Coffee with BBDO strategist Omar El Gammal
D: So Omar, you’ve recently made the jump from account handling to planning, any advice you would offer someone wanting to make the same transition?
O: Be persistent. Most people will try to convince you to stay within account management with tempting offers and the promise of moving into planning later. It's not that they have bad intentions – it's just because it's so tough to find/keep talented and dependable people that manage and build a relationship with a client. If you really want to get into planning though, don’t put it off – keep at it and stick to your guns because the right door will open up if you keep looking.
Some people will also tell you that there isn’t a strong demand for planners in the region and that opportunities are scarce and the career ladder is slow. The reality is that more clients are demanding strategic planning and a deeper understanding of consumer insights and market trends. More and more agencies are opening or expanding planning departments as a result. Media conglomerates have already picked up on the need for it and are also evolving their various strategic departments. Planners are going to be in big demand the more savvy consumers get and the more competition tightens. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise should start looking for another industry to work in.
Finally – make sure you're really into planning and not just running from the day-to-day of a client servicing job. If you think planning means you get to do all the fun stuff just without contact reports and cost estimates – you're probably right, but there's a lot more to it than that. Planning is not about being the philosopher and creating fun looking presentations – it's about being able to analyze loads of research and your own observations and pinpoint what really matters to consumers and how that can make your brand more successful. You can make as many colorful presentations, edits and philosophical statements as you want – if they don’t actually lead to better creative that builds business than your role as a planner is useless. If you’re not ready for that, planning is not for you.
D: You seem to have developed a pretty good grasping of exactly what planning is so early on when you’ll find some seniors still struggling with the definition. Why do you think it’s the case?
O: There are different kinds of planners and different agencies have different definitions of what a planner should be. In some places, their role is purely a 'new business' role. In others, planning is just a fancy word for a research department. In some agencies, planners are there to make the creative better. It really depends on what the agency's philosophy is and how management look at the role of planning in the brand building process.
Planning is really what you make of it at this stage in the region as it's still quite a young discipline (here) and it will still evolve further to suit the region and its consumers.
The funny thing is, I'm still learning more and more about 'what planning is' every day. What I know today is mainly from reading and personal experience. It will probably evolve as my experience as a formal planner grows.
The one unshakable truth I'm sure of though is that our responsibility is to better understand our consumers and uncover insights that will build a brands business. If a planner, senior or not, is not about getting brands to connect with consumers and result ultimately in higher sales – than something is very wrong and they should rethink their role.
D: What about future job prospects for planners?
O: Anywhere you find a need to understand and connect with consumers. Design agencies, new product development departments, branding consultancies – anything and everything that needs to communicate with consumers will need to understand consumers. That's why you see in the West, planners have started to find prospects on the client side (Russell Davies for Nike for example).
Whether or not planners will stay in the confines of the ad agency is in the hands of the ad agency itself. If agency managements recognize the opportunity in their clients' needs, than that's where our job prospects are. If not, we'll definitely be in demand elsewhere.
D: Ok so, what worries you enough to keep you up at night and what excites you when it comes to planning?
O: The answer to both those questions is the same: Ideas.
Ideas that I believe in but can’t make others believe in.
Ideas that I fear I won’t end up acting on.
Ideas that don’t mean anything to anyone.
Those are the things that make me worry most.
Likewise, what I love about planning is the challenge to come up with ideas that are original and relevant.
It's almost like I have little voices in my head constantly going off on tangents and getting excited over ideas – some stupid and some not. Yet there's nothing as wonderful as uncovering an insight.
There's a very good article I read recently by Jeremy Bullmore about how a good insight is like a refrigerator – the moment you look into it a light comes on. Love it.
D: So what question would you have asked yourself had you been conducting this interview?
O: That one. No, not really. I guess I would ask 'If you had the chance to get any job in the world right now what would it be?' (a classic lunch break favorite). For me I'd say it's a toss up between a planner at Nike and ditching the rat race to sell tacos & margaritas on the beach.
D: Omar, we know from personal experience that BBDO made one hell of a good decision by bringing you on board, we wish you all the best.
Thanks so much for chatting with us!
O: A pleasure X. Or the blogger formerly known as…