The apparent distinction seems to be that planners do creative stuff and strategists do business stuff. In most instances I think the difference is as simple as some agencies chose one title, and others chose the other title. Where there is a real distinction - I agree - it is usually whether they get involved in the creative process or not.
In the UK, where account planning began, the difference only really exists in digital agencies with American roots. UK planners have had to consequently develop broader skillsets. With bigger budgets on this side of the Atlantic, many agencies can afford to have both types of people.
I'm not sure if there is room for both roles in the future, as margins continue to shrink in the digital world. It'll be interesting to watch. It's likely that digital agencies will experience the same thing that happened with account planning in advertising agencies- which had two original inventors and cultures. My view is that the distinction will disappear in digital agencies.
Account planning started in the UK in the 1960s by Stanley Pollitt and Stephen King at JWT. It gained a foothold in the U.S. in the mid 80’s - through Chiat/Day - and has been growing ever since. King would have aligned himself much more closely with what they call Strategists, here in the US, and Pollitt, would have aligned himself with what they call Planners here. The distinction has now disappeared.I worry for the account planner who knows nothing about business, or the strategist who doesn't understand consumers. Do these people really exist, and how do they survive?
This post was a follow-up to an answer I contributed on Quora to a question entitled: What is the difference between an account planner and a strategist?
It's no surprise there is confusion. If you watch the videos below filmed here in New York you'll notice a few things:
- Most of the planners are British
- The videos aim to show consensus, but they don't really agree on very much
- The Planners all have different answers for what we do in concrete terms. Other professions find it easier to describe what they do. A film director would say 'I direct the actors and crew in the making of a film'. An architect would say 'I plan, design and oversee the construction of buildings'. Planners all have very different answers.
Here's a series of videos from PSFK on Skills of The Rockstar Planning that spotlight the differences in definition.