The Author

David Brent’s eclectic career and experiences largely involved responsibilities requiring discipline, rigor, investigative skills and also flair and innovation.

His early life experiences included Second World War traumas – in the UK and North Atlantic and in Malaya during the Japanese attack; later service as a platoon commander in the defence of NATO; after special training with the London Metropolitan Police, service in 1952-58 as a senior para-military police officer in Malaya during the Emergency, the exhausting counter-insurgency war against the communists’ ruthless and brutal armed conflict with the objective to take over Malaya and Singapore; police district commander in Malaya’s jungle hinterlands; jungle counter-insurgency commander; service in Malaya’s paramount secret service – counter insurgency intelligence and counter-espionage.

The many combined skills of hard-won powerful intelligence, investigation, analysis, tactics and strategies, jungle warfare craft, winning hearts and minds and coordination of effort by police, intelligence, civilian and military was the winning exemplary formula that finally  defeated the communists after 12 long and exhausting years and won independence for Malaya and Singapore.

The victory was recognized as a beacon of light in the dark and dangerous years of the ‘Cold War’ against international communism and the ambitions of the USSR.

It is a most significant point that the quality of leadership, brilliant management and dedicated commitment in Malaya denied the communists their mission to eventually take over South-East Asia.

David Brent had the opportunity to help explain the success story to the world when he appeared in the 2004 BBC TV documentary ‘Empire Warriors – The Intelligence War’ when he particularly confirmed that ‘You couldn’t win without [superb, hard won] intelligence.’  [The program may be seen online on the Internet at the URL – http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1vzxfe ].

The alternative flawed policy, leadership and modus operandi in Vietnam by the American generals together with massive ordnance and man-power was unfortunately counter-productive and an inevitable formula for failure. Problems included wrong assumptions, complacency [can’t possibly loose], fabrications/inaccuracies, an obsession with conventional warfare and an ethnocentric attitude towards their allies and the population. The British mission of Malayan veterans to Vietnam to counsel the Americans on Asian counter-insurgency warfare was largely ignored by the American generals who massively escalated the unwinnable war leading to their final defeat. There were many instances of great daring and courage by Americans. But there was no hope of final success with such massive flaws in MO and strategy.

The Malayan Police Special Branch, the country’s paramount secret service, became the most powerful and successful intelligence service in the region. In the fifties and early sixties officers from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Australian Secret Intelligence Organization benefitted considerably from the intensive training at Malaya’s intelligence training school in Kuala Lumpur.

The reason why this vital history is explained at the outset is because there is a vital link in the train of events from warfare to commerce [the advertising industry].

The Americans in Vietnam relied entirely on a deeply engrained commitment to conventional warfare. It was a massive error.

The British and Malayan authorities developed a highly innovative formula which with skill, tenacity and patience finally defeated communism in Malaya and in its mission to take over South-East Asia.

In spite of some outstanding successes over the decades in the early 20th Century the generally flawed conventional advertising agency MO was prone to an unacceptable level of errors and failures. The insights from innovative warfare management in Malaya and the absolutely vital insights from highly innovative world-best marketing and market research at Unilever Australia were the breakthrough experiences that convinced David Brent that a new ad agency MO with a highly multi-skilled specialist working proactively with the agency teams and clients was the exemplary innovative formula for the future. How this came about is explained.

Following GM of a market research company in Singapore and ad agency account service, creative writing and media management in Singapore and Australia, David Brent was extremely fortunate in 1962 to join Unilever Australia who were looking for a person with combined market research and advertising agency experience. Here he acquired extremely valuable and rare experience in world-best marketing and world-best market research working intensely with Unilever’s marketing teams and its many successful brands.

This was the fortunate turning point with considerable involvement in Unilever’s many advertising campaigns with its retinue of major advertising agencies. The outcome by 1965 was David Brent’s identification of a major flaw in the MO of advertising agencies due to lack of sufficient marketing orientation among senior management and talent, over emphasis of unbridled creative intuition and insufficient ongoing interface with consumers in the market place. He believed that the only solution was a new specialist multi-skilled professional to proactively work with agency teams and clients with ongoing interface with consumers.

The skills of powerful marketing, powerful market research, intelligence, planning and advertising were successfully introduced by David Brent into a Sydney agency, Thompson Ansell Blunden [later Grey Advertising] in January 1966. The title of ‘planner’ was adopted later as it was in the UK also.

In 2004 the former MD of the agency, Bruce McDonald, Founder Chairman, Grey Advertising, Australia and the Pacific, Founder Chairman, Advertising Federation of Australia, was gracious to say ‘…. Then there were planners, thinkers, strategists. This then was David; among the first and undoubtedly, one of the most professional thinkers at this early time, and still now.’

David Brent’s record of highly successful ad agency planning over the following years is at www.originplan.com

It is worthwhile to point out that a key objective of the new agency planning MO included the establishment of a greater degree of honesty and integrity to overcome the long established habits in some ad agencies of hyperbole, inaccuracy and expediency, leading to power playing that had for too long plagued some ad agencies and contributed to costly errors and failures. Not the high level of service clients expected.

Global recognition

Wikipedia – Account Planning

‘In Australia the inventor of the role in 1965 was David Brent, a senior researcher at Unilever who had served as a senior para-military police commander in a long major counter-insurgency jungle war in Asia and in the national secret service followed by ad agency account service, creative writing and media management. These qualifications, skills and experiences led to the launch of the new role in a Sydney agency in 1966.’

