version with totally different story that he found himself eventually venturing in fast food then retiredness.

It is funny indeed that parrots of this agency talk about a subject that's still fledging in the west while they sink till their knees in the mud of their own failure.

Ex Intermarkets client