“Suits, Bag Carriers”:… account management doesn’t always get terrific press.
When things go well, it’s thanks to the creative (and Creatives). Poorly, and it’s down to account management (AM). It’s often said that agencies win accounts on the strength of the creative and lose them on the weakness of client service. As the great Don Draper once said, “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one.”
Maybe things are less brutal these days, but when I started out you’d often head off to the client clutching your oversized art bag with an idle threat ringing in your ear: “If you don’t sell it, don’t bother coming back,” (they weren’t joking). I recall one hapless AM who, upon failing to sell the work, was later found sellotaped to his office chair travelling up and down in the agency lift, to general amusement. I think HR policies were different then!
Indeed, the suits who survive and thrive are a rare breed – irrationally passionate about the advertising business and the power of great ideas, unceasingly personable and empathetic, and remarkably thick-skinned, immune to criticism and knock-backs. We’re also persistent – we know that we have to be the grown-ups; it’s down to us to drive things forward and build productive working relationships, both with clients and within the agency.
I recently read a series of articles explaining some of the jargon used by other disciplines – creative, media, production – but not account management, and so it occurred to me that an Account Management Jargon Buster is long overdue. Here we go:
Scope of Work/Statement of Work – an essential document that spells out what the client actually wants from the agency. It’s the basis of your budgeting and every financial and resourcing commitment that client and agency make. Without a clear SOW, it’s possible that you’re going to get fleeced. Or fired.
Way of Working – this relates to the structure and processes of the client organisation and working relationship with its agency. Why does it matter? Any agency account manager will tell you the frustrations of getting a clear client brief, or seeking consolidated client feedback, or getting senior client sign-off before you’ve done all the work. Ultimately, all inefficiencies and confusion client-side land squarely in account management’s lap.
ATL, BTL, TTL, OL… lots of lines these days, but only one that truly matters, and that’s DEADLINES. Missing a deadline is every account person’s worst nightmare, as regardless of the cause, it’ll be your fault. Just look up the original definition of deadline and all will become clear: “A line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.” Which seems fairly accurate.
These seem to have fallen out of fashion, regularly putting agencies in peril. A contact report is an essential record of what has been discussed and agreed between agency and client (whether in a meeting or on a call) – e.g. approval of a quote, agreement on a choice of director, requirements to amend creative work. A shared contact report is a contract, and without one there’s no record… which can be problematic, potentially catastrophic. When I was a grad trainee, the writing of contact reports was considered a vital skill, and we were regularly drilled in this almost mystical art. Recording facts was fine, but the choice of language could elevate a CR from a depressing list of meeting minutes to an inspiring springboard for further development. Here are a couple of typical examples:
- “It was agreed that further work was required” = The client hated the work
- “The work was well received” = The work was met with a stunned silence
- “The agency shared Work in Progress” = The agency hadn’t done the work yet
- “Further discussion required” = It was a complete nightmare, everyone disagreed and the client stormed out
- “The client received the work warmly” = The client saw the work and threw up on the table
I’m reading a lot about the growing importance of customer experience in marketing. Good marketers have always known that product and price are less important to many customers than a great experience, which provides a competitive advantage that can drive sales and increase loyalty. Likewise, let me introduce you to my alternative CX = Client Experience. Right at the epicentre of account management, our raison d’être, is the experience that we provide to our clients. This means focusing on delivering brilliant service along every step of the Client Journey – from the day you win the account, and every single day thereafter. It means listening, especially to the things the clients don’t say. Understanding that selling an ad that the client is not sure about might well not be in your longer-term interests. It means turning those ‘Spidey-senses’ up to eleven, telling the client before they ask, treating the client’s money as if it were your own, and so much more. Great Client Experience can help you through bad times and ads that don’t work.
