12 November 2012

Bad Account Management Leads to Bad Creative

The first two posts in this series outlined how advertising agency account management is at a crossroads, identifying (so far) three reasons why:  (1) Surrender of Strategy, (2) Project Management, and (3) Inward Focus.

Why should we care?  Because bad account management leads to bad creative.

The Shared Purpose of Account and Creative

The purpose of an ad agency is to build a client’s business.  The main way an agency builds its client’s business is with creative.  Transformative ideas that don’t just entertain or inform; they change behavior. 

Third of a series
In this sense, one of the key roles of an account person is to create an environment for great creative.  That means:  Knowing the client’s business; gaining their confidence; getting to the right copy strategy; finding the right channel mix, and speeding the approval of the actual creative.

So the account person has a critical role – but never works alone.

The Shared Partnership of Account and Creative

In my experience the agency’s work is best when there is a strong partnership between the account lead and the creative lead.  Actually this partnership is important at all levels, but the account and creative leads have to set the example.  As an account management leader, my job has been most satisfying when I’ve had that kind of partnership.  I need to have someone to collaborate with, someone to work with, and – yes – someone to fight with.  In the words of King Solomon: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  (I don’t mind adding that talking over this post with a valued creative partner caused me to totally rewrite what you’re reading right now.)

A strong, honest partnership results in great creative because the account director and creative director push each other.  Do we understand the consumer?  Have we defined the business need?  Is the claim relevant?  Can we turn this into a compelling story?  Each must do their job and allow the other to ask hard questions so the advertising can do its job.

This is somewhat of a checks-and-balances relationship but not a back-and-forth argument.  Instead it’s a “Yes, And…” collaboration where the account director and creative director build on one another’s contributions.

The Curse of Project Management

When account people don’t hold up their end of the relationship, it’s harder to deliver great creative.  The strategy and the creative are less likely to carry a business rationale.  Can the creative director do it anyway, with the assistance of the strategic planner?  They’re forced to try in organizations where account management is more like project management.

It would be so much easier for all of them if the account person, who is talking to clients anyway about meeting schedules and approvals, would also be the agency’s voice on business strategy.  That client relationship would go from transactional to consultative with a good amount of effort beyond just project management.

The Shared Partnership of Agency and Client

Still, that client relationship is not the exclusive province of the account person.  If an agency’s relationship with a client relies only or mainly on the account person, then it’s doomed.

The best creative directors I’ve worked with are the ones who care about the client’s business as much as I do.  That kind of commitment shines through in client conversations – why not let the client see that passion at work?  A good account person makes that happen.

Next:  Account Management IS the Radar

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