Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2012

A penguin from Madagascar

A day in the life of a strategic planner.

I am a strategic planner. I said that proudly the day I was made one in 2005. Although I wasn’t sure what it actually meant, it sounded cool. It still does. I still show off my designation, but now the only people I manage to impress are students, bankers and maybe my family. However, for people who know what being a planner means, this is no less than being one of the penguins of Madagascar – they are the most unreliable creatures, they live in their own world and most of their plans fail. But then, at the end they are the ones who save the day – almost.

The most difficult part in a planner’s life is to explain what he does. I am still trying to figure out what I do (but then so is everyone else in the industry) because to be honest all I do is think about either non-work related stuff or my next travel destination. But the beauty of this job is the more you think and look, the more productive you become. The idea is to consume whatever you come across and magically your planning is done; all you need to do is keep it relevant. Yes, we consume everything, especially time.

To make matters more interesting, I work in activation, which most of you still refer to as BTL and a few of my clients even call us vendors. A planner’s job in activation is no different from that of a planner in a different advertising discipline; we even have to develop campaigns based on ‘imaginative’ insights backed by researched ‘assumptions’.

My day usually starts early at 11:00 a.m. (when I am not off on my quarterly vacation). The first person I meet and greet is the most important person in the office. He knows everyone, knows all our company secrets and he is the only one who personally meets all my clients and serves them tea. He is my office boy. Office boys are integral to agencies. He is the one we all use as a perfect example when we talk about the ‘masses’. If we need to do a brand analysis we ask him to run down and buy it and he keeps the smooth flow of chai going even if we are working past midnight. Next, I meet my laptop, the second most important part of my life after my phone. I check Facebook, Twitter and all the other ‘creative’ platforms.

We planners are curious by nature so we need a couple of hours to ourselves to read random stuff, which can vary from The Sun to Harvard handouts. Being an activation planner gives us the added responsibility of keeping an eye on activation campaigns and not just TVCs on YouTube. As a result we need to read more as there is not much on YouTube apart from flashmobs.

Although most people would still say I am young, especially given my dress sense and the way I look, I do have people younger than me on my team who, by now, are usually ready with a brief. This is the time when I switch off the technology. This is the most fun time for any planner. We play with the briefs – criticise objectives, laugh at the target group description, completely ignore budgets and think wild. There would be no fun or even great work if we stopped challenging briefs. Some might say we challenge just out of fun, but in reality most of the time activation teams are a bit more experienced about on-ground events than the assistant brand managers, if not the brand managers. Once my team has got the direction, we involve the operations team and we conduct our pre-production meeting where all our wild and over ambitious ideas are killed in the name of reality check. Eventually, we simply say:

“You are the experts. How can we do it?” and surprisingly the ideas killed earlier now have multiple solutions.

The meeting is adjourned and we start work on PowerPoint when suddenly… wait!

A client wants to meet ‘now’ about the activation proposal we put together within 24 hours and emailed to them urgently two weeks ago and within 15 minutes we are in the client’s boardroom. The meeting begins after half an hour drinking coffee and chit chatting randomly about the competitor’s useless campaign. Finally the assistant brand manager walks in. He has one year’s extensive experience in brand management. He usually starts with a brief overview and apologises for the brand manager not being available because of another important meetings. The plan is presented, everyone loves it. The brand team will review it, have it approved and get back to us before the weekend.

Or (alternative scenario) Wait! A client wants to meet ‘now’! Within 15 minutes everyone is in the boardroom (including the brand manager). We hear the marketing director will be joining us. Everyone is tense. He walks in after a couple of slides are presented, greets everyone saying he has 10 minutes, and please continue. Half way through the presentation he asks about the strategy behind the campaign.

I reply with my usual passion that it is ‘to create a brand world through which we can build a loyal consumer base.’ He turns to his brand team and asks. Sales? He turns to me and says they will discuss this internally and get back to us before the weekend.

Or (further alternative scenario). Everything goes as planned and the client even trusts us. In which case, back at the office my boss wants to meet and hear about the meeting.

We discuss the outcome of the meeting. He calls in his GM. Three Marlboro Lights are lit, three bun kebabs are ordered as we are on a diet (not me) and our beloved office boy brings in three cups of tea. We discuss the possibility of launching new activation platforms or even expanding the agency outside Pakistan. The meeting is then interrupted by the finance manager, who wants to talk about the cash flow situation. At this point the idea of expansion is put on hold and we start talking about getting more clients. A few calls are made and few blind dates with possible clients are set. Everyone is happy and positive for a day.

It is 6:00 p.m. and depending on my workload, this is usually the end or the start of my day.

I enjoy working at night or at least I say that to justify my laziness and tendency to leave things to the last minute. Like this piece. I was told to write it over a month ago, but here I am up past midnight doing it, like any other proposal.

It sure is the end of the day for my team as they don’t enjoy late sittings or working through the night, whereas I am more productive then. And with my headphones on, no one dares to come near me as they know I am working in my silo. Yes, you heard that right but then again I have spent all day with non-silo workers and I now need my own space.

Note: This timeline fluctuates daily and at times hourly depending on the mood of clients, teams and wives (not sure about the last one, readers are requested to verify).

Khizar Hayat is Head of Strategic Planning, Bottomline.