Planning's Lost Generation

(Photo courtesy David O'Hare via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy David O'Hare via Flickr)

Best of 2014: When it comes to training young people, Starbucks outspends the ad industry. Let's reverse the talent spiral

Damn kids these days.

Damn the twenty-somethings and their resumes that hop and skip through the industry.

15 months here.

12 months here.

This one made it two years at the same place. Let’s give that one a medal.

We have an epidemic of twenty-somethings in the industry who have hop-along resumes — never staying in one place too long, rarely seeing projects through, making a move the instant the next shiny thing pops up.

What’s wrong with them?

Actually, I think the better question is, what’s wrong with us?

"You can’t Google planning."

That’s one of my favorite things that W&W’s resident twenty-something, Val Nguyen, says.

She’s right.

You can’t Google the answer.

You can’t look up the outcome.

You gotta do it.

You gotta craft it.

Planning is a craft.

A craft of composed of tools, thousands of decisions and poetic storytelling. You learn your craft through repetition, diversity of experience and falling on your face every once in a while.

No young planner, no matter how high-potential, can execute this craft Day One. As with any craft, a critical component of mastery is going through the years-long process of being taught. No, let’s be more honest, building your craft requires a pretty regular butt-kicking from an invested teacher.

This is where my generation is failing.

We’re not teaching the next generation.

We’re not guiding them.

We’re not kicking their butts.

Most of us know we should be teaching, but we’re up against the impossible. Impossible stretches on our time. Impossible deadlines. Impossible processes. How can one teach in the face of this impossible? I get it. It’s tough.

So even though our intent and heart is probably in the right place, our current approach is creating a lost generation of planning talent.

This generation doesn’t have the tool box.

They don’t have the skills.

And the more of them we have, the more we look like clowns.

We reassure ourselves that they’re being taught by baptism of fire. Baptism by fire is great, but without a safety net, all you really have is a planner on fire. Which means the account is probably on fire. And we all know how fun that is.

The irony is that planning and strategy are more essential now than ever. Unlike years ago when we had to persuade clients to pay for us, they’re now asking for us. We should be in the golden age of planning.

The irony of it is that Millennials are a generation that especially want to feel invested in. I have a hunch that if we made the time for them to be taught, they’d hop around less.

But instead of real investment, we let the schools teach the juniors. The schools are great and god bless ‘em because at least someone is doing the teaching, but even the best Brandcenter grad needs more teaching once you get her.

And instead of real investment, we throw good parties a few times a year, have a weekly Friday breakfast and encourage funny e-mails to whiz around the company, and we think that that is doing the work to keep people around. We succumb to "cool" and enjoy feeling cool around our ping-pong tables.  

Cool is a Band-Aid.

Cool is not synonymous with doing the work of taking care of people, day in and day out.

Cool will attract young talent, but it’s not going to keep them.

Cool is not going to keep our planning departments delivering and relevant.

Here’s the kicker: When these young planners do threaten to leave, instead of having a hole that needs to get filled by another hop-along young planner, which is painful for everyone involved, we promote them beyond their skill set and give people that have no business having the title Senior Planner, Planning Director or even Head of Department these titles. And because they don’t have the skills, they can’t teach the next generation.

Cue downward spiral.

This spiral shouldn’t come as shock, especially when you consider that, according to a stat in one of Gareth Kay’s decks, Starbucks spends more money training their baristas than our industry does on our talent. And we are a talent-based industry.


So, how do we stem the spiral?

It comes down to priorities.

Yes, whereas we need bosses and agency cultures that recognize that this teaching is important, that stack us less so there is time for this teaching to happen, that set aside budgets for learning, we know that these things are slow to happen.

So let’s get real:

This starts with us CSOs, Heads and Senior level planners.

This starts with us owning that teaching the craft is important.

This doesn’t require fancy courses or all-day retreats.

As Cindy Gallop would say, let’s start with the micro-action. Here’s a suggestion:

Carve out 30 minutes twice a week to sit with your younger planner/planners and teach them something, preferably as a means to get a project done so everyone wins.

Cancel one bullshit meeting a week to find the time.

Try it for a month. If everyone hates it, go back to business as usual.

We can do that.

More than that, if want to keep our discipline relevant and effective, we have to.

Heidi Hackemer is the founder and director of strategy for Wolf & Wilhelmine.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free