The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Title Confusion …
January 11, 2011, 6:26 am
Filed under: Comment

Maybe I’m getting old, but I find the job titles that are being banded about very confusing.

I’m not talking about the truly bizarre stuff, I’m talking about things like senior planner, planning director & global planning director.

OK, so in theory those titles should be quite simple to work out, however there are some agencies that have 10 planning directors IN THE SAME OFFICE and then there’s the companies who have so many ‘global planning directors’ in their organisation that you wonder who ultimately makes any decisions in the place.

To be fair, often these ‘Planning Directors and Global Planning Directors’ titles are given out because it’s for a specific account, rather than running the agency department/company – however you’d be amazed how often the people-in-question conveniently forget to mention that fact.

I remember once meeting a guy who had just moved to Asia to be the regional head of his agency.

I asked him if he’d ever been to Asia to which he replied,

“Of course, I used to be the global head”.

What he actually meant was that he’d been the global head on a particular piece of business so to fuck him off, I replied by saying:

“Wow, so this must be a massive demotion then”.

We’ve not talked since.

In the old days, it all seemed so much easier.

Job hierarchy went something like this …

Assistant Planner [though in my case, they called me “SPONGE”]
Planning Director

That’s it.

3 levels.

And here’s the thing, in terms of ‘planning director’, they’d be one.


OK, on some occasion, maybe two … however there weren’t millions of them and the planners beneath them weren’t pissy about it because the person at the top was always seriously good … like super, super, seriously good … and not only would they be learning shitloads from them, but they’d be developing work that was helping make such an impact they’d be rewarded by the company as they – and their clients – valued their input highly.

Yes, that’s right – planners weren’t just fee justifiers or nonsense powerpoint writers – they did stuff and were recognised for it. Amazing eh?

Alright, so in some uber-big there may have been more than 1 or 2 Planning Directors … but I was working for an independent agency with one office in one country and so roles covering multiple regions or global didn’t just not exist, but weren’t even in my frame of reference.

The other thing that was different was that the time it took to get from level 1 to level 3 tended to be measured in the decades, not in months.

Alright, that might have more to do with my ability [or inability as the case may be] but that still doesn’t escape the fact I’m meeting more and more people who are called ‘senior planners’ after about a year of work, it’s madness.

Now I should point out I don’t believe people should be evaluated by their ‘time on the job’ … infact, I think that’s a shit criteria because ultimately ability, contribution and action are the most important factors … however I do hope this title inflation continues because ultimately I think it could end up being a good thing for the industry.


Well let’s face it, quite often these titles are given out because it either fulfills the ego of the recipient, gives the company the corporate justification to authorise a pay rise, lets an agency charge their client more or – worst of all – let’s an agency pretend they value an employee even though they won’t stump up any extra cash – which is why my view is that if we allow this attitude and approach to continue, we could end up in a situation where companies/clients will only evaluate an individual based on what they’ve done … not what their business card said … which could encourage the industry as a whole to get back to focusing on quality, not [cheap] quantity and ultimately get corporate business to view us as the valuable commercial partner we can be, not the over-priced and under-effective supplier too many view us as.

62 Comments so far
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You’re getting older because you are already old but this is a pretty good post. For you. What you’re saying is the same in the creative department where there’s so many creative directors these days it undermines any value the title once had. Still, don’t think it will end up where people just judge people on the work because there’s so many title whores out there, they’ll jump for fucking peanuts just because they want to get on the CD gravy train even though that left the station in 1983. There may be thousands of CD’s out there but I still think in real ability and leadership there’s only a couple of handfuls. Who are they? They’re the ones with titles like executive creative god to separate themselves from the filth.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Just as I was starting to like you, you’ve gone and done it. I work alone, but I do change titles from day to day. Today I was Global Creative Director, tomorrow I’m Head of Worldwide Digital Innovation/Viral. And you went and spoiled it.
You couldn’t spoil it all though, because I saw this headline from the BBC:

DeLay gets three years in prison

I know, I know, the world class fuck probably won’t serve a day, but shit it made my day, and hopefully upset his, just to read that.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

well campbell its day 2 of this blog year and i have to fucking say youve done pretty fucking well so far. this post is a lovely dose of fucking vicious diatribe and i even find myself fucking nodding thanks to billys a once in a fucking lifetime accurate fucking overview.

you do sound like an old fucking fart hankering for the “good old days” but amazingly enough youre not working at fcbs denver office youve somehow wangled to be numero fucking uno at wieden+kennedy, the best fucking international agency in the fucking world.

that should piss off people far fucking more than being given a fucking title no one respects. fucks me off. but for different reasons obviously.

still believe if adland (and client marketing departments) cut staff by 50% (not random, specifically chosen, im not martin fucking small) theyd be more effective and a fuck load more interesting. not because the poor fuckers left behind would be working harder but because the people left would be goodand not have to wade through miles of pointless fucking red tape and middle agency management just to get a fucking ad in the poxy vancouver sun.

good post campbell. i like the cut of your forked fucking tongue.

