The following is a guide for Planning Directors on how best to manage Junior Planners.
For Junior Planners, the biggest challenge is finding your voicebox.
Coming head to head with people who have been in the workforce longer than you’ve even been alive is a daunting prospect. Without a strong voicebox that can convince, critique, and control a conversation then you will struggle to grow as a planner.
Everyone has different challenges. For creatives it’s dealing with creative rejection, account is managing multiple personal agendas, for planners their challenge is the expectation that they have a considered point of view which is consistently respected in a room of subjective thoughts.
Confidence is like fertilizer to a growing voicebox, it is the managers role to create an environment where the junior planner can find confidence in their voice.
I’ve broken the guide into ten sections related to managing:
- Type of relationship
- Meetings and presentations
- Area expertise
- Negative feedback
- Agency politics
- Weekly 1-1s
At a broad level there are two types of relationships you will have with junior planners; direct and indirect. Direct are like family, they will work under you on the same client and interacting with them everyday.
The other style is indirect they’re your neighbors, you probably sit in the same hood but you work on different clients, you see what they’re doing from a distance and act in more of a mentorship role.
These require nuanced approaches but use a lot of the same fundamental building blocks. I will explain the direct relationship first and then talk about the nuances for indirect.
The best way for junior planners to find their voice is to use it all the time.
That will require you to become a lazy boss.
Rather than telling them what to do, they will be required from early on to use their voice to tell you how it’s going down and then you adapt from there.
When I started managing, I used to leave account meetings where they would ask for work and sit with the junior and tell them him how we were going to divide and conquer the request and then split the workload equally. This was considerate and saved everyone’s time but it meant that the planner was not on a fast track to learning.
A couple of years ago, I changed to the lazy approach. I would walk out of meeting with a request for work and I would sit with the junior planner and would ask them; “How do you think we should go about tackling this assignment?”
I got them to work through how they would approach the request. This is an important first step in finding your voice.
Looking at the Creative Director/Creative team approach is a great example of how it should work. They let the junior team attack the problem first and they bring back their solutions which are then edited by the CD.
This helped me develop my approach to work too. For instance on a project we agreed that we would spend 2 days looking for insights into the brief. I told the junior to have a crack and bring back a bunch of insights that could inform the brief after 24 hours. Then we would review them together. This allowed them the first go at describing their insights and why they were so vital.
This should apply to everything. Give them the first go at creating the presentation or the framework, all this is time permitting but you should be trying to do this as much as possible.
Don’t tell them how you want it, let them have a crack first.
Be the lazy boss.
Snoop Dogg has the most guest features on songs of any rapper with 583 songs under his belt. Be like Snoop.
You no longer want to be the main planning act in meetings, your new role is to lend your voice and set up your junior planner in presentations.
You want to say as little as possible, get your junior planner’s voicebox going and owning as much of the planning as possible in meetings. You should get them to speak and only chip in if they are getting hammered on questions or the material is too complex.
At first your account, creative and client team will naturally just want you presenting. “We prefer when you do it, you just know the client so much better”, although this is a nice little ego boost, it is important to try and not do this.
It’s not only important from a growth perspective for the junior planner who will be doing rather than watching but from a financial/job safety point of view its key too. If you have a junior planner on scope and the client or account team cannot see the value that they’re adding they are likely to be cut when scopes will naturally get reduced the following year.
One small tip that I do is that I always try and get the junior planner emailing the client once a week, the best way that I have done this is to get them to send a trend report, so there name stays top of mind.
The other benefit is that you start to gain more weight for planning on the account, when you have two strong planning voices in the room you can help persuade and move people.
The other thing that you should be looking for is an area where the junior planner can have an area of expertise. You need to find ways that they can step out of your shadow and own something, give them reasons for the account and creative team to search them out. One way this can come about is by doing participation projects for the Planning Department.
We used the BBDO Comms Planning blog as a great ground to get planners to do free thinking and honing an expertise. Brian Brydon became the king of measurement, producing a number of articles on the subject (check out his one on creative testing). Diving deep on the subject and really helping to explain it to the rest of the team.
You can then get people to take this further and create a whitepapers, we had James Mullally and Alysha Lalji created the About Face Whitepaper, Jordan Weil and Ali Goldsmith Banner Beater, Nicole Landesman and Project ThumbBreaker. All helped elevate the department internally and externally.
You need to become the #1 fan of the junior planner, especially to the wider agency. Highlight their wins and let everyone know how smart this person is and how lucky we are to have them on our team.