The Planning Hall of Fame includes

David Brent – PIONEER OF THE AD AGENCY PLANNING ROLE IN AUSTRALIA – 1965 / 66

David Brent was a para-military police officer in a long counter-insurgency war in Malaya in the fifties in which he also served in the nation’s secret service. After work in Singapore in market research, ad agency account service and creative writing and in Sydney in ad agency account service and media management he joined Unilever in Sydney as a market researcher specializing in advertising research and then later as general research client contact. After years working with Unilever’s marketing teams and Unilever’s many successful brands involved in many forms of market research, especially advertising research, David believed that the modus operandi of ad agencies was inadequate. At the end of 1965 he conceived the idea of a specialist role in the ad agency combining marketing, market research, intelligence and advertising. In 1966 he launched the new role in a medium size Sydney ad agency, Thompson Ansell Blunden [later Grey Advertising].
In the second agency he again launched the planning role in 1969 and over the next 8 years the agency, Hertz Walpole Advertising, experienced rapid growth with the combination of powerful planning and spectacular campaigns.
It is possible that the initial version of planning launched by David Brent in Australia was more inclusive than the initial version in the UK with concern for total brand health as well as the advertising development process. Probably this was due to David’s background and experience with Unilever concerned with the many facets of brand performance and health.
Possibly the world’s only exclusive story of the conception and pioneering the ad agency planning role in 1965/66 with detailed case histories and comments by appreciative agency chiefs and clients can be found at www.originplan.com.

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The very fortunate experience of world-best marketing and market research at Unilever led to an agency MO that saved time and cost. It helped to uncover hidden opportunities and to avoid costly errors. It was the beginning of a more professional and business-like modus operandi for ad agencies.

Does this sound like a great success story? Well, yes and no!

Typical of the advertising industry, in spite of the fact that the experienced planner is a pivotal role in the ad agency, first some high profile agency chiefs attacked the new agency planning role in a desperate attempt to defend a long outdated conventional agency modus operandi. Second, too many ad agency chiefs later failed to try to fully understand the new agency planning role and consequently hired smooth-talking imposters with few qualifications and experience. In worse case scenarios neither the agency chief or the ‘planner’ knew what a planner was really supposed to do.
Does this sometimes still happen? It certainly does.

In the UK in 2007 a leading industry luminary authored a scathing criticism of many young planners in his extremely well-written chapter in the excellent book, The SAGE Handbook of Advertising [page 184] in which it seems that that too many young planners have been carried away by their own seeming importance and lost track of the original vision of the pioneers of the innovative agency planning role. Not very productive for ad agencies and their clients!

In an industry already notorious for a perceived tendency among some to prefer hyperbole rather than the truth and a proclivity for persuasive ‘bull’ the high level of professionalism by the originators and early practitioners of planning seems to have gradually eroded over time in some sectors. Some earlier indications to support this view stem from an article in Australian industry journal, Ad News, 27 August 1999 in which there was reference to the US Account Planning Conference in San Diego. Some highlights and criticisms of planning included some failure to work closely with researchers and clients, failing to follow through on delivery and succumbing to age old problems of expediency.

In Ad News, 22 October 1999, planning pioneer, David Brent, authored an article pointing out problems with the ad agency planning role – ‘The two greatest problems that planning has in the future in Australia, and I suspect overseas, are first insufficient understanding and confidence in the role by top management and what it can achieve for agency and clients [including increased profitability], and second, the recruitment of inexperienced people into the role without the credentials to make a strong contribution to the agency team’s work and the success of its clients. In both cases, the attitude of some towards specialist planning is deeply imbedded in the mindset of the draughts player who fails to recognize that the game is chess, which requires a different set of skills to match its complexity, but stubbornly clings to the belief that it’s just another game of little black and white pieces on the board. ‘What’s the difference? And we’ll bulls-t through all the tough parts we find.’ And again about ‘wannabe’ planners, ‘Far too many believe that they can be great marketers and strategists without solid training or any experience at the coal face in marketing, research and allied skills with successful companies and important brands. This view appears to be reinforced all too often when ‘planners’ write shallow articles for industry publications which are all too apparently attempts to fictionalize situations to suit their own imaginations, denigrate research experience because they have none or very little, make misguided and incorrect claims about research and imply that “personality” people can make it big in planning because they are so lovable, enthusiastic and passionate. Showmanship? Bull? Agency PR? Yes, but in the end sowing the seeds of future problems because – don’t they realize it? – marketers have had a bellyful of transparent hype by some agency people.’
Note: The large multi-national ad agency whose ‘planner’ had been responsible for some of these ridiculous pronouncements responded rapidly with immediate changes to its planning department.

The reader will observe the clear evidence that since the invention of the highly professional, multi-skilled ad agency planning role too many imaginative young aspirants believe that having some reasonable intelligence instantly qualifies them with the skills and experience of marketing and strategic development and for the important, highly paid role of planner in an ad agency. They have to be dreaming!

All the above reinforces the indisputable fact that the professional ad agency planning role is the most complex role in the industry principally due to the need for quality multi-skilling. Also that it is without doubt still the most hideously misunderstood role in the industry