Social media just made life more difficult for the AE

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Social Media complicates work-life balance, said a recent report from e-Marketer (hat tip to @vedantverma for sharing the link on Twitter). The debate about the merits & de-merits of accessing social media networks in the office has been raging for a while. It is obviously linked to the rising popularity of Facebook, YouTube and micro-blogging services such as Twitter at the workplace. The ability to access such services easily – beyond just the web browser – so you can tweet when you are in a meeting – has also played a role.

Many companies restrict PC access to such services at the work place for fear of productivity loss. My guess is that companies in the media business – advertising agencies, publication houses – rarely impose such restrictions. Ad agencies in particular are more relaxed when it comes to such matters. The logic is sound: a little bit of relaxation doesn’t hurt and it may actually help an employee get recharged. Also in creative services, inspiration is key and the source of inspiration could vary – a piece of music, a movie clip, a game…whatever. It is not unusual to see creative guys flipping through old magazines, Award Show books and so on during work. The account folk who take care of the business side of things have their own little distractions to help relax and inspire – an online chat, crossword, word games and so on. In this context, is the frequent access to social media a distraction and a hindrance to work? Especially for the AE? Herewith some thoughts:

A client’s brand and work related to the brand are an advertising agency’s primary focus. Or at least should be. Most of the working hours should be on activities that help those brands in some way. Sure, there could be time allotted for breaks and activities that make one a better professional. Understanding consumer trends is one such aspect that could make one a better professional. And how consumers use digital media, especially social media, could help agency folk plan communication for their brands. But the nature of the beast is such that it has the potential to overtake your life. For a digital specialist, tracking a brand’s presence in the digital space is an obvious must. As @maheshmurthy says, real-time marketing calls for 24×7 management of campaigns like an air-traffic controller. But for an AE in a typical mainline, mass media dependent agency, it presents a unique dilemma. It’s not easy being an AE in an advertising agency. Depending on one’s attitude it can be a pain or or a joy ride.

All categories and brands do not need a digital strategy. There are several brands for whom presence in television is sufficient to generate visibility. And when you are working on such brands primarily, being addicted to social media can be detrimental. That’s the dilemma faced by the modern day Account Executive in an advertising agency. She is not a specialist but yet has to know enough about specialist media to be able to advice clients, interact with specialists etc. All agency folks do not have access to specialist services within an agency system. But they are still expected to be curious about the impact of new media on brands and be knowledgeable about them.  The classical AE is a harfan maula – she is expected to be in control of agency operations, manage clients, be knowledgeable about all aspects of communications – traditional advertising, direct marketing, retail advertising and so on. As a generalist, the AE needs to have a working knowledge of all aspects of communication.

New media adds a new dimension to such expectations. While how JetBlue uses Twitter or how brands handle fan pages in Facebook can be nice to know, if it happens at the cost of what’s important to your client who may simply need you to think of a better visibility idea at the grocery outlet, we have a problem. An AE could learn the fundamentals of Direct Marketing by reading a book. But with digital media, social media and such like it’s about experiencing it first hand. And finding time for it between answering client calls, planning strategy, writing minutes and real work. The AE’s life just got more difficult.

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