Head of Planning’s Guide to Designing a Department

Argentina and Brazil are known for their star players of Messi and Neymar, whereas Germany is known for a having a world class team that can adapt to the style of play, has a great balance of attackers and defenders who respond to their opponents strengths.

When building a planning department you need to think like a German football coach and take these three key things into account; the agency style of play, balancing your attacking and defending style planners and creatives strong arm.


The power dynamic between planners and creatives will be key when thinking about the type of team you need to build out. I’ve worked at agencies where; strategy leads, strategy has equal weighting to creative and where strategy follows creatives lead.

In all cases, the faster I was able to identify and work with that style the faster we were able to make a valuable impact. This relationship will have been formed over years, so look to the creative and past or current strategy leadership to inform the style.

The type of planners you need will be different too, for the strategy led style you will naturally need people who can drive a process and take more agency account handling responsibility, for equal weighting planners who only specialize in the craft tend to work well, for strategy following creative, planners who have great diplomacy skills and know how to build and cultivate soft power thrive in this environment.


Planners usually excel in either attacking or defending ideas.

Defenders are planners who are great when the idea is formed, they can help defend it and make it come to life in the best possible way, they usually offer the most value later on in the process. Typically Comms Planners excel within this role.

Attackers are great at laying up the idea, they like to think conceptually about the bigger idea and are good at distilling all the research to get creatives on their way; usually a brand planners strength.


All planners will naturally lean one way or the other, there are a lot of midfielders who can both attack and defend. However, in any department you want to make sure that you are balancing between both your attackers and defenders as this gives you chances to adapt to changes in clients and creatives.


Every Creative Director naturally has a strong arm. A type of creative that they naturally like to use. On one side is conceptual, on the other arm is executional. The best partnerships are formed when the attacker or defending planner compliments the creatives strong arm.

There is a murky line where the strategy and conceptual idea without the executions meet. Some Creatives I’ve worked with loves an attacking planner to write the idea up as they prefer to focus on the executions.

On the other side of this, the best planner I ever worked with was a conceptual attacking style planner they were partnered with conceptual level creative teams who they butted heads with and the planner was finally asked to leave the agency.

If you’ve got a conceptual creative, compliment with a defending style planner; an executional creative will relish an attacking style planner.



With senior level talent, the key is an understanding of what your agency style of play is and whether that is what they are looking for. When they talk through case studies listen for how they make their impact. Do they talk through case studies where they were able to use diplomacy to create change or deep research? The biggest turnover is people not gelling with where planning sits at your agency.

Make sure you always have strong leadership in both attacking and defending style play. The biggest change in the last 15 years has been in the growth of defending style planning. There is a lot more variables now in play after the big idea is sold with the increase in channels. Planning is changing rapidly, make sure you have a leader in both areas to help educate and navigate the changes.


There are two places that I find great junior talent; interns and account transfers. Interns are a great junior pipeline, you get to really see their skills before committing to anyone. We made sure that we had two interns a quarter. It is also a good opportunity for senior planners to start managing talent.

The other area which I have had a lot of success with is account executives who are looking to make the move over to planning. There is a real benefit with this as they have an understanding of the creative development process. They also usually have picked up some soft power and diplomacy skills along the way. They will usually signal their intent to move over and I will get them on some small projects for 3 to 6 months working with another planner to see if they are good for a switch.


Planning is often seen as an individual sport, when I made the move to leading a department I made the mistake of just getting the best team of individuals. You naturally look for people with similar skill sets to you, however when I made the biggest impact was when I was able to get a nice balance between the different styles of planners and could adapt to the moves of the agency.

As a fair weather Australian soccer fan, thanks for letting me run with my very loose analogy!

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