The death of the AE has been predicted for decades now. There was a time when the Copy & Art guys were assiduously kept away from the client. The media team’s interaction with the client was limited. The onus was on the AE (and I use the term to refer to Account Management in general) to understand the clients and also sell the agency point of view. God help the AE, if he failed. I remember getting back to the agency after a client meeting with great trepidation – the news of copy changes in the ad had to be broken to the copywriter and one had to get the changes done – only to be told that it will take a week! And then came the era of specialization – specialist media units interfaced with the client independently. The AE was cut off from that loop and was left clueless about the media business. Ditto for specialist units like DM. The AE was pronounced dead. The creatives then began to meet clients directly and began to take briefs and sell their points of view. They were recognized as stars. The Planners too found their place in the sun as specialists. The role of the Account Management team came into question even more. They have been much-maligned and stereotyped as folks who just want ‘some’ work out, half-baked or otherwise.
Everyone except the poor AE has cliques, Clubs and commendations. The CEO’s have their inner circle and Ad Club committees. The Planners have their Plannersphere, Account Planning Group and rewards in the form of Effies. Media, separated from the Account Management team in most case, is part of an extended family of TV & print media groups and have recognition in the form of Emvies and other media awards. The creatives of course get a high on Awards, scam or otherwise. What does the poor AE get in terms of recognition? Perhaps a rare appreciative email from a client or boss.
Have the AE’s made their presence felt, corrected perceptions about them? Perhaps not. Even with new media like blogs, you will rarely find an Account Management voice. A worthy exception is Adland Suit, a UK blog dedicated to put forth the views of the suit.
But agencies never stopped recruiting AE’s. Is it simply because you need someone to manage the operations, chase art work and bills? Perhaps. But I truly believe that the need for a smart AE/Account Management team is heightened now, more than ever before. Generalists in an era of specialists? I think so. The bit about media neutral ideas being the need of the hour has been doing the rounds for some time now. So who better to leverage that than the AE? She is the one (assuming that she is the smarter kind) to spot an opportunity for a brand, irrespective of the medium. A creative person could still be married to the 30-sec spot but it takes the AE to figure out if it can be translated into a fashion show in an airplane, an online game, an interactive web banner, a street play…whatever. She can truly be the business driver within the agency and with the client.
So, if you are in Account Management or planning to enter advertising, this is perhaps the best time to grab a place in the sun. With a little help from the agency in terms of the right training and motivation, the account management function can easily overcome perceptions of just being paper pushers. It is long overdue.