Comment by andy@cynic

I knew it could happen one day. But now what do I do with the rest of my life?

Comment by Billy Whizz

kill yourself?

Comment by andy@cynic

Stay in Pete’s basement for ever?

Comment by John

start the speaker circuit

Comment by lauren

Buy a gun and shoot you all?

Comment by Billy Whizz

youre wrist is too limp to hold it.

Comment by andy@cynic

earlier this evening i was suggesting to my ad buddies that it was easier for you lot – you have a clear ladder for ‘success’ that goes: intern, junior, senior, director, global/CEO; but the ‘ladder’ for artists is all over the shop and bloody arbitrary.

and then i went and read this post.

i take it all back. all of it. advertising agency life is bollocks – at least when you’re an artist, you’re just an artist. and you’re either good, or bad. or maybe getting there. simple.

oh, and i’m always a fan of the supersaturation method – keep blowing hot air in until it explodes. brilliant. maybe i’ll start calling myself a global planning director and help the industry a bit. 😀

Comment by lauren

it is fucking easier lauren, if you forget all your fucking principals, suck ass like youre one of don simpsons tarts, become more political than a bp lobbyist and backstab like a shakespeare character then the career path in adland is both clearly fucking defined and easy to scale.

Comment by andy@cynic

Fantastic post Robert, the new year seems to have brought out the old you. I think the point you make about the period it took people to get from stage 1 to stage 3 is very true however now there are many people who get the head of department role more because they have just “stuck it out” rather than they have done things that are worthy of that title.

Comment by Pete

as i said much better in the comment to lauren.

planners. always slightly fucking slower than the rest of us. though i am fucking quick. except for shagging. and divorcing.

Comment by andy@cynic

I hope the people at what George Parker calls “BDA’s” see this because then it will make for very entertaining viewing.

And I agree with what you’re saying Robert, even if cynic did have 2 planning heads. At least in title. 😉

Comment by George

good fucking point auntie. fuck me, why didnt i think of that. youve just shown campbell for the tit the fucker is. nice dig at who deserved the title but i dont want it so you can have it, its pretty fucking worthless anyway.

Comment by andy@cynic

That’s OK guys, because legally I was referred to as the CEO so you can have your little “heads of department” titles, it was just to make you feel better about yourselves anyway. Ha.

Comment by Rob

another fucking crime against fucking humanity.

Comment by andy@cynic

Or another example of promotion to level of incompetence.

Comment by John

Even idiots get lucky sometimes John.

Which should give you confidence to keep doing what you’re doing.

Comment by Rob

put the fucking knife back in the drawer queen bitch. oh actually dont fucking bother, i like you more that way.

Comment by andy@cynic

Nice to see how this is going – though I do hope we get some people from the big networks so we can get their view on it – especially those who have the title ‘senior planner’ … so I can see if it was driven by ego or client fee potential.

Look, I’m not trying to fuck people off – I know the way it plays, I’ve been a victim/puppet of it – but that still doesn’t mean it’s right because as Billy shockingly says, it undermines the value and prestige of it … hence my hope it carries on to the point where people have to be evaluated by the work they produce not the business card they hand over.

Comment by Rob

Don’t underestimate the clients’ ego in all this. That radio spot for their regional promotion is too business critical not to be serviced by an inflated title.

Comment by John

I didn’t say ‘client ego’ … I said ‘client fee potential’. Please pay attention, though to be fair, I completely understand why you wouldn’t.

Comment by Rob

I made no reference to fee potential – I was being more subtle than that. Please pay attention.

Comment by John

It appears the new year is bringing out the best of your unique spirit. Welcome back Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

thats it? youre in a fucking unique position to say what a client thinks about small adland people with big adland job titles and you just compliment campbell and say welcome back. thats a bigger let down than liverpool this season and thats fucking tragic.

Comment by andy@cynic

I prefer to keep you all in suspense. I refer to it as the client advantage.

Comment by Lee Hill

Once I worked for somebody who didn’t give a fuck about titles. What follows, I hope will reveal more than just my age.

