Account Planners Flock to Boca to Get Practical

NEW YORK This year’s account planning conference, held in Boca Raton, Fla., marked a homecoming for account planners, both to the 4A’s fold and to the nitty- gritty of account planning, from which planners have strayed in recent years, attendees said.

This year, account planners returned to 4A’s membership after splitting from the organization in 2000 to incorporate the Account Planning Group U.S. In March, the APG U.S. dissolved and relinquished its duties and special events sponsorships to the 4A’s. Nearly 600 members attended the event, 30 percent more than last year’s APG event, 4A’s spokesman Kip Cheng said.

“I was encouraged by the high number of next generation planners,” said Neilan Tyree, who has attended five such conferences. “Agencies invested by sending many of their bright young stars. It was very thrilling for me.”

Conference Co-Chair Michael Fanuele said the conference, dubbed “Making the Practical Magical,” was designed to inspire planners to return to the fundamentals of planning, as well. “Planners have a tendency to get a little too intellectual and this was more about doing great planning with our feet on the ground,” said Fanuele, who is also a global planning director at J. Walter Thompson in New York.

To that end, the conference hosted its first “Iron Planner Tournament,” where the nation’s premier planners competed in a daylong planning brainstorm on “How to get America to lose weight.” Two planning teams spent eight hours devising new solutions to the growing obesity crisis,” said Faneule.

The contest, inspired by the Iron Chef television program, gave contestants of varying experience the opportunity to work together on a tight deadline. Robin Hafitz, managing partner at Mad Dogs & Englishmen, took home the distinction, after creating a plan that would encourage Americans to slow down when chowing down.

“In the past we’ve had conferences where we’ve spent a lot of time talking about planning. This year we wanted to spend a lot of time demonstrating planning,” he said.

In addition to the account planning awards, the conference hosted nearly 30 workshops and forums, Fanuele said. Among them were programs on how to differentiate brands, sharpen research tools and planning as part of a new business pitch.

Patrick Kayser, a junior account planner at Merkley Newman Harty & Partners in New York, participated in a workshop about working with creatives. Kayser said he would have liked the events to be more hands-on and added that it was difficult for competitors to be frank about how they win big with clients.

“I think it’s very difficult to teach planning because the people teaching can’t really give away their secrets,” Kayser said.

A speech by Jeff Goodby, which forecasted “The Death of Account Planning As We Know It,” sparked the most conversation. In his speech, Goodby said he urged account planners to return to the creative table and to guide, rather than judge creative work, lest the bell toll for their profession. [Please see: Goodby Warns Planners Are Fading Away.]

It was a great idea to have Goodby come in and kick us in the pants,” said Patrick Kayser. “You need a little bit of criticism in order to grow and become better.”