For years I have been better at book titles than book content. Clients from Hell, Advertising that Works, and Night and Weekends are a few of the more notable failures.
This time, however, I might have content equal to the title. My latest effort is called Day One: Succeeding in a World Gone MADD. By “MADD” I don’t mean crazy; instead, MADD is an acronym for “Marketing, Advertising, Digital, Design.”
Clever? Dumb? Let me know when you have a minute.
I’m writing the book for people who aspire to account management, and are about to graduate college, have recently graduated, are new to the industry, or are thinking about shifting to a MADD career. Its intent is to equip newly hired account staffers with the tools they will need Day One of their new jobs.
The book covers all the obvious but essential items you’d expect: schedules, budgets, time sheets, conference reports, creative briefs, status updates, proposals, new business, other relevant stuff. The book complements The Art of Client Service, which tells you what to do, while Day One tells you how to do it.
I am makng great progress (at last!), so much so I though I thought I might announce a leave of absence from “Adventures” to allow me to complete a draft. But then I got to thinking, “Why not use the blog to try out chapters of the book as I complete them? It would be a great way to get early feedback on how to make the book better.”
So let’s try this out.
I recently completed a draft of an early chapter called, “Separation of Powers,” which is my attempt to define account management. Here’s is what I have so far:
Separation of Powers
Let’s start at the beginning, with a definition. What is it, exactly, you do as an account person?
This should be easy to answer.
In fact, for years a definition eluded me. When asked, I would glibly default with a line like, “I do lunch,” or, “I’m a bag carrier for the creative folks,” or “I’m a suit,” any one of which betrayed combination of mild embarrassment and major ignorance.
I just hoped my questioner wouldn’t pursue the subject further.
So, the next time you’re trapped at a cocktail party by that question, how do you respond?
You could reply with words that echo what legendary copywriter and agency co-founder Martin Puris once told me:
“The two fatal mistakes an account person can make are to become either the client’s ‘man’ at the agency – or the agency’s ‘man’ at the client.
“A good account person gives us objectivity, commitment, insight, and – above all – truth.”
By any measure, an anthemic credo, but it says more about what an account person is than what an account person does.
Or you might try what my friend and Womenkind co-founder Kristi Faulkner once wrote me.
“Effective account management is a intellectually demanding job that requires one to be a ringmaster, a quarterback, a shrink, a cheerleader, a peace negotiator, a political strategist, a public defender and a field Marshall all in one. Not many people have the unique combination of skills it takes to do it well without cracking. The pressure is enormous, and good account people sweat every detail without letting anyone ever see them sweat.”
Better, for sure, but a bit of a tortured explanation to use at a cocktail party.
You might try Wiki-pedia’s definition:
“Account executives need to be sufficiently aware of the client’s needs and desires that can be instructed to the agency’s personnel and should get approval from the clients on the agency’s recommendations to the clients.”
Does this really say, “that can be instructed to the agency’s personnel and should get approval from the clients on the agency’s recommendations to the clients?” Ouch. You lost me at “account executives.”
Or you might try mine, which has to do with “separation of powers.”
You know how this works in Washington, DC. There is the Executive Branch, meaning the presidency. There is the legislative branch, meaning Congress. There is the judiciary, meaning the federal courts. Three branches of government, creating the “checks and balances” the Constitution’s framers are noted for.
What on earth has this to do with account management, you rightly ask? Well, there is a kind of separation of powers in an advertising and marketing agency.
Let’s start with an agency’s planners, strategists, and researchers. They rightly claim to be “the voice of the consumer,” reflecting their needs, interests, and desires in ways that lead to marketing insights that are meaningful, motivating, and differentiating.
The agency creative people – writers, art directors, creative directors — would claim, rightly I think, that they are “the voice of the agency.” Given it is their output that essentially defines what an agency is, what it stands for, and what it believes, this makes sense.
Now, what about account people. What voice are they?
If planners are “the voice of the consumer,” and creative is “the voice of the agency,” the logical conclusion you might draw is that account people are “the voice of the client.” This makes sense, especially given that account people often serve as a surrogate for the client, reminding their planning and creative colleagues of their clients’ point-of-view.
Sensible, sure, but misguided.
Remember Martin Puris’ quote about how being the “agency’s man at the client” is sure to fail. Martin is right. You cannot achieve the level of trust you need with a client if you merely say “yes” to every request clients make. You need distance, you need integrity, and you need to do the right thing in order to build trust with clients, trust that leads not just to good work, but to great work. If you need further proof, I suggest you read The Art of Client Service, a book devoted to how to build trust with clients.
So if account people are not the voice of the client, then what are they? This will seem glib to some, but to me it rings true:
Account people are “the voice of reason.”
Yes, the voice of reason. Why do I say this?
As Kristi Faulkner points out, account work is a never ending juggling act, where you need to balance the interests of all the constituencies – the consumer’s, the agency’s, and yes, the client’s – in an never ending quest for work that succeeds in the marketplace. To do this requires an inordinate degree of calm, judgment, and wisdom. “Reason” is a kind of shorthand for all of these virtues.
Together these three voices – of the consumer, of the agency, of reason — create the checks and balances essential to creating great advertising.
I did my best account work when I was the voice of reason… the person who defused tense moments with clients and colleagues, who sought solutions instead of confrontations, who calmed troubled creative departments in their all-too-often moments of crisis, who served as a buffer between impatient, bottom-lined focused senior management and the more mercurial, short-fused people on my staff, who dispensed well-timed wisdom, gained through experience, to younger staffers and less-than knowledgeable clients.
I could go on, but the point is, when you think about voice, being a voice of reason is what characterizes account people at their best. And the next time I’m at a cocktail party and someone asks me what I do, and I say I’m in account management, and they say “What’s that?,” I say,
“My strategists are the voice of the consumer, my creative colleagues are the voice of the agency. Me?
“I’m the voice of reason.”
And if they still don’t get it, I might end the conversation with a suggestion they continue their career in accounting.
So what do you think? Any suggestions on how to make this better? Any suggestions on other subjects I should address?
I’d of course be delighted and grateful to hear from any of you. That means you, Kim Carpenter, David Vining, Peter Van Bloem, Matt Neren, Sarah Fay! (I figure if I mention you by name, I can shame you into commenting).
I am especially interested in hearing from my Australian buddies, especially those who took Sally Webster’s courses in Client Relationship Management at The University of Canberra.
The point of my nagging is this: with your help, I hope to make a better book.