Words from The Red Brick Road: tips to become a Planner

Here is my second post in my series tips on “how to break into the ad industry.” This time I spoke to Junior Planner, John Blight, at The Red Brick Road. If you’re interested in how to become a Planner in the ad industry, hopefully this will give you some good insight.

The Red Brick Road are an agency who are known for their creative ability and reputation for going above and beyond. Their client work features the likes of “Harvey – Thinkbox campaign”, as well as their Suzuki ad spots for TV and print and their print ads for Jägermeister.

When first speaking to John Blight before starting the interview he stated: “I am going to answer the questions in a manner so that in maybe a few years, I could potentially read it back and still think, “yeah I was right back then.” I have a tendency to be very honest, brutally so. So with that, looking forward to an open, honest interview, I covered topics with John from, how he managed to work his way into the industry and what his biggest challenges were, to his life lessons and what you can learn from them too. Interested? Read on to find out more.

1. Could you describe your role and your average day at The Red Brick Road?

I’m a Junior Planner with roughly two years experience and I primarily work on Red Brick Road’s account with Suzuki Cars, but I also work on a few other accounts and internal projects as well as new business work (doing pitches).

In my current agency we tend to work using a task-based planning approach, meaning we work on stuff when we need to work on it, so there can be some nice quiet periods, but also some extremely hectic days… weeks and months.

Become a Planner: Suzuki account


2. How did you get to where you are now?

I studied Psychology at University, which I studied because I was interested in it, not because I wanted to work in advertising, or in fact even become a Psychologist. However, given how much University is these days, studying for interest alone is becoming more and more difficult to justify, which sucks.

Near the end of my second year at University getting into advertising suddenly became  an interest after a realisation that wanting to break into the music industry wasn’t really going to work for me. My dissertation was about research into online advertising and an effect called banner blindness. I applied to Graduate schemes at lots of agencies and failed at all of them, but they were however interested in my research. I had a bit of work experience, but it was only a couple of weeks worth at an agency that no one had heard of before (and now no longer exists), but to be honest nobody seemed interested in any of that really.

One agency I applied to was Nexus/h in Tunbridge Wells. I got an internship and relatively quickly got offered a job by them. I then later left for The Red Brick Road – where I am now.

So in answer to your question “how did I get to where I am now?” It was through University, work experience and persistence. To make it as a Planner I hate to say that you may need all three too, but as I mentioned above, University isn’t always a feasible option now.

3. What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced in getting to where you are now?

Not doing Graduate schemes and going down that route has been the biggest challenge for me, but in hindsight, probably one of the best things too. I’ve noticed Graduate schemes tend to not look for Planners. There are an odd few, but it still isn’t the norm, so I think to be where I am now, another route would have been to do Graduate schemes in Account Management for a few years, then switch over to Planning; which is actually a common move for quite a lot of frustrated Account Managers.

However, a downside to not being on a Graduate scheme has meant my job has never been secure. I’ve never been made redundant, but due to clients leaving at the agencies I’ve worked at, I have come perilously close. Dealing with job insecurity is difficult. You start doubting everything and the frustrating thing is, you can’t do anything about it. You are viewed as a number by the finance people and if you are too ‘in the red’ then you may find yourself out of the job. Harsh, but true.

Become a Planner

4. What would you say The Red Brick Road look for from future Planners?

Honestly, I don’t think they do, I don’t think many agencies look for Graduate/Junior Planners. I think they just look for Planners, a lot more black and white. Most of these agencies want ‘Midweight Planners’, with hundreds of years of experience, but I don’t really know where they expect these people to come from… Actually I do – see my earlier point about Graduate Schemes and the Account Management/Planning transition.

That probably isn’t much help to a lot of people, but I have to be honest.

Apply to stuff you want to do, not just anything. Being in a job you enjoy will make such a difference over a job you settled for.

5. What advice would you give to future budding Planners?

Read stuff, not just advertising stuff, anything! Anything that can give you an opinion. Have an opinion and express it. Be the person with common sense, it doesn’t matter if it is a beautiful film, is there a good advert? Know the difference between good stuff and good advertising.

Know as much as possible. You are young and people in advertising are scared of the young. They seem to know more than anyone else. Use this to your advantage. Know about cool stuff, say what is cool and know when it isn’t cool to use “cool” anymore.

Also have hobbies. You never know when a passion for art or liking to take a part a combustion engine might come in handy.

Apply to stuff you want to do, not just anything. I know this will be difficult, but being in a job you enjoy will make such a difference over a job you settled for.

6. For those leaving University this summer, are there any steps you would recommend to become a Planner, or get into an agency?

If you haven’t already got stuff lined up, then you’re going to be competing with all the people in the next year for Graduate schemes. Go get some experience. If you get experience and it isn’t paid, know the difference between experience and exploitation.

Make yourself known, have a personality, try not to blend in and have an opinion when it matters, even if it’s different to everyone else’s.

Don’t go and do a Masters just because you can’t get a job or don’t want to leave University yet. Grow up. Instead, do something productive with your time whilst you wait for that perfect job. Do a blog like this. Read blogs like this. Use your time wisely.

If you have an agency or a job to go to, just don’t screw it up – though having said that, it is quite difficult to screw it up. Make yourself known, have a personality, try not to blend in and have an opinion when it matters, even if it’s different to everyone else’s. Also, don’t start copying other people’s stupid agency language just because they sound like they know what they’re talking about. Call a spade a spade.

7. What has been your career highlight so far?

There hasn’t been one single highlight, but rather more continuous enjoyment from working with great people, enjoying my job, not falling into the trappings of many Graduates and it all, relatively, working out. Thankfully. Also being asked questions like this.

If anyone has any questions, or they’d like some advice from someone in adland, my email is adcosgs@gmail.com – don’t be afraid, I will be honest and try to help.

Suzuki and Jägermeister account images from The Red Brick Road.