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Four Things to Look for in Planners Today

Here’s what you need to thrive at your agency, writes Leo Burnett’s Nic Chidiac

A journalist recently asked me what are the skills I look for when recruiting a planner. I told her that I needed a minute to think through my answer. One minute of silence turned into three, and then four — you could imagine how awkward it felt with her microphone in my face. After five minutes, I could think of nothing beyond the trite: “curious, passionate, interested and interesting.” The little dignity I do have held that response back, knowing it would be a complete and utter waste of a reader’s time. I politely apologized and asked her to move onto the next question.

Since then I’ve given her question more thought, and I am now at peace with an answer that may result in only a partial waste of someone’s time.

Here are four things I feel are a little more important for a planner today than they might have been in the past.

The below is void of basis more reliable than my own experience.

From saying a lot with a lot to saying a lot with a little
Probably one of the most overused stats in every planner’s PowerPoint is how a consumer’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to eight and that we should extend consumers the courtesy of being short, pointed and interesting. Though this stat is presented in the context of consumers’ lives, I would argue it has deeper implications in the business world. If we consider the year-on-year increase in instant messaging, emails, calls and meetings, all paired with a reduction in organizational bandwidth inflicted by universal cost-cutting, then being economical with people’s attention to get across a point/argument is more crucial today than ever. Briefs, presentations and especially emails should say more with less, thereby extending to colleagues and clients the very same courtesy we ask of our brands.

From solving problems yourself to solving problems through others
Planners are still masters at framing up a business problem through a behavioral lens. Once upon a time a planner’s ability at problem solving was one of their most important assets. What has changed is that the array of solutions, people and tools available to solve those problems continues to expand. In many instances, the most appropriate solution to a problem may not lie in the planning, media or creative departments. Today, having the humility to recognize that there is someone else who can solve your problem—and having the intelligence to figure out who that might be and how you might direct their energy—is a skill in itself.

From influence through a brief to influence in the world
Gone are the days when planners could live in their heads and the only interaction they would have with the outside world came through a briefing document or a presentation. Planning today is rarely a job done in isolation; with so many different skillsets and stakeholders at the table, planners need to have the capacity to rally support around an integrated experience plan. The ability to stand up, assume responsibility, collaborate, offer direction and influence large groups of people with a diverse range of experiences is an integral part to a modern planner’s arsenal.

From process and systems reliant to flexible and entrepreneurial
Organizations, environments, client-agency relationships and skill requirements have gotten considerably more complex and ambiguous. One of my clients brilliantly summed up the environments we operate in as a “VUCA world” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). The best planners I’ve had the pleasure of working with know how to get stuff done in these environments. They know how to adjust their working styles to suit different environments. Their output and productivity is not contingent on flawless execution of operating processes. They teach themselves new skills without formal training and aim to figure stuff out independent of the luxury of extensive experience. In short, they know how to get shit done.

Oh, and there is also curiosity, passion, being interested and interesting.

Nicolas Chidiac is an SVP, strategy director, at Leo Burnett USA.

The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Leo Burnett Group.