Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Whither Great Client Servicing Professionals?

I was perplexed when a prospective account management candidate asked me what his key result areas would be. It set me thinking about a role I have been performing for the last over 2 decades (As the saying goes, no matter which level of agency management you get into, you can't wish away being an account executive).

We have all heard of postmen in account management, and we have also heard of mavericks who go beyond the call of duty and almost perform the role of the marketing head at the client organization. Since both are extremes, and since both are not the mandated roles that an account management professional is supposed to perform, surely the answer lies somewhere in between.

So I started to look into the repository of homilies shared by some of the who's who of Indian advertising. One of the first was a teaser shared by R Sridhar, a Partner with Ideas-RS, a consultancy specializing in opening creative windows of the mind. He had posed a question to all the fresh, green-behind-their-ears recruits - 'what in their view was the role of an account management person?' Many chickened out and didn't answer, and many fell back on their management school learning and came out with witty, text book jargon. And as expected, they were all wrong. The simple one line answer was - 'The role of an account management person in any agency is to get his client promoted'.

Cynicism apart, the above role definition actually sums up the reason-for-existence of an account management person. It is all about understanding what keeps the client awake at nights, finding simple solutions to all such tricky issues, and ensuring these are implemented flawlessly. Once done, the client gets promoted, and so does the account management person.

The next key role that an account management person must perform is to get his client to recommend his agency to his friends/acquaintances/wife/husband/dog… and get their business for the agency. And this, as we can see, flows from the first key result area. After all, the account management person also has a business development hat to wear. Net-net, he is the bread winner of the agency.

While he does the above, the account management person also needs to wear his creative hat and point his client towards newer ways of using their services. Though there's a famous saying that everyone knows 2 things well - one's own job and advertising, we all know that this statement has been made in jest. The account management person needs to either have or needs to develop the ability to see beyond the obvious. Naturally, this does good - both for the client and also the agency that employs these people.

It is not for nothing that they say - "advertising is people's business". This brings us to yet another role that the account management person needs to perform with panache. He needs to get his team to love him. For these are the people who in good times or bad, will make him come out on top.

Believe it or not, getting your team to love you, also helps them do justice to their next important role - getting the best ideas out of their creative partners. Creative people are known to be emotional, and if they see their account management partner as an ally who prepares well to present their creative ideas, and has a reputation for getting the creative ideas through unscathed, they go that extra step and deliver their best ideas to such people.

This by no means is a comprehensive list of desirable traits in an account management person, but these certainly are a good start. I welcome you to add to/critique this list. All such efforts will only go towards fine-tuning this ready-reckoner.

This isn't just an exercise at listing some idealistic traits. But an attempt at driving a bigger point. All of the above seems simple, and yet, unless you look around at some old-school advertising professionals, these traits are hard to come by. It is not that such people don't exist any more, but just that they don't find it worthwhile to come to this industry. As an industry, not only we have let our value proposition get diluted in the eyes of the clients, but we have done the same amongst prospective bright recruits who, in an earlier day and time would have given an arm and a leg to join our industry. It just might help if we take a fresh guard and make a new start, and begin by making a strong attempt at getting the industry's self respect and desirability back. And there's no better time to start, than NOW!


nicman said...

good reading. cannot agree with you more. good to find more & more like minded professionals endorsing & building upon my thoughts, expressed in an article 'Quo Vadis Ad Agencies'.
off course, your insights go beyond.
also, well designed.

Ajay Sood said...

For Nicman

Thanks for your comments. Do let me know where I can find your article - 'Quo Vadis Ad Agencies'.



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