Scene: 1968, lunchtime, my office – 10′ x 12′, metal desk, no carpet, CDP, London. 4 account men discussing a creative problem.

Me: I’ll tell you what JP would do in this situation.

Cut to door opening and a face coming through, said face peering over half glasses.

JP: Well, Ciaran, tell us what JP would do.

What was happening:

1. God was speaking to me.

2. God was fucking with me.

3. God really wanted to hear my answer.

4. God would have thought about my answer.

5. God would do something if he thought it was the rigyt thing to do.

6. God was one of us.

And people wonder why I still talk and think about people like tha.

Comment by Ciaran McCabe

john fucking pearce. you have my respect. though it runs out at midnight.

how fucking old are you?

Comment by andy@cynic

Ha, I like reading some decent negative posts before going to bed.

I only did one internship at a local office of one of the big networks and I was really, really surprised how many people there were running around with the words Senior, Executive, Director, Manager or Head in their titles. Not only in the planning group, but also account management, creative, production and everything else. But hey, we have inflation in everything from grades, to university degrees to money so why spare ad industry job title? And it’s also not only advertising. I mean, there are MBAs in facility management.

Comment by Thomas

i fucking hate this post thomas because youre proving campbell is right and that makes me more fucking sick than 20 jagermeisters.

Comment by andy@cynic

You get sick after 20? Fucking pathetic .

Comment by Marcus

Knowing Andy, he means bottles.

Comment by Rob

There’s definitely a lot of very self-congratulatory designations in advertising – and a lot of designations, full stop.

That said, I’m one of three Planning Directors at my agency, we split the accounts in the firm according to specialties; and have a set of Planners reporting to us. And we ourselves report to the Chief Strategy Officer.

I have more trouble with agencies that have 18 VPs. I haven’t worked in advertising that long, but I think the same is the case with many other industries too. Not sure what you can do about it but start your own firm. But being a “new age firm” that would likely mean everyone’s a “Partner” of some sort at the beginning, and then the same kinds of designation bloat as one gets bigger? o.0

Comment by Aditya

I don’t want to appear rude, but if the 3 of you are running the department, what does the ‘Chief Strategy Officer’ actually do?

And while I’m at it, do you run the business or run accounts?

Just trying to get a grip on it, not being a smartarse.

Comment by Rob

The Chief Strategy Officer tends to focus on new business development, while the Planning Directors tend to handle existing accounts. We participate on pitches if extra help is needed, but we tend to focus on the existing.

I didn’t quite get the business or accounts question – that’s not Planning per se? — Where I’ve worked, at least, we generally look at the bigger culture, and the culture around a brand, and try to shape the business to be more relevant in what it says or does.

Comment by Aditya

Hi there – sorry, I meant do you run the planning department or the planning requirements on the business.

Seems the latter – which begs the question, if the Chief Strat officer focuses on new business [though you guys do it as well, what is he actually contributing to the growth and development of the overall department because it sounds more like a new business guy than a chief strategist?

Again, not trying to be a shit, just trying to work out how it works.

Comment by Rob

I am the Planning Director on a set of accounts, for which I am responsible, from the actual planning to the management of planning resources, setting KRAs, hiring people and the like.

Participating on pitches isn’t responsibility as much as it is interest; but I like being involved in things and have a habit of biting a lot more than I can chew.

So officially we don’t involve ourselves in NBD unless needed; and the CSO doesn’t involve himself in regular account work unless needed.

Again, I’ve met the other Planning Director’s clients, and worked on those brands too, in the short time I’ve been here.

In the end we’re all representing the same firm, chasing the same goals, so who’s supposed to do what, and what else they do honestly doesn’t matter to me as long as they’re doing the stuff they’ve been assigned well.

Comment by Aditya

Title inflation has become quite prolific in recent years. Asia leads the way in this and India is a star performer. Whilst not related to planning per se, a couple of personal favourites from the sub continent have been:
Group Account Manager
Assistant General Manager

Comment by Liam

I agree Liam [hello by the way] but to be fair, some of the titles I’ve seen in the US would be the envy of even the most prolific ‘title inventor’ in Asia, especially in corporateland, where there’s more Vice President’s than population. Or so it seems.

Comment by Rob

Sorry forgot my manners!
Hello Rob. Nice selection of subject matter BTW

Comment by Liam

Great post and very true well beyond the planning department… but Dubai takes the cake for the biggest ridiculous titles game.

