Think Twice Before Axing Account Management

In Downsizing Move, New Agency Models No Longer Include Role, but at What Cost to the Client?

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- His name doesn't appear on creative credits like the names Lee Clow or Duncan Milner do. But his importance to TBWA -- and one iconic client -- can't be overstated.

Marty Stock
Marty Stock
During the past decade that Apple has reigned as one of the hottest brands in the land, with each product innovation -- from the iBook, to the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad -- more coveted than the last, it has been James Vincent that has steered the account as managing director of TBWA/Media Arts Lab, the shop built to service Apple's needs. He is said to have personal ties to Steve Jobs and is the global account director credited with running that thriving business day-to-day.

He's also a dying breed.

At a time when agencies are increasingly downgrading dedicated account-management roles, it's rare to find many James Vincents. When New York shop Amalgamated launched some years ago, for example, it did so without the function, and more recently Publicis-backed Bogle Bartle Hegarty is rolling out a new agency model that more directly ties senior executives to client business.

Speaking at a 4A's account-management conference, Anomaly founder Carl Johnson once described the job of account directors as one of the hardest in the ad business, noting that they are frequently a target for abuse within their respective agencies. If it's any indicator, account jobs -- which, according to Payscale.com, increasingly skew female and have average salaries ranging between $40,000 for entry-level positions and $130,000 for more senior posts -- were among those that were hardest hit during the recession. And even as hiring comes back, in the digital era, agencies are more intent on finding tech-focused ad talent, such as creative technologists and programmers, than account directors.

'Biggest marginalization'
"There's just not as much talent in the middle as there used to be," said Jennifer Seidel, senior VP-agency relations and membership at the 4A's. "The account people [who are left] are expected to do more and more."

Five qualities of a star account person from Phil Johnson, CEO of PJA Advertising & Marketing
  • Curiosity: Seeing possibilities most of us miss.
  • Calculated risks: Knowing how and when to introduce bold new thinking to clients.
  • Tact: A sense of diplomacy has saved many a great campaign and preserved client relationships.
  • Fine-tuned instincts: Systems and process drive productive work but you must know when they stifle creativity.
  • Pure drive: The easiest way to kill an idea is to just go through the motions. Passion and hard work produce miracles.
  • Consider that two of last year's biggest account shifts -- MillerCoors moving creative duties for Miller Lite along with consolidated media planning duties for its entire brand portfolio to Interpublic's DraftFCB, its longtime Coors shop, and Kellogg's decision to consolidate all of its North American, European and Latin American creative work at Publicis' Leo Burnett -- were driven largely by the client's comfort level with a veteran, knowledgeable account lead.

    "It's definitely the part of the business that's seen the biggest marginalization," said Marty Stock, who runs DraftFCB's MillerCoors business. "At a lot of places, it's devolved into basically a professional golf partner or lunch buyer."

    That reputation of account men as glad-handlers in grey wool suits, wining and dining clients, has been hard to shake. But people like Mr. Stock, who has spent more than 20 years in the beer category, are far from that mold.

    Ask him, and he'll say his job is to balance the creative and business objectives in order to best grow a brand. "If creative gets too important, you might as well go write a screenplay," he said. But if creative gets too reined in, the "magic" of a great campaign -- and its multiplier effect on sales -- isn't possible. And above all, Mr. Stock says "my job is to worry."

    That's something that clearly resonated with his client, MillerCoors' Chief Marketing Officer Andy England, who earlier this year told Ad Age that Mr. Stock "often knows I have a problem before I do."

    Helping team 'score'
    Mr. Stock worked on Anheuser-Busch brands at now defunct D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles before joining Foote Cone & Belding to work on Coors 21 years ago, and has seen virtually every imaginable mistake beer marketers can make play out; as such, he is well positioned to help his agency and its client avoid them in the future. "When I played football [in high school], I was a lineman, and my job was basically to clear out the obstacles so my teammates could score," he recalls. "I think it still is."

    John Sheehy
    John Sheehy
    Leo Burnett's account lead on Kellogg, John Sheehy, says he's puzzled by some shops' moves to de-emphasize account management given how many moving pieces integrated-marketing efforts require. Mr. Sheehy ought to know: He leads a hybrid team that involves personnel from Burnett, direct sibling Arc, media sibling Starcom and other shops on the business. "That sort of a model doesn't sustain itself," he said. "You need someone who can lead it, and someone who really understands the client's agenda."

    It's a sentiment that Microsoft would agree with. "The single-most important piece for success for agencies we work with is actually orchestration," the company's chief creative officer, Gayle Troberman, told audiences at the Ad Age Digital Conference earlier this month. "Account management is the most important function in our agencies, not creative."

    In other words, shops just might want to think different.

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