I got an intriguing email from someone recently asking if I knew of any posts from myself, or other planner types, about training junior planners.
I have to admit I did not.
Which, after thinking about it for a bit, was a little shocking.
There has never been more competition, between the various agencies that make up 'adland',to hire and keep talent than there is now.
This industry just isn't as attractive next to other career paths as maybe is once was. It's much less cool, pays less relatively, has less career stability and works long hours.
So, despite the prolific chatter all over the interwebs on 21st Century Branding, the Death of TV, the death of ad agencies, it's a real shame there isn't decent content on the hiring and development of great talent.
It's a focal point on much wider, real issues around the hours we ask people to do, how we charge for our ideas as opposed to our time and the general rule that if you want people to do well, stay and give you their best, you have to treat them properly and balance their quality of life and career path with the very real need to make money.
I replied with a few pointers, but I thought I might do a bit more here.
I'll start today with the easier one, what not to do. This is of course based on personal experience as someone who was a junior once, but also observations gleaned from the experience of others.
So, how not to train junior planners (and to some applies to junior folks in agencies per se):
1. Don't try and make them have YOUR idea.
The problem with many planning directors is that they are great at thinking and having ideas, but rubbish at bringing it out of others. This can be seen in the way they interact with other departments, they are the ones who stick to their strategy or proposition and don't like it being changed- as opposed to the ones who are great at generating and spotting great ideas from others ( have to admit I'm the latter, mostly because I don't have many good ideas and it's easier to get others to do it for you!!).
So it follows that when they let juniors have a go at a project, they won't be able to see the merits of the solution the junior comes back with, because they will already have something in mind themselves, so they'll belittle the poor bugger about what might be wrong with their thinking and evidence, rather than looking at what's good and what can be developed.
Even if it's bollocks, you need to find a way to praise their effort, show them why it's wrong and empower them to find another solution - rather than call them stupid and say, 'what you should have done it this'. There is no ONE solution, just like with economists who cannot agree on anything, there is more than one approach. Listen, help, encourage and guide. So...............
2. Don't expect them to work at the velocity as you.
So what follows should be simple, allow for the fact they'll be a little slower than you at stuff and when you work on a project together, you need to make time to talk them through things, explain things a little more and stuff.
I learned the hard way that there is no point telling my kids 20 seconds before we're leaving the house that it's time to go, then getting grumpy when take an age to find their shoes, pick a toy to take or go to the toilet, their agenda is not mine. It's like that working with juniors - you're dead busy, you could do it twice as quick, but if you don't make time to help people learn, they'll never get better and be stuck thinking nothing they do is good enough.
3. But don't be a light touch.
Once, planners were allowed to be late for things, to get lost on the way to meetings and generally be a little air headed.
No one has the time and patience for this any more. Because as they progress, they'll have to deal with more of a blur between 'suit' and 'planner' and do more things that people in real jobs have to think about.
Only let them get away with being late, lost or forgetful once. That goes for rigour too. There's a trend for planners to have 'ideas' these days rather than evidence based strategy based on proper examination of the information at hand.
It is critical to have evidence based thinking, otherwise you are just someone with opinions, even more these days with Lord knows how many people thinking they can own the strategy: the creative agency, digital, media, media owners, brand consultant and whoever else are all trying to own the lead strategy and even lead creative.
The only defense for a good working planning team and its agency is to be able to back up their ideas better than anyone else, and be able to de-stabilise first page, slap dash stuff from other folks. I'm not saying every idea should be backed up with a flash of amazing consumer insight (but I weep at the trendies who seem to think this doesn't matter anymore) but there is so much to be gained from looking at TGI harder, reading the clients' annual reports, or just bloody going out and talking to people who work for your client or real people on the street.
This goes for you too by the way, it's easy to fall into the 'because I say it is' camp when you get senior, because you can force your thinking through, which will come unstuck eventually, getting your team to back up their thinking encourages you to do the same.
4. Don't moan about the good old days.
This might manifest itself as 'the good old days when I used to work 16 hour days as a junior and spend 5 years not being allowed to go to a client meeting'- in order to rinse your people for every drop of energy they have.
Those days are, if not gone, they are fast going and there is no point burning your people out, and getting them to change to another career because they've had enough. Likewise, the good old days when you could charge a fortune, you made loads of TV ads, clients took more risks, bought more better work etc.
