Account Management people seldom get any respect.
It does not matter if they work in an Advertising, Media, or Digital Agency. They are usually thought of as glorified traffic managers, “yes” men, and in some cases the Client’s in-house enforcer.
This sad state of affairs is the result of a deep, industry-wide misunderstanding of the Account Management function and has terrible effects on the Agency business.
The Account Management person can make a huge difference if he adds real value in five different areas:
1) Manage the Agency Brand.
The Account Manager is the Brand Manager of the Agency Brand.
All Agencies tell their Clients that they need to define brand equity and make sure that this equity is delivered and reinforced in every single contact with the target. The same principle applies to the Agency Brand. They may want to be known as “Creative”, “Strategic”, “Social Media driven”, “Global” or any of a number of positions. It is the responsibility of the Account Manager to build this equity with the Client in each contact, every day. Failure to do this will result in the Agency not living up to what it tells the world in its website and PR. If no one on the Client side sees the Agency as really delivering a differential competitive benefit, they will not defend it. The Agency will then be on the way to commoditization and procurement hell.
2) Manage different personalities
The Account Manager has to deal with a wide variety of personality types and he must be able to actively influence all them. He must convince the hard charging Client that he understands the business and will be able to properly represent him in the Agency. At the same time he must build trust and rapport with the Creatives and persuade then that he is passionate about the quality of the work. And he must be trusted by Agency Management to deliver the growth and profitability results that are necessary, even in a “creative” business.
The interests of these three main constituencies many times look irreconcilable. It often feels that the Account Manager can only make one out of three happy. But he must deliver all three and this can only happen if he can understand different perspectives and motivations and build productive, long-term relationships with these divergent, yet highly dominant personality types.
3) Manage Ideas
Ideas are the lifeblood of the Agency business. There is nothing more important. Getting them right is the difference between happy Clients, creative recognition and a profitable Agency or going out of business.
The Account Manager is responsible for several key steps in the road to great Ideas. He must understand the Client’s business well enough to take a marketing problem and identify its underlying communicational challenge. He must then craft a brief that is not only strategically correct but also insightful and inspiring. He must be able to deliver this brief in a way that makes it seem important and fun to work on.
Once the creative is being developed he must have the ability to look at the work in process and determine if it is going in the right direction. If it is not, he must be able to articulate the issues to the creative department in a way that they both understand the issue, and buy in to the need to make a change.
Finally, he must be able to present the work to the Client and show that this is not just a cool idea, but also the best possible solution the Client’s marketing problem.
Managing Ideas is complex and requires a lot of experience and “feel”. It also requires a huge amount of credibility, both with the Creatives and the Client. It is not easy. But nothing is more important.
4) Manage Results
Getting things to happen in an Agency is difficult. This is due to several things. The creative process is unpredictable and the right solution may arrive in days or months. This randomness has to be reconciled with real life timetables. Additionally, Client priorities become Agency priorities; when this is multiplied by the number of Clients, scheduling anything can become very complicated.
Finally, there are Agency projects that must be done that take time away from Clients. New Business typically drains the Agency resources dry while the pitch in on. And there is always a pitch going on.
With all of this chaos swirling around him, the Account Management person has to make sure that his Client’s projects get, done, on time, within budget, and with a high level of quality. If it does not get done, problems are virtually guaranteed.
5) Provide a credible POV on the Client’s business
An Account Manager will typically sit down to talk about tractors with one Client and diapers with another. And in both cases, he needs to have a credible point of view. It he does bring knowledge and insight to the table his Client will look at him as a Supplier but not an Adviser. Importantly, the Agency that he represents will also be moved down along the line to commoditization.
The successful Account Manager will be the one that can bring fresh perspectives to the table. He will bring things to the Client that he did not know, and importantly, things that give him competitive advantage. Once he does this, he is well on the way to establishing his, and the Agency’s worth, in the eyes of the Client. He is moving his Agency away from commoditization.
If an Account Manager does these five things he will make an invaluable contribution to building his Clients’ Brand, the Agency’s business, and his own career.