Paul Yole has strongly supported the field of account planning in Perth for over 30 years. He co-founded the Perth arm of the Account Planning Group (APG) and was formerly head of strategic planning at The Brand Agency. Ahead of his latest role as 2018 lecturer for the AdSchool Advanced Strategic Planning course, we caught up with Paul to discuss what it takes to be a great planner and why it’s all about delivering value to clients.

TCC: You once said that “agencies need to prove their worth to an increasingly sceptical audience” – do you believe the client is more sceptical now than ever before, and why?

PY: I think the landscape has changed. More and more, clients are turning to consultants for strategic advice at the business level, so agencies need demonstrate how they can use their innate creativity to solve the client’s brand problems. This is where planners play a crucial role, even before the advertising creative process starts.

Agency briefs often focus on the brand problem that presents itself, but planners should be trying to understand if there is a deeper, unidentified problem. If you can’t identify what the real problem is, no amount of advertising is going to help much.

TCC: Are today’s planners forgetting the ‘basics’?

PY: I think as an industry, advertising too often gets carried away with trying to work out how to use all of the communication tools that are now available.

But human nature doesn’t change. The fundamentals of planning never change, and that is about finding the sweet spot between human truths, cultural truths and brand truths.

Yes, there is an increased need now to understand how people connect with the various forms of media, but before you do that you need to work out how the brand can resolve those cultural and human tensions.

TCC: What are some of the core principles of strategic planning that never go out of fashion?

PY: It is still about making connections between seemingly unrelated things. Steve Jobs had something to say about that.

So, start with identifying the real problem at a business level, then try to understand and influence those relationships between human, cultural and brand truths.

We talk a lot about insights. Real insights are really hard to find, and often misattributed, but that is what clients and creatives will look for from their planner.

TCC: There was a shift toward highly specialised roles eg ‘social media strategist’. But now, this trend seems to be easing. Do you think this is a good thing?

PY: I think you do need someone who can understand and leverage the mechanics of social media, so that suggests to me an increasingly important strategic role for people who work in media and analytics.

However, I am worried that we may be breeding too many generalists who spread themselves too thinly. So, I think some of the larger agencies may be looking at splitting the behavioural and communications planning sides of strategy.

But the future for me goes back to convincing clients that we as planners can add real value at the strategic level. To our advantage, we tend to be more creative than consultants and have a broader range of brand experience that we can bring to the table.

TCC: What are 2-3 qualities that separate the good planners from the great?

PY: Merry Baskin talks about 6 core qualities she looks for in a planner. Of those, I think the two most important are curiosity and rigorous thinking. The greatest planners, though, have been what Jon Steel calls “simplifiers”. Too many planners just complicate things. And nobody wants that.