The account manager is dead.
And Stephen King killed him.
Well, that’s an oversimplification.
There are still people in creative agencies called ‘account manager’, ‘account director’, ‘account executive’ or whatever. And Stephen King himself didn’t actually kill them.
But in developing, alongside Stanley Pollitt, the discipline that we know as ‘planning’, King set in train the slow but inexorable demise of the account manager in the sense that he or she existed in marketing’s heyday.
A great account person should be, first and foremost, a credible, trusted advisor to his or her client business.
A great account person should be a strategic ally who can solve his or her client’s pressing organisational challenges by drawing down on, and commercialising, their agency’s ability to innovate and think creatively.
A great account person should know his or her client’s business inside out. He or she should be all over the client’s competitors, market, sector; able to spot problems and develop brilliant (and billable) solutions to those problems before the client has even got to the issue.
A great account person should be ‘the agency’s guy in the client’, and ‘the client’s guy in the agency’.
Met anyone like that recently? They are far and few between in agency-land these days, that’s for sure. And those that do exist are normally called ‘planners’….
That’s the point really: planners have, often with the very best of intentions, ‘cuckooed’ their way into what used to be called account management. Or, rather, the value-adding parts of what used to be called account management. In doing so they have all-too-often reduced those folk labelled ‘account managers’ to, at best, project managers and, at worst, servile bag carriers.
King, of course, intended nothing of the sort. Planners were supposed to be ‘Grand Strategists’: mission control to the account management/creative lunar module. But in introducing the discipline of planning to clients, agencies were effectively saying (whether they meant to or not), ‘these are our very smartest people’. And what client worth his or her salt isn’t going to ask for those people to be at every meeting; in on every decision?
Over the years, then, account management became less and less attractive to good quality candidates. If you were bright and wanted to help solve commercial challenges, you became a planner or you joined a consultancy. Why would you spend your time mollifying OTT creatives, sweet-talking ‘traffic management’ or being interrogated by ‘finance’ and their spreadsheets if you didn’t have to?
Increasingly, then, account management is left only with ’the rump’. This serves only to confirm the worst prejudices of everyone else in the agency, reinforcing the stereotype and only upping the ‘eye-rolling’ quotient. And so it goes on, in a spiral so pointlessly negative that even Eyeore would double-take.
It’s time for a rethink.
It’s time to streamline our client interface. It’s time to hire better quality people into account management. And it’s time remind ourselves that strategic insight, commercial intelligence and far-sighted ideas are not mutually exclusive with organisation, and an ability to get things done – indeed these skill sets can and should be mutually dependent.
Our clients expect it from themselves.
They get it from their legal consultants, their regulatory consultants and their audit consultants.
They should be able to expect it from their creative consultants too.
– this piece first published by The Marketing Society