Throughout my career, I’ve been met with a lot of mixed views about the importance of account management. Some people believe account services is the most prestigious department of them all. After all, you’re leading the business and making major decisions on behalf of your team and your client.
But others speculate it as a dying breed. In fact, account services is often misrepresented and misunderstood — sometimes classified as glorified task givers or paper pushers. In some circumstances that may be true, but good account people play a very important role in the success of a team and an agency. To prove it, I spoke to several industry account leaders to set the record straight on the value of account people.
The role of the account person is changing
The days of “suits” ruling the office are over. With an increasingly competitive marketplace, account people have more skin in the game.
“The traditional account role of acting as just the liaison between the client and agency departments is becoming obsolete. However today, account people are not only expected to be lucrative managers, but to also have a more developed mind across strategy, creative, research, analytics, and all agency touchpoints.” — Mike Emer, account executive, Publicis NY
We can’t afford to leave anything to chance
Account people are trained to see the future.
“I think that the most important skill in this business is intuition. Call it a sixth sense that you need to hone. Being able to forecast, read the room, read the situation and be 2 steps ahead. And warn your Clients. That takes practice.” — Landon Nguyen, account director, Team One
We harness our “soft skills”
More now than ever, hiring managers are paying more attention to the previously neglected “soft skills” — looking for those who excel at problem solving, project management and forming strong client relationships; even beyond that, they look for people who have a strong emotional IQ and know how to orchestrate a team.
“The most important duty or skill for an account person is to earn the trust of not only your client, but your internal team as well. It takes an understanding of both sides, and being willing to balance the fight for each so that at the end of the day the work we’re putting out is going to move our clients brand forward the right way.” — Jonathan Frank, group client director, Refinery29
“The account person’s job is complex but the most important higher order is remembering your duty and your most important skill is to understand clearly the goals and deliver solutions to all those who count on you. A problem-solution orientation is key.” — Barbara Reilly, managing partner/executive director, Arnold Worldwide
We understand the delicacies of client relationships and the importance of transparency
As an agency stakeholder, your company’s best interests need to be considered. However, good account people know that this cannot come at the client’s expense.
“My biggest lesson learned is that transparency and honesty will get you a lot further than the alternative.” — Frank of Refinery29
“Client, team member, family member — it’s a universal rule — own up to your mistake before they call you out for it. Don’t assume they won’t find out. Just be honest and explain it and share the plan to overcome it. Learn from it.” — Reilly of Arnold Worldwide
On what wins over clients: “Honesty… and humor. Clients can sense when you are not being truthful.” — Nguyen of Team One
We know how to add value
Understanding the industry, category, and what’s happening in the world is tablestakes. Being able to digest that knowledge and develop sharp implications for your clients takes skill – as well as time.
“If you aren’t adding value every day, with every interaction, every assignment, with every team member and client — then you aren’t doing your job. You have to be able at the end of the day to say, I made the business better, the project better, a relationship better.” –Reilly of Arnold Worldwide
“Know your Client’s KPIs and what’s important to them. Get in their heads and try to understand what keeps them up at night.” — Nguyen of Team One
We’re business partners first, client “managers” second
Those in favor of account management argue that it can make or break client-agency relationships.
“The industry is certainly changing, but having that person, or team who can truly partner and serve a client on a day-to-day basis is invaluable. It’s always a team effort internally, but also for us account folk, with our clients.” — Frank of Refinery29
“My most important duty (and skill) is ensuring the success of those who count on me. A lot of people count on me. You come to me as a client, entrusting me with a precious brand to help solve a business challenge. That’s my goal for them — deliver solutions that generate results.” –Reilly of Arnold Worldwide
As evidenced by the comments of these account managers, account people are problem solvers, therapists, consensus builders, dynamic thinkers, orchestrators, leaders, relationship builders, believers, and jack-of-all tradesmen. They are not unconscious do-ers. They are “client whisperers.”