The role of the account person was incredibly critical to an agency’s success up until perhaps a decade or so ago when agency fees got so thin, they simply couldn’t afford that layer of staff.
So agencies served up their strategic teams which essentially cut out the middleman. The great recession was likely the last nail in the account manager’s coffin.
With the complexity of client/agency relationships today, media agencies need to bring the account management function back to the forefront. Clients need to recognize the value they bring and compensate agencies for it accordingly.
A truly great account person provides leadership and inspiration and acts as the agency gatekeeper to what has become a very complex relationship with a lot of moving parts. They must extract the best possible work from their agency. This includes not just strategic planning and buying but research, data management, analytics, dealing with the ever-changing digital landscape and delivering thought leadership, innovation and an ability to collaborate with the client’s other agency partners.
In recent new business reviews, I’m seeing that the agencies who serve up a strong client lead are tipping the playing field to their advantage. As everyone knows, the client lead is the trusted partner to their counterpart on the client side. This relationship must be solid for an agency to truly be successful. I am hearing from many marketers whose primary complaint is the quality of client service and attention to their business. Isn’t that fact enough to warrant having a strong account management team?
Agencies must have a strong client lead in new business pitches as well. That individual must play an integral role in the presentation. They must convince the client in only one or two meetings that they are the one key person the client will rely on. Having them present a few slides at the end of the presentation is simply not enough to instill that level of confidence.
Our industry has gone through so many changes of late and changes will, no doubt, continue. Media agencies are pressured more than ever to work at reduced fees while, at the same time, delivering more.
Agencies must continue to innovate and invest in tools and resources just to remain competitive. The advent of procurement-led deals has also squeezed margins. It’s easy to see why agencies killed off the account management function. Using strategic folks to act as the account lead has worked up to a point but not every strategist is an effective account manager. The time has come to change that. A truly successful account person needs to possess both strategic vision and project management skills.
As a veteran agency exec, I grew up in account management and was trained by some of the best. I spent my formative years at JWT, DDB and Chiat/Day. And when I pivoted to the media agency side I saw firsthand how great account people can make every client, large or small, feel like they were the most important person in the world. Clients want to have confidence in their agency, and they want someone at the helm who they can trust with their biggest marketing investment.
Zach, I agree with you about the value of solid account management at the agencies. In fact, I have seen how an agency account team often knows a lot more about a brand than its own brand manager---because the latter is, often, only on the job for a few years while the agency team has been involved for a much longer time. But why should a media agency---which plans and buys media but does not do what is normally deemed account work---be saddled wih this function? It belongs with that component of the agency bundle that provides marketing savvy and, most important, brand positioning and creative services to the client?In theory, the two---account handling/creative and media---- are properly coordinated----if not by the agency, itself, then by the client.
Thank you, Zach, for this timely and insightful take on the value of account services. Couldn't agree with you more!
It's imperative that agency leadership recognize the value, hire/train the right people to do the job effectively, and to promote the value of Account to both clients/prospects and internally. Account is truly a leadership role that should more than pay for itself when done right.