Charged with leading some of the sharpest tools in the shed, the role of media planning director has never been as important as it is today.

In an ever complex and fragmented media environment, media planners are the brains of a media agency, helping clients reach audiences on the right channels and the right times and, often, with stretched budgets.

This list comprises some of the top directors who lead media planning teams in the industry.

10. Elyse Foley & David Bielenberg, Planning Heads, PHD
Foley and Bielenberg head up planning in PHD’s Sydney and Melbourne offices, respectively.

Foley re-joined PHD earlier this year to succeed Alex Williams, and has more than a decade of client leadership experience with strong planning credentials. She has previously worked at Initiative, and clients including PepsiCo, Unilever and IAG.

Bielenberg , the head of strategy and planning at PHD’s Melbourne office, is a strong advocate for better measurement and has loads of experience, including as a planning business director at the leading UK media agency, MG OMD and previously MediaCom in Brisbane.

He recently was part of the team that delivered the return of the ANZ Falcon.

9. Sophie Langton, Head of Planning & Connections, Spark Foundry
Langton entered the media industry in 2009, starting as a research assistant intern at Southern Cross Austereo.

Since then, she has progressed through diverse roles in media and planning at Match Media, Blue 449, and Leo Burnett.

Langton currently heads planning and connections at Spark Foundry. In this capacity, she oversees agency planning initiatives and drives learning and development programs.

Langton is driven by a passion for bridging connections within the industry, particularly focusing on integrating media, creativity, and measurement.

8. Kate Smither, Owner, The Tall Planner
Smither boasts over 20 years of industry experience, commencing as a communications director in 2003.

In 2019, Smither founded The Tall Planner with a mission to deliver straightforward strategies to clients, believing in making strategic advice accessible and beneficial for clients of all sizes.

The Tall Planner addresses a wide range of challenges, from positioning and pitching to training and thought leadership, utilising innovation and research in their projects.

During her tenure as global planning director at Ogilvy in London, Smither’s strategic leadership on the Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign resulted in the campaign earning more than 40 awards, including the Cannes Titanium Grand Prix and Cannes Effectiveness Lions.

7. Steve Thornton, Group Digital Director, Wavemaker
Thornton is a strategic media planner with more than a decade of experience, including at Dentsu’s iProspect and Carat in the UK.

He joined Wavemaker ANZ four-and-a-half years ago, and now manages the Mondelez account that is regarded as the best run market globally.

Thornton is described internally as a ‘digital native’ with a penchant for MMM.

Wavemaker has been one of the standout agencies in the past year, picking up the B&T Award’s Media Agency of the Year in 2023.

6. Nell Corbett, Group Business Director, Havas Media Group
Corbett last year transitioned into the role of group business director at Havas Media Group, having initially joined the company as a business director in 2020.

Prior to her time at Havas, Corbett held various media leadership positions at Spark Foundry, the7stars, and Carat UK.

In her current capacity, Corbett oversees the day-to-day account management for a diverse portfolio of clients, including COTY Luxury and Consumer divisions, JDE, and Red Bull.

5. Sarah Heitkamp & Simon Schoen, National Heads of Strategy & Planning, Zenith
Heitkamp and Schoen both lead strategy and planning in the Sydney and Melbourne offices, respectively.

Heitkamp has spent the majority of her career at Zenith Media and notched up several accolades for her work recently and was a finalist of the B&T Women In Media Awards last year. Schoen has spent 12 years at Zenith and was previously at UM.

The pair are responsible for building a strategy and planning community across the business and have been at the forefront of implementing Zenith’s ‘ROI agency’ proposition, which has recently evolved to encompassing ‘investment’, ‘imagination’ and ‘insights’.

Zenith topped the COMVergence new business wins with its planning chops clearly making waves in the industry.

The pair now report to recently appointed Zenith chief strategy and product officer Penelope Shell.

4. Ashleigh Carter, Head of Client Service & Planning, Atomic 212
Carter entered the industry in 2011 as a media planner and buyer at Cut Above Media.

Following her tenure at MediaCom Australia, she joined Atomic 212 in 2014 and currently holds the position of head of client service and planning.

With over 12 years of experience as a group account director and media planner, Carter has worked extensively across the FMCG, travel, health and wellness, and financial sectors in the Australian and New Zealand markets.

Her career encompasses both brand and acquisition campaigns, and she has expertise in managing relationships with both internal teams and external stakeholders.

Carter has previously discussed with B&T her commitment to gender equality and her passion for supporting environmentally conscious small disrupter businesses.

3. Ryan Haeusler, National Head of Communications Design, Initiative
It was during a lecture on Consumer Psychology that Ryan Haeusler first found his passion for advertising.

With over 11 years in the industry, he began as an account director at OMD before joining Initiative in 2015.

At Initiative, Haeusler has progressed from client manager to his current role as head of communication design.

Throughout his career, Haeusler has served clients across a broad spectrum of industries, including financial services, entertainment, retail, pharmaceuticals, automotive, FMCG, and toys.

2. Laura Fell, National Head of Connections Planning, Mindshare
It has been a standout year for Mindshare’s national head of connections planning, Laura Fell.

Fell was instrumental to new business wins across the business, including Unilever, by creating a new innovative integrated approach to the full agency that includes commerce and owned media capabilities.

Fell’s career spans over ten years, having worked in the media and communications planning space, specialising in campaign strategy, brand storytelling and stakeholder relations.

She is a global media manager for Tourism Australia and has also worked at Sky in the UK, Ansible Australia and UM Australia, among others.

1. Thad King, National Head of Communications Planning, OMD
With more than 18 years of planning experience across the Australian and UK markets, Thad King is passionate about delivering best-in-class media planning to all clients within OMD.

King is a key figure in Australia’s largest media agency, helping it to “continually show bravery and creativity” in planning by implementing a continual test-and-learn approach to get the best outcomes.

King’s development of agency planning and channel playbooks not only ensures rigour and best practice for all OMD clients, it has driven effectiveness results for clients as high as 78 per cent.

Complementing this, he develops OMD’s planning and measurement tools to further improve business effectiveness.

King leads OMD’s partnerships with Adgile to drive measurement and effectiveness across screens, and Amplified Intelligence to build attention as a key factor in OMD’s planning approach.

Article originally published on B&T.