98% Pure Potato: The Origins of Advertising Account Planning

By John Griffiths and Tracey Follows

The story of how account planning began, told by its pioneers

“Stanley was a philosopher. We were sort of called in to his office to have daily tutorials. Actually we weren’t called into his office. We had to go out with him to lunch and drink a lot of wine for tutorials. His stamina with alcohol was amazing and he was brilliant. He was always highly intellectual when he was drunk so it was good.” Jane Newman

The first planning department at Pritchard Wood was the brainchild of Stanley Pollitt. He brought together an eclectic group of very bright people but was only notionally in charge. But what brought Stanley to planning?

His father was a portrait painter trained by the pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt and Stanley had a thorough grounding in fine arts and music, although he wasn’t a painter or a musician. He studied law at Cambridge and had a brilliant mind and wide ranging interests. He boxed for both his school and his Cambridge college, and in his younger years as an account executive, was not averse to having a punch-up on a night out. Paul Feldwick recalls Friday evenings when Stanley would push past the drinkers that had overflowed from Soho pubs in the hope of jostling one or two into spilling their beer and squaring up to him. Stanley’s daughter Katy confirmed that her father sometimes came home with cuts and bruises after a night out.

This puts Stanley’s comment that planners must “fight their corner” between creatives and account men in context. For him, planning was about influence, it was not simply a box to be ticked in the process of assembling advertising. There was more to planning than intellectual exchanges: the best work came out of conflict and passion. Not process and rationalization, but something more human, something more passionate.

When people talk about Stanley, they talk about a man shambling around in a tweed jacket looking for a cigarettes and a light. He smoked constantly and was reputed to have set fire to himself more than once. It’s easy to imagine him forgetting his lit cigarette in the heat of debate.

Stanley might write the important presentations, but he was unlikely to be the one delivering them. However brilliant a thinker and controversialist, Stanley wasn’t a natural spokesman. Prone to mumbling, sometimes he was simply impossible to understand. And yet clients adored him – the eccentric professor figure who was passionate about their advertising, who thought deeply about how it drove their business.

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