Perspective from a Suit -- Account Management Is a Hero's Journey

Changes to Account Management Have Been Led By Great Account People

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I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell. As such, I am constantly rereading his work and take great delight in the fact that, although I have read the same passages many times, every time I read them, new insight is revealed to me.

Those familiar with Campbell's work will know that a central theme is the notion of the hero's journey. In reading this week's Ad Age, new insight about great account people was revealed to me.

In "How Account Management Was Reborn," Maureen Morrison suggests that account management is "a species whose archetype has died and been reborn, albeit with a new set of required skills." I loved the article, but I believe that changes to account management have not been as absolute as birth and death, but have happened along a continuum.

I think the change has been more deliberate and on purpose. It's been led by account people themselves and is reflective of a hero's journey, in the most Campbellian sense of the expression. Here's how:

Follow your bliss: Being a suit is a hard job. If you don't love it, don't do it. If you do, and you believe in the power of what you do to make a difference in your client's business, your passion and curiosity will cause you to become an expert. This expertise will become obvious to all, and you'll become a trusted advisor and your enthusiasm will be infectious.

Enter the hero's forest: Campbell writes, "You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path." Great account people are great leaders because they must lead groups of people into "the darkest point" in the forest by establishing a vision for the brand and the organization that backs it. To do less would be to follow somebody else's path, which is neither the way of the hero account person nor the brand seeking to be distinctive in the marketplace.

Shed your skin: The essence of leading a creative organization that serves clients is an ability to simultaneously understand what has worked while resisting the temptation to do exactly the same thing again. This requires awareness of your own thinking (and of the collective) and a willingness to let it go, so that you see a new possibility.

Be a "yes" man: I appreciate that this notion may reinforce an unjust stereotype, but I mean something different. What I mean is that you say "yes" to problems, "yes" to opportunities, "yes" to anything that will offer you new perspective. One of my mentors counseled me many years ago that you should eagerly "run toward the fire," because this is where you can create value in a way that nobody else can. Above all (and this is a hard one for me), say "yes" to criticism, because it will provide the source of your growth and evolution as an account leader, as long as you are willing to shed your skin.

I prefer to believe that those account folks who have signed up for the hero's journey are causing this change day-in, day-out and have done so over many years. And for that, you are all my heroes.

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