What Do You Do?

Sean McGrath // Sep 18 // Insights

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What Do You Do?

So, what do you do?

This is the default question asked on planes, at business mixers and recently at a municipal putting green.

I work in advertising.

‘Integrated marketing shop’ gets too many crooked-necked responses from anyone outside the industry.

Oh, so you make the ads, you’re one of the creative guys?

Actually, I’m in account management.

(Back to the crooked-neck and now squinted-eyes)

You mean Accounting?

No, we are basically the business partner to the client.

(Long pause accompanied by furrowed brow)

Maybe one of the least understood, least sexy, and most amorphous jobs in the agency business is account management. One shot strategy, a shot and a half mediator, a dash of project management, with a slice of financial oversight to top it off. And while outsiders find the role confusing, the understanding of what makes a great manager of clients and their marketing is still a mystery to many inside the business. Unfortunately, even to some who hold the job.

At i.d.e.a., we promise clients courageous ideas that have the power to transform their brands and businesses. At the leading edge of that promise are account professionals who need to inspire confidence and allay fear as we ascend the mountain. We are basically sherpas, although no one is writing books or making movies about us.

So, what goes into being a great guide for our clients?

  1. Focus. Being able to boil things down to what’s essential (by the way, this is one of only four points). Focus is the force for engaging people. It’s a truth in marketing AND it’s also a truth in communicating, be it with a client, creative team, media director or whomever. Good account managers are always drawing both client and the agency team to a point in the distance. Focused conversation and direction is the only way both parties will arrive there together.
  2. Clairvoyance. Yes, the ability to see into the future. If you don’t have this skill, then there is a 1000-foot crevasse that is moments away from detouring your plans. Good account managers anticipate the usual challenges: timing, budget and resources. Great account managers are anticipating all the things you can’t possibly predict: Competitive moves, category twists and turns, or a subtle cultural shift; the profound and random things that can influence or impact an idea. When everyone is looking to the next deliverable, the account manager needs to have the peripheral vision to be taking in potential obstacles and opportunities four steps ahead.
  3. No. Having the word “No” in your vocabulary is essential to every good account person. And while most creatives read that as being able to say NO to detrimental client changes, every client reading this hopes that it was referring to the ability to say no to creative whims that pull messaging off course and cause delays and overages. My experience is that “No” is invaluable in serving efforts in all directions. In the subjective space that is marketing, absolutes don’t exist. There is no one right answer. However, right or wrong, the account manager needs to have a strong point of view, take a stand and re-direct when plans are being pulled off course, regardless of who is doing the pulling.
  4. The Unasked Question. Partnerships are built on trust. And the best accelerator of trust is the belief that you are pursuing your partner’s best interests beyond what you’re actually being asked to do. If you are bringing new insight to the client’s business in the form of actionable opportunities, you are demonstrating true partnership. A new product idea, a media channel strategy, or a packaging concept (when that’s not “your job”). Answering a question that hasn’t yet been asked shows that you are in the head-space of being a partner. And the best compliment you can receive as an account manager is being introduced as a partner.

So, what do I do?

Sherpa, guide, whatever you call it. We are leading the way to some spectacular views.

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