Vacancy or no vacancy, when you find a good Planner, you just hire him: Rishabha Nayyar

In our new series – Planner’s Perspective – we at Adgully are speaking to some of the brand planning heads who are today playing a key role in agencies. Planning is not rocket science. The advantage of a planner is that he/she brings in special skills and a different approach to thinking by using research and going more in depth with people’s behaviour starting from psychology, sociology, mythology, data and culture. The planner with the help of all this study is able to create better insights and understanding of the consumers, which is very inspiring for the creative teams to come out with successful brand campaigns. The function of planning is highly knowledge-driven and one has to keep a watch on what’s happening in the outside world very closely. As someone said, you don’t get to learn planning in business schools, but it is the hunger for knowledge, curiosity, power of observation and experience that drives to be a sound planner.

In this interaction with Adgully, Rishabha Nayyar, Head of Strategy, 82.5 Communications, traces the interesting journey of Account Planning, the qualities that an astute planner must possess, what is a Planner’s brahmastra and much more. 

Over the last two decades or more Account Planning has become a separate function. How important is the role of planner in today’s world where planning has become more complex as we have moved to a dynamic medium like digital?

In 2018, Account Planning as a function turned 50. If you look back and trace the evolution of the function, it makes for quite an interesting journey. The birth of the function was mainly to bring in a consumer perspective into communication. The planner was born to be the ‘voice of the consumer’ at a time when the other stakeholders (Clients, Creatives & Account Managers) were unable to make the time for interacting and understanding them.

However, over the years the function has evolved from ‘communication planning’ to ‘brand planning’. With their pulse on the consumer, category and competition, Planners today are going much beyond just impacting the communication strategy and output. They are championing the cause of the brand right from inception to expansion to innovation to diversification.

And the opportunity to lead the agenda on brands has only multiplied for the Planner with the emergence and evolution of digital. The medium has been a boon to planning on three accounts. Firstly, it has helped the planner observe consumer behaviour like never before (something which conventional research always struggled with). Secondly, it has helped the planner develop a more holistic understanding of the world of the consumer – motivations, lifestyle, values, affinity areas, life themes and projects. Thirdly, it has opened up a whole new world of data-driven insighting. 

What is the role of research in planning? In today’s world where there is plenty of data floating and is available, how are planners leveraging the same to cull out great insights?

Rising ambitions or resonating values, changing beliefs or challenging norms – a Planner is a person who is forever in search of emerging narratives and paradigm shifts. And in this search his greatest ally is research. Research in the hands of the Planner is his brahmastra that helps him uncover fresh and forceful insights that go a long way in shaping the business, brand and communication strategy.

In this quest for insights, Planners today have a goldmine of consumer data (both qualitative and quantitative) available to them. However, it is important for a Planner to understand that information itself is not insight but the means to getting to it. While data and information can guide you in the right direction, it is one’s ability to make connections between seemingly disconnected data points that help a Planner piece together an insightful story. 

As a planner, one looks forward to a very tight and focussed brief. So, what kind of expectations do you set with your clients when you are briefed for a new campaign so that there is clarity right at the beginning?

Brand communication is not an effort in isolation. It is always part of a larger marketing plan that the client is planning to deploy. Naturally, the brief for developing such communication must also emerge from a deep understanding of the marketing plan.

In line with that, what is most important in a Client Brief is a clear and coherent understanding of three things – what are the objectives (marketing and communication) we are chasing as an outcome of the project, what is our understanding of the problem/ opportunity that we need to overcome/ leverage through the campaign and a detailed understanding of the product/ service and what makes it a more compelling choice over the other options in the market.

Once these three aspects are clear and aligned, the Planner can take on the task of polishing the other parts (bulls eye audience, campaign insight, desired response, proposition) of the brief. 

One of the most exciting works that a planner enjoys is the new business pitch. So, what’s your process and approach for the new business on the planning front? How do you bring in the differentiation and add value to the client’s business?

While Planners are usually neck-deep into the Client’s business and brand, when it comes to a new business pitch, they only have a fraction of that information.

While some may see this as a challenge, it is perhaps a great opportunity. It allows the Planner to form an ‘Outsider’s View’ on the brand. A view that makes some of the most intuitive and insightful connections. Connections, which once you are fully immersed into a brand, can often get missed.

Many a times we waste a lot of time and effort in a pitch demonstrating to a Client that we know their business as well as them. We forget the very reason why a business goes on a pitch – to get a fresh perspective!

Which is why our attempt in a new business pitch is to start with only the product and the problem and question every assumption thereafter. Through a combination of primary and secondary research, we mine deeper into the category, consumer, competition and culture to unearth insights that form the basis of our solutioning.

For us, the solution is not limited to just the campaign, but needs to cover everything that we feel the brand requires. For us, the solution is also not an endless 360, but a relevant 36 that will deliver the right impact and return on investment. 

If you are a planner, you need to keep your eyes and ears to the ground. How often does one have to do market visits to get to know the real pulse of the market and your audience, as the planner is responsible to bring in fresh knowledge about the target audience into the creation and ideation process?

For a Planner, every opportunity is a research opportunity! The travel, the holiday, the class, the dinner, the coffee, the reunion – each and every human interaction, each and every human observation, each and every human reaction is an opportunity to unearth the next big insight on our brand.

To ensure we retain our license of being the ‘Voice of the Consumer’, we are forever ready with our backpack to get into the market and interact with consumers and retail!

While Google and all the other sources of online data and information give us access at the power of a fingertip, we need to ensure we supplement it with monthly visits to the market where we go into homes and outlets to get an unfiltered sense of the changing realities. 

Planners are a scarce commodity. How do you unearth good planning talent and groom them? What does it take to be a successful planner?

Vacancy or no vacancy, when you find a good Planner, you just hire him!

The qualification to become a Planner is nil, but the qualities to become a Planner are many. Some of these need to be inborn and some of them can be inculcated.

The two inborn qualities that I always look for in Planners are curiosity and courage. Curiosity leads Planners to being hungry about discovering, exploring, deconstructing, and courage leads Planners to being bold about challenging, disrupting, redefining.

The inculcated qualities that we work towards building in each of our Planners are three – ability to join the dots between the different narratives that emerge to form a larger picture, an entrepreneurial mindset to understand the business perspective on any brand and the art of storytelling to author a brand love story that would get etched in memories.


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