Thursday, August 12, 2010

Trials & Tribulations of a Planning newbie

So this is my first post on JPIA and it's a long time coming. I've had access to write here for over a month, but have been caught in the whirlwind of a new city and new job. I myself am a new Planner straight out of Austin, Texas. I just started my first full-time gig at a good agency in Chicago six weeks ago. Coming out of Miami Ad School's Account Planning Boot Camp last September, I didn't know where I'd end up or how long it would take. It certainly was a long and arduous process that took almost a full year to land a job. And here's the thing, that's not uncommon. Planners I have met, at all career levels, say that it took six months to one year to land a full-time gig in Planning.

When I left MAS, it was the final quarter of 2009. Needless to say, agencies and their clients had shut it down for the year, financially and in new hires. In January, I managed to land a freelance Planning gig for three months, working at TracyLocke 20 hrs/week. That ended in March and the great hunt (for a job) picked up steam. Finally, in May, I got the offer I wanted and accepted. I interviewed seriously (beyond 1st interview) for three global agencies, two mid-sized agency, and one very small agency. I got two offers at the same time and one more a week a too late (from their perspective). I say this just to give an idea of just how difficult it can be. The places that didn't offer me a job just needed a different fit for what they were looking for, whether it was experience level or digital chops. And judging from the stories of my classmates at MAS, their experiences weren't far from that. Everyone in the class has been hired though, so that should tell you something. We all found jobs, but in different ways. Four of us work for big agencies (big = owned by holding company), one works for a strategic consulting group, one person got laid off, another got in the door with media planning, another worked client-side first before moving over.

I believe there's a lot of reasons why it can be difficult. Planning as a career field is very small. There just aren't a lot of Planners in the agency because there doesn't need to be. Planners can do a lot of heavy lifting (in terms of branding/thinking/problem solving) and just isn't the same kind of work one sees in Account Management, Production, or Media.

Being a strong Planner requires a certain set of skills and characteristics that are hard to define. It's hard to tell with 1-2 interviews if someone has the skill set to be a good Planner. New Planners or those that want to break in should have some kind of work to show. Seeing how a Planner thinks can help interviewers understand that person's potential.

Getting hired as a Planner, like a lot of other job openings, is a mixture of timing and connections. The great thing about the Planning community being so small is that everyone is open to meeting others. Plus, Planners are very transparent online (or are we just vain?), keeping blogs (like this!) and using social networks (you better be on Twitter) to share content, hold conversations, and keep in touch. It's very easy to start the conversation online and if location isn't an issue, planning a get together with others over coffee or a beer.

This may have sounded like some kind of warning or begrudging commentary, but that wasn't the intention. This is a part of the reality of the situation. I came out of school believing I would find something in a month or two. That may not have been the case, but here's the other side of the situation. Now that I'm in the "club" full-time, I couldn't be happier. All that stress and hard work paid off. So, while it may take a while or be hard to get in the door, it's totally worth it once you're there. I say that wholeheartedly. So all of you aspiring Planners, all of you who are just starting to dive in to books like "Truth, Lies, and Advertising," get excited about the career you are starting because it's awesome.

~ Justin D.


Ben said...

Hey Justin-

Great post. I'm in the final weeks of MAS bootcamp in Minneapolis and think you give some really good advice that all of us here are starting to think more and more about. A lot of it is, indeed, luck - talking to the right person at the right time. But what has been great about Bootcamp is that it gives us a lot of concrete work to talk about with interviewers, rather than just a list of skills that might apply to planning, hoping the interviewer will take a chance on you.

I was lucky enough to land an internship at space150, a great digital agency up here, a month before Bootcamp from an informational interview. It's turning into a full-time position immediately after the program. I wouldn't suggest working part-time through the MAS bootcamp to anyone, but it's been a great experience to learn about the profession from both angles.

However, before that, I did numerous other informational interviews between Chicago and MPLS, and I learned more and more on each interview. It was one of those interviews that led me to research space150 and eventually contact them out of the blue for an informational. You have to be prepared to get lucky, or however the saying goes.

Looking forward to more posts about your experiences in Chicago!

Mike said...

Hi Justin,

I'm currently working as an account exec on a global account, but after doing it for 6 months I've started to think that planning may be a better route for me - the stuff I've really enjoyed has mostly been the research + analysis side of things rather than the production process.

However, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage because I only work with senior planners, and so don't know that much about the roles + responsibilities of a junior planner - I was hoping you could recommend some sites/books that could help?