The American Association of Advertising Agencies recently held an Account Management Conference. Among the speakers was Carl Johnson, founder of Anomaly Communications, who spoke about how it is being a ‘suit’ – the client servicing executive– in an advertising agency.
While describing it as an ‘all-access pass’ and highlighting the sheer unexpectedness of the job, he makes a valid point: if done badly, account management can be the worst job in the world. The key, according to him is to focus on what will drive client business, not keeping the client happy.
I am sure the suits (I am one) in the Indian advertising scene would agree with him. Even though its very easy to say and difficult to practice. If you look back at the industry leaders who have had an Account Management background, they have perhaps reached where they have, because the client respects the inputs they can give on the brand. Not simply because they can get a job done or manage a process well. In reality, very few Brand Managers respect the Account Management team simply because very few of them command that respect. During my AE days, I have had my share of difficult and good clients. They too must have seen me as a general dogs-body and that attitude hurts. Your self esteem goes for a toss and you stop believing in yourself. You think you have the worst job in the world and feel under-appreciated. And that’s a spiral that can become second nature. The only way that can be changed is to deliver ideas that can make a difference to the client’s business. If you look at career’s of our role models in advertising, they made a difference to the client’s business and when the client has that confidence in you, the job becomes a joy.
Due to a combination of reasons – poor entry level pay, attractiveness of other industries, lack of training – the Account Management function has been sidelined in many agencies. The result: they tend to focus only on the operational stuff. And get walked all over by the client, leading to frustration and cursing the job. When self-esteem and confidence is low, the ability to say ‘no’ to a client goes for a toss. Result: when the client says, ‘jump’, the question asked is ‘how high?’. I had written something related to these issues here and here.
Despite the rise of specialists, the account management function is critical for the business. Agencies may claim to do away with the function but it will remain in some form or the other. While it is the most under-rated function in an agency, for me, no other specialist function offers the scope this does. When done well, the Account Management person can be a Planner, fire fighter, catalyst, evangelist and more.
If you are in account management in advertising, does all this sound like bullshit? Is the reality different from what is ‘preached’ as the ideals of account management? Do tell.