April 22, 2011

“You are not really an AE, are you?”

Filed under: Account Management Training,Advertising — Emily Reeves @ 7:57 am

The best compliment I could have received at the conference I attended this week was in the question above (and my new friend that asked the question endeared himself to me forever). This was a compliment in the context of this conference because I had just come off a presentation about my takeaways from SXSWi, an interactive and creative conference and not something one would expect account people to attend. Account Management (account managers, account executives, etc.) gets a bad rap in the ad agency business; there is an assumption in many agencies that they are order-takers and simply a go-between. However, the truth is that they are saddled with a lot of responsibility (at least, in our agency): communications strategy development, budget management, revenue management, deadline management, scheduling/traffic, relationship building both inside and outside, ensuring integration across the agency in the strategies we recommend for the agency, meeting leaders, proof-reading, research, maintaining knowledge of industry trends, maintaining knowledge of their clients’ business trends, and the list goes on. But they get none of the “glory” when a creative project is deemed successful, although without a good account person on the team, the project likely would not have come to its fruitful results.

Because I was the only account person at a conference of creative directors, digital strategists and media directors, I heard much complaining about the roles account people play in agencies. Some of the complaints were legitimate, some were blame-shifting (perhaps), but regardless, these conversations have inspired me to think about how to improve account management in agencies. I should be proud to be an “AE,” not flattered by a question that implies I am “better than” an AE.

I have been thinking on this challenge for several days and know that more concentrated training is in order, both for the account team and for their agency partners.

Starting in May, we will begin weekly training and sharing sessions with our account teams to not only improve their skills, but also their confidence in the roles they each play in the agency.  I am interested in any thoughts readers here have for what kind of training is needed for account people, or examples of how account people are trained in your own agencies.  I plan on sharing our training methods here in a weekly series and look forward to your feedback.

For our agency partners (creative, media, interactive, PR, production): what would be the best way to earn respect and understanding for the work that we do and the contribution that we make?

1 Comment »

  1. Emily -
    I’m so glad you wrote about this, I too have been thinking a lot about our exchange at the conference. The passion and understanding for digital you displayed in your presentation was truly moving, and I instantly wished I was able to work on a day-to-day basis with an AE like you. Hence I asked said question. I guess I was skeptical you were too good to be true.

    But you’re right, what honestly was meant as a huge compliment did imply that I lacked respect for the AE role. Really, it wasn’t conscious. Now that you’ve pointed it out, I definitely owe you some help with your training and sharing sessions. Lean on me, please.

    Since I’ve been back from the conference, in the reality of everyday client work at our agency, I’m looking closer at all the roles across our disciplines. The conference focused mostly on integration of department structures and processes. But I think at the end of the day, most marketing problems are solved by strong collaborative bonds developed in the core client-focused team. And the teams that work best are those that openly share and craft ideas together, regardless of title.
    Our business is changing so rapidly. As a result, we’ve had to bring a lot more consultation and rationale to every recommendation. We can’t just pitch the idea with a storyboard or sketch. We have to define the platform, the usage, the technology, the trend, the metrics, the meaning and so on…then with the next project, we have to go back and revisit our previous assumptions again for this ever-changing media landscape. This puts pressures on all our agency jobs. With a business that’s constantly evolving its approaches, we have to consult more with each other, spend more time collaborating with each other, challenge each other more, respect each other and learn from one another. I wish we could take time out like the conference more often. You certainly opened my eyes to new ways of seeing.

    I suspect that each of our partner agencies has reshaped departmental roles differently to organically respond to the new consultative nature of the business, especially with digital work. Given that, I’m not sure the same expectations are placed on departments across all our partner agencies. Too often, when knowledge or role gaps on the team were identified in my past, I’ve seen AEs point outside their group for specialists or other departments to fill. Your drive for self-improvement is exemplary. I think we both agree the solution isn’t to add more roles (or more people), instead we all need to expand our own.

    You’ve asked, what would be the best way (for AEs) to earn respect and understanding for the work that we do and the contribution that we make? I may be carrying too much baggage from my agency to answer you constructively.

    Instead, I propose we start a discussion about what roles, skills and even personality traits are needed to successfully manage our client work today. If we can break that down first, it could identify areas for improvement across the board. Think that would help?

    - Rob

    Comment by Rob — April 29, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

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