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What makes a good account manager?

In all modern-day design and advertising agencies the clear distinction exists between the “production folk” or studio on the one hand and the account managers/ client services or otherwise known, as “the ones who deal with the clients and keep them happy”, on the other.

Now the problem does not lie in the distinction of these two very different components within the agency, but rather the interaction and relationship between these two – or for the most part, the lack there of.

The various skill sets and personal attributes is what makes an agency great. The different roles, contributions and mindsets all form part of the tapestry we call the advertising industry, but all too often this is drenched in the frustration of highly talented production staff, draining away the passion with which they entered the universe of design and wonder.

There are a number of thorns in a creative person’s side, causing discomfort and difficulty to complete his task efficiently, but there is one evil that stands out far above the rest. The biggest source of emotional disruption and instability – a true “passion-killer”, if you like:  bad account management.

So  for the sake of better agency relations I will attempt to give some guidelines as to what good account management looks like – from the viewing point of the creative staff – a wish-list if you like

1.    Know your agency’s products and services.
Silly but true, very few account managers understand their agency’s value proposition and will therefore undersell, over sell or miss-match proposed solutions and client need. Understanding your product is key in being able to sell it to a consumer, in the same way, an account manager needs to understand their agency’s strengths and weaknesses in order to get a solution that will cause the least frustration on the client and studio’s side.

2.    Make friends with creative personnel – they are your best source of insight
Far too many times in the cut-throat agency environment an account manager will distance themselves from the studio. This is not only bad for agency relationships, but also bad for business. Most of the creative staff are highly skilled, intelligent and have been in the advertising mill far longer than those who see to the client’s needs. Far too often these are the people who are overlooked, and discarded, while their heart and soul forms the magic of service you, as account manager, is trying to sell. So what am I saying, if you want to know the secret of the magic trick, go to the magician.

3.    Never be afraid of asking questions or referring back to studio before making promises to clients.
I have seen this way too many times, a bright-eyed, young account manager will eagerly write down items for a brief, promise the moon and stars to a client, only to be informed later that the requirements can’t be met without outsourcing half the project.  Not only does this reflect badly on the account manager himself but it also has huge impact on studio workflow and not to mention profitability.

Not every client question has to be answered right there and then sometimes informing your client that you will have to refer to studio, the development team or industry specialist will spare you big heartache later not to mention how it will promote relationships with the rest of your team, making them feel their input is valued.

4.    Your project is like your partner – know him intimately
So you know how your client likes his coffee, his golf handicap and that he hates phone calls after 5, but do you know why your creative team chose a specific image for the all important campaign or why they decided to use the technology they did? The account manager, as first line of defence, should always be able to give informative feedback. This can cause ripples on both sides of the pond, as a uninformed account manager can seem uninterested, ignorant or just plain arrogant to his team, and disconnected to the client.

5.    Write briefs in full sentences, bad briefs can bring a whole studio to its knees.
Bullet points and half sentences are asking for trouble. For the most part the account manager spends hours in meetings and phone calls with clients, only to allow 10% of that to filter through to studio. And then you wonder why deadlines are not met, and artwork is not on spec?

6.    Don’t just copy
The worst thing you, as account manager can ever do is, open your email software, copy your client’s feedback and paste that into your briefing software. You know your client’s mindset better than anyone else, and will be able to interpret and decipher his fragments better than the poor studio member that is on a super tight deadline. The account manager, for the most part has the same inner-headspace as the rest of the company, so in plain terms your colourful explanation has much more impact than the ramblings of your business-orientated client.

7.    Never bad-mouth a client
Ever. Not only for your self-respect, respect for the position of your client, but mostly because your negativity rubs off on your colleagues who need to be able to keep their heads and heart level in order to provide the best solution they can, in the already strenuous circumstances within an agency.

A great account manager is like above all  a solid team player recognising that all the unique rolls and insights within the agency is what sets his product apart from the vast number of other agencies, beating on the client’s door.