Planning in this region is pretty new comparatively. So up until a few years ago, Regional Planning Director in a lot of agencies was basically the title given to a suit who’s been the agency for 15 years and management have no plans in making the guy (not girl – guy…. this is the middle east and advertising nonetheless) MD but don’t want to get rid of him either. So he’s given a nice little title to satisfy his ego but has no real meaning. Other popular titles are Client Servicing Director or New Business Development. Meaningless and harmless titles of perceived power.

Some agencies have gotten creative about it though. One agency gives out titles like Director in Charge (equal to Group Account Director… but with a much more accurate acronym). Have u ever met a director who’s not supposed to be in charge?

Another agency has split the agency into ‘Business Units’ and for each business unit (2) there is a BUGM – Business Unit General Manager. Don’t even get me started.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some talented people actually living up to the responsibility of things and have earned there titles – but those as in any industry are rare.

If anything us planners have some catching up to do in the ridiculous titles game. Maybe we should make up some new ones for fun?


Comment by Omar

Hi Omar, lovely to have you pop by.

Thanks for the view – scary as it seems.

I’m not suggesting all people with big titles are bad or wrong, this is more a criticism of the organisation than the individual – however those who think an idiotic title makes them in some way ‘better’ than someone who is called a planner but is doing great things is seriously deluded and sadly, I know quite a few of those too.

As for planners having to work harder in gaining ‘ridiculous names’ status, there’s quite a few out there – sadly, I’ve even had a couple – but I accept compared to some other industries [or even departments] we’re falling behind.

Comment by Rob

That I’ll agree with completely. The designation doesn’t make the planner. Their ability to contribute new perspectives and ways of interpreting culture and business does.

Comment by Aditya

Good point Rob. Something I think about often. But in an even broader sense of the word. Why do we need tittles anywhere, not only in planning? It’s humankinds’ need for power, prestige. Some ppl even have such low levels of self worth and confidence they need to be validated by a tittle. Why head chef? Why head designer? Why head of sales? Either your’e a planner or your not. Either you like planning and your’e willing to always learn and evolve or you dont. Experience is something we get as we grow old and get more involved. When I enter a store, i expect the shop assistant to be as helpful as the manager, got nothing to do with tittles.

Comment by Brenda Kassir

Hello there – how the hell are you? It’s been bloody ages.

I totally understand the question relating to ‘titles’ however I do believe they have a role to play, even if they’ve been bastardised these days.

For me there’s 2 reasons.

1/ In places like Asia, the ‘title’ of the person you are dealing with holds great value. Of course what that person actually does is even more important [but not always, which is scary as shit] … however in terms of respect, knowing the person you are dealing with holds a certain place in an organisation is important hence the role a title has does play some value.

2/ For me – and this is only for me – the real value of having a title is basically highlighting who has responsibility for making things happen or doing things. Of course we know that doesn’t always happen … but what I like about titles is that it informs the wider team who should be performing so they can be evaluated on that – though I also accept that doesn’t mean people can easily get rid of that person, not unless they hold a more senior position.

So yes, titles are shit, but they do play a role even though the way many people and companies use them is completely diminishing that.

Comment by Rob

I think I may be coming down with a cold. Good morning.

Comment by Marcus

Have you had some Annadin lovely?

Comment by Rob

Not yet. Do you think I should have a lie down?

Comment by Marcus

We have a Head of Planning, which is a very nice and simple way of putting it!

Not a Global Digital Senior Planning Director EMEA (on one account)

Comment by Rob Mortimer

TBWA have a Disruption Director and Head of Media Arts.
That’s not a rant, I’m just saying.
By the way, what’s the difference between a strategist and a planner?

Comment by northern

About £10k?

Comment by Rob Mortimer


Comment by Marcus

its like the time kentucky fried fucking chicken changed their name to kfc because they were seen as filthy dirty evil fuckers. didnt do them much good like being a fucking strategist doesnt do much planners any fucking good. especially when they open their gob and say they should do a fucking ad.

Comment by andy@cynic

Give someone a job title to avoid giving them a pay rise, basically.

Northern – I was a strategist for a time. I think it was done at Lowe to make more like consultants. Make of that what you will.

Comment by Will

whats your job title young will?

Comment by andy@cynic

Comment by niko

fuck me will, youre zooming up mr corporates ladder arent you. youll be sorrells fuck buddy in a couple of years.

head of fucked. now thats a fucking title.

Comment by andy@cynic

I love how this blog slips back into its unique groove without any effort.

Comment by Pete

is that posh for “fucking shit?”

Comment by andy@cynic

I know my place.

Comment by Chris

Andy/Niko – when there’s a department of three, it was that or EVP. 😉

Comment by Will

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