We’re always talking to our clients about how to measure advertising success – awareness, engagement, sales, likes, whatever. We’re often less forthcoming in proposing the measurement of agency performance, both hard measures (e.g. campaign results) and soft (qualitative factors such as agency responsiveness). There’s a reluctance, probably fuelled by distant memories of hiding our school report (or was that just me?). Yet handled proactively and collaboratively, KPIs can provide truly meaningful and motivating joint targets for both client and agency. It’s the opportunity to create a sense of shared ownership in the outcome, demonstrating that the agency does indeed understand the importance of sales (effectively having skin in the game), and that the client believes in the importance of great creative (think awards). It is entirely within the power of account management to make this happen.
B2C, B2B, C2C, C2B, B2G, G2C, B2B2C, and so on ad nauseum. TBH I can’t keep up. The marketing tech world has an unhealthy love of acronyms that can be overwhelming at times (it was the same with the “e-” trend). OK, it’s important to be clear on your client’s business model, and know who they are selling to, obvs. But there’s a huge danger that we start to view B2B audiences, for instance, as being somehow different to B2C audiences, let alone B2G audiences. (G is government btw). It falls to us suits to keep things real. Which means reminding everyone that ultimately, it’s all H2H at the end of the day (H is human of course), and so we still require big brilliant creative ideas to have an impact.
Not, in this case, the national currency of Mexico, but a useful model that defines all marcoms channels available to you. PESO stands for ‘Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned’, and serves as a means of understanding not only the huge array of media channels, but also the possibilities for integrating communications efforts to make your creative work as hard as possible, and reaching audiences effectively.
Everyone’s talking about toolkits these days – brand toolkits, media toolkits, etc. So it’s about time we had an account management toolkit. Once upon a time there were PAs, secretaries, typing pools (where you could always find the young male AEs loitering with intent). Now account management does all this, so we’d better be tooled up. Here’s a few that, for me, have become utterly invaluable:
- iLovePDF OMG! Free and totally brilliant, this website serves me well every single day. Whatever you want to do to a PDF, you can do it here. It’ll change your life I promise.
- WeTransfer: I’m sure everyone uses this but I can hardly imagine my working day without it, especially in a world of file sharing and firewalls. I also use Smash as a fall-back.
- Unsplash: A treasure trove of free, high quality photos for all those presentations and overly wordy documents. Some are a little West Coast hipster, but still lots to pick, without those annoying watermarks.
- YouTube downloader: If you search, you’ll always find free versions, allowing you to download YT videos and add them to all your lovely presentations. That said, I usually end up downloading opera.
- World Clock Meeting Planner: Anyone who works on global business will understand the value of a simple means of simultaneously viewing multiple time zones. This way, you’ll know that when you’re arranging a meeting with folks in London, Winnipeg and Delhi, a 2pm start is probably just about workable for everyone.
- Margin calculator: Account handlers spend much of their career pretending that they’re better at maths than they really are. Let’s face it, most of us studied Politics (the posh ones did PPE), Geography or Gender Studies. Nothing equipped us for the demands of reading a balance sheet, manipulating spreadsheets or discussing a client’s operating margin. The motivated ones use tools like this margin calculator; the smartest ones read books and make the Finance Director their BFF.
Meaning “pull a number out of my arse”. The commercial responsibility laid on account management can at times become a crazy guessing game. Of course it’s important that agencies have clarity on current and anticipated client spend; it’s how we plan resource and successfully manage our business. But forcing us to forecast client spend over the next 12 months is fraught with danger. For one, it’s rare that the client knows. Their annual budget planning cycle can leave such things very much up in the air, and I’ve known marketing budgets to be still under discussion well into a new financial year. Then there is the issue of trust, for whilst most agencies state in their contract that they won’t start any work until they have a PO, in reality this is very difficult to stick to when we’re under time pressure and clients insist that the PO is in the system (not dissimilar to the cheque being in the post).
So, there you have it, a jargon buster of sorts, and hopefully this will be useful to all you bag carriers out there. Interested to find out how we create lasting client-agency partnerships? Then get in touch.