You should never get into talking shit about anyone on your team. Other people will like to have a gossip about them and maybe point out their weaknesses (e.g nervous presenter, not a clear thinker, no understanding of politics) don’t get involved, turn the conversations to their positives or leave it and think how you are going to fix it.
Most managers hate giving reviews as it is usually tied to money which you probably don’t have too much control over. However if you can get them happening regularly and set the expectation that they are not tied to money (harder done than said) then you are in a good position.
At the start of a planners career they will want more contact than less, some of the best managers do 3/6/12 month reviews. This is usually a single piece of paper; with what they’re doing well, what they’re going to work on and where they could improve.
For the 12 month review your agency may have a template of how they want to review talent. However if they dont, the one that I use is the 3 P’s; Performance, Peer Review, and Participation.
Performance – What work has gone live that they worked on and where are their fingerprints on that work, what did they do?
Peer Review – What does the rest of the team think of them? if they are direct you should have a good idea how account and creative feel about them however indirect will require you to go and have quick interviews with these different stakeholders.
Participation – What are they doing to make the department better? This was specific to what I look for, I would be looking to see if they created an internal document that the whole department could use or if they had helped elevate the department through whitepapers (referenced in the Area Expertise section)
I look for someone who is killing it in all these areas, I have included an example of a review.
At the start of your career, your more likely to get lots of smaller promotion bumps than one large one. As the awesome manager that you are (or going to be) it should be a given that your junior talent is a gun and will be up for these promotion sooner rather than later.
A great manager will play a key role in helping guide a planner through these. You can help in two ways advocating and guidance.
As a senior planner in your department, your word comes with a lot of weight. Vouching for this individual and constantly putting them on your CSO radar is critical. Make sure you are sending through great work of theirs or compliments from other departments (casually or formally).
You may even be required to do some backroom dealings, gathering senior level supporters behind the scenes and getting them to chat with the CSO.
You should understand how money is distributed through the agency and help the junior planner to understand this. E.g Is there a certain time of year that people get money or does it happen after new business wins?
Once you have explained this to the planner then you need to help them build their case. Get them to put time on with the CSO and help them craft their story of how they are going to go about asking for a promotion.
There will come a time when you’re going to need to give negative feedback to the junior planner. The most important thing is, that you do this in private. Make sure you never give feedback in front of other people.
Take them aside and let them know how they could improve for next time or ask them how they would do it differently. Help work through the solution with them as well. E.g If they are a nervous speaker, let them practice in front of you before the next meeting, average looking slides; find a designer or a course who can help them.
Every agency has politics.
Understanding the power dynamics that are at play in a room and the unwritten rules that exsist is key to survival as a planner. It is important that the junior planner is paying to attention to not only what is being said but how is it being delievered by everyone in the meeting.
A great tip that I learnt from Nicole Landesman is to get the junior planner to take down notes on how information was delievered in meetings what they liked and what they thought worked well. E.g.: They might note how the key account lead, had some hard feedback but made it feel natural to the conversation by building it on to what the creative director had just said rather than starting the conversation with the hard feedback.
Consistent contact is key to a healthy relationship. The best way to do this is a half hour recurring meeting.
This is a chance to be a weekly sounding board and just listen to them. It’s their time and not a time for your extra requests. 1-1’s also help to track patterns in health of the employee. Through these you should be able to get early warning signs when someone is not happy so you can course adjust before they start looking for other jobs. It’s more expensive to get people to stay then it is keep them happy.
For direct reports 1-1s may feel like you are always talking to this person but this is a good time for them to bring up bigger things, like career mapping or promotions. So keep this time.
For indirect you will probably not have much formal contact with them so it is key that you keep a time that is for them every week. They may use the time to just recap what they are doing, show you work, complain about other staff, ask how you would approach a situation. Even if it feels useless to you, it is important for them. Having the consistent time is key.
A small tip; plan them at the start of the week so if you do have to miss it, you can reschedule for later that week.
Just dont miss them.
More Management Advice Please
This is some hot takes that I have on managing planners. If you are interested in learning more about managing, I highly recommend you check out the professionals at Manager Tools (podcast/book). Start with Manager Tools Basics podcast, it’s golden!
I also created this advice guide for Day 1 Planners that you could send through to your junior planner.
If you have any gems that you have found useful to helping planners grow, I would love to hear them!
Great background photos come from Max Pinckers
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