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Account People: The Gateway to Great Work. The Agency Midwives.



How you can get the most out of your account people, by Elisabeth Smith, Director of Client Service at KraftWorks

Account People: The Gateway to Great Work. The Agency Midwives.
In the Madison Avenue-era of advertising, the account department seemed to be a respected part of the agency engine; as business people, they schmoozed, won accounts and had personal relationships with clients. But somewhere along the way there was a mutiny: creativity won its proper place in the hierarchy, seemingly at the expense of the account department.

I can empathise. After all, that’s my job. Account People are the middlemen, the buzz-kill, the purse strings, and the bearer of bad news on both sides. However, as marketing budgets are condensed, media requirements becoming more immediate and creative share of voice, even more competitive – we’re not just the messengers, we’re the crucial line of management and efficiency required to make your creative marketing a success. Dare I say, we’re the key to your happiness.

Within the creative agency popularity contest, account management scores pretty low. Many agencies have tried, unsuccessfully, to create a model where the account department does not exist, as if we were solely responsible for the difficulties of advertising. Back in my native Australia, the account people were so disdained; the creative department rang a large brass bell to warn that one of us was descending into their area. Thankfully, times (and countries) have changed and the notion that the creative department is where all the answers are is also questionable. Chances are, your account director has been exposed to more categories, egos, business models, marketing failures and successes than the creative or the client, and this is incredibly valuable information when building a successful campaign.

Sure, creativity will always be the agency product, the baby. But account management are the Obstetricians/ Midwives/ Doulas. The baby, however grotesque, will always be swooned after, but we can help you avoid a difficult labour.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your account people and, ultimately, your agency:

- Account Management is your only ally in the agency. While you may think the creative director is your spirit animal, she would rather be anywhere else than in your debrief. It’s the account people who are able to talk her into making the sixth round of revisions, or off the ledge, as it will. Take the effort to get to know and appreciate your account people, they will get you what you want.

- This is not a one-way transaction. Like a good marriage, respect, openness and honesty goes a long way on both sides. No account person will ever go the extra mile for a cruel client. But a client that openly communicates and appreciates their contribution? We won’t mind nearly as much that we’re doing your PowerPoint presentations on our weekend.

- Ask and expect solid advice from your account team. To my earlier point – your account director has likely negotiated a lot of creative, business and logistical challenges in their career, and you should use that to your advantage. A problem shared is a problem halved, and collaboration on the setbacks as well as solutions is good and fulfilling agency practice.

- While we’re a service industry, we’re not your servants. I recently heard from a friend, a Group Account Director at a big shop, that a junior client interrupted her during meeting preparation to ask her to go out and get him something different for lunch. Not only is that entirely rude, it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the time and value of work that agencies provide. Times have changed Toots, we’re not here to get you lunch, we’re here to run your marketing business. Don’t abuse your position as a client. 

- Understand roles and structure of your account team to reflect your business. Match your agency team with your internal team to ensure efficiency. An account director trying to discuss strategy with an assistant marketing manager or vice versa is only going to lengthen the process. In a perfect world (small agencies), there would be less cooks in the kitchen, but if you are a multi-level and multi-meeting organisation, line up your agency team’s experience with your own team. This allows for greater learning, fosters confidence, peer-to-peer relationships and ultimately streamlines decision-making.

Elisabeth Smith is Director of Client Service at KraftWorks

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