No one needs to hear they joined the industry too late, you're just encouraging them to do something else. And it really wasn't that much better was it? Rather, help them embrace the limitless possibility of mixed up media - and the fact that few are able simplify and make it something clients can embrace gladly.
They know more about digital than you do, they're on Snapchat and you are not (I hope) - embrace the future with them and stop boring them with a past that wasn't as rosy as you now like to believe these days.
5. Don't try and create cardboard cut-outs of yourself.
You will be really great, really experience dand able to apply it to all sorts of varies briefs and projects. You will have learned to overcome weaknesses and build on natural strengths.
But your are a one off, the product of a mixture of genes and experiences. Your are a one-off - and so are the people who work for you. They will have different in-built strengths and weaknesses, so making them work in only one way - be that developing workshops, the times of day they best work, getting respect from other departments, the style they write briefs in, how they apply research, how they present - in other words, your way, is doomed to fail.
Figure out what, in your own arsenal are universals anyone should know and practice (always sit in the middle of the table to get gravitas in a meeting, don't get excited about a high index on TGI until you look at the actual percentage of the audience, speak last in any review of any kind of work if you can) and then what should be a library of approaches for your team to try and see what works and what doesn't.
That also goes for presentation decks. They are the background and 'props' for the speaker, no more no less. Insist on any agency template if you like, but apart from that, it depends on how someone presents - naturally 'tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you've told them' 'find a theme' are universals.
But applying some storytelling structure etc, how that works depends on the person.
Just as some planning folks don't sweat a proposition (thoughtleader or core thought) in a brief or client strategy presentation, and work on a really juicy task, or even a transformational insight instead (but every brief or deck should have one focal jumping point, everything else builds up to or from this point, but then again that might be how I work!!!).
6. Don't be a parrot for the proprietary process.
Look, every agency in various disciplines sort of works the same. They flounder around for a bit, they get worried about the deadline, something comes up and then they work like mad to be ready for the deadline.
They hide this from clients as sell a process that gives the comfort of making things look professional and predictable (and procurement loves to buy a process). This benign conspiracy sort of works, as long as you remember it's a conspiracy and the process is really a load of bollocks.
So forcing your people to follow a process just doesn't work, especially as, as mentioned before, they need to find the best way to work efficiently in their own way. Make everyone work the same and you get the same stuff. Just as every brief isn't about 'disrupting the market or zigging where others zag'.
At the basics of communications strategy, there is only really 'impacting with the audience' 'activating people to do stuff' 'reinforcing how they feel, or what they know, about something, or 'Augmenting' - changing how they feel or what they know. But that's four, not one and it changes depending on the brief.
Your team need the freedom to explore these four ways, then understand how their thinking can be made to fit the 'planning model' or how the client thinks communications works - freedom, guidance. Not suffocation and constriction.
7. Don't over-protect them
I learned when I was a competitive swimmer that no amount of training can prepare you for real racing. The pressure, the way your body copes with adrenalin, how you respond when the pain kicks in and only willpower can help you carry for the final metres. You can only get better at racing by racing.
It's the same with client meetings, dealing with grumpy creatives, scary TV buyers, doing presentations or even the moment when the pitch team has a melt-down when they can't seem to crack the brief.
Gradual exposure, starting as soon as possible is the only way to get good at this stuff. The first cut is the deepest, but until you are able to get used to things, learn from mistakes and get used to the realities and pressures of the real job, you are not really doing the job.
Great thinking and insight is only 20% of it. Being able to persuade others of your thinking, internally and externally, empowering others, thinking on your feet and, critically, being able to deliver solid work time after time, being a safe pair or hands rather than a 'either brilliant of dire' planners are where the job is really done.
So honesty about where ideas come from, the fact they do not appear mostly as if by magic, they emerge and are developed by lots of reading, hard work, edit, precis and distillation and, also, having the dignity and generosity to include as many people as you can in the strategy, as they might strike lucky instead of you, which also means having the courage to admit when someone has some better thoughts and when you are totally wrong.
But also knowing when to be firm, when to let people down gently, to prove them wrong but leave them smiling, to be able to stand your ground without being obstinate.
In other words, always being the bigger person,