There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the decline of account management. Some have even questioned whether or not account folks are necessary, what with clients demanding more direct access to "the people who do the work." On the other hand, in a recent speech, Frank Lowe, who rose in the industry by being an account guy who understood both the importance and the process of creative, suggested that account managers should be "given" greater participation and "they could make a massive contribution to improving the standards of advertising."
As a former account person and agency president, I certainly agree with Mr. Lowe about the importance of account management's involvement in and contribution to the creative process. But I think he's dreaming when he expects this role to be handed to account managers. Account people must earn this participation.
Here are some suggested ways for account people to better perform what I feel is their most important role, helping the agency develop and sell great creative.
Know what you're talking about. If you are not already, become a student of ads. Obviously, know everything about the advertising in your category-strategies, effectiveness of executions, etc. Know the agencies that do your competitors' work. But go well beyond the narrow world of your account. Watch and think about commercials on TV. Look at a wide variety of magazine ads. Listen to and learn from people who have been there. Also, study the award books. The creative people do. And once you begin to understand what makes a good ad, don't throw it in anyone's face. Don't be a "know-it-all." Use your insights selectively.
You can't do what they do. Show respect for the talent that the creative people have, and they might even show respect for you. Don't write copy, even if you think it's good. It isn't. The truth is, you can't do what they do. The client can't do what they do. It really is a unique and important talent. And always remember to show respect for their ads. They are their own creations. They've sweated and lost sleep over them. They're not just words and pictures.
They are tremendously insecure and they take it out on you. Here's a little secret that will give you a real edge. Creatives are all scared to death-insecure as hell! They have to create out of a "blank piece of paper" and they are always afraid that they've shot their wad. That's why they lash out at you: to deflect their own insecurity. Recognize this phenomenon. It'll save you a lot of aggravation.
Hanging out is good. Schmooze with them. Hang out. But do a lot of listening. You can learn a lot.
Treat what they do as the highest priority and help them do it. Really provide a contribution to the creative process. Be a problem solver. Find out what the creative people need to do the work and get it for them. Quickly. Make it your highest priority. It could be the answer to whether or not a particular claim is supportable. It could be that they need more time. Be on their side. Not on the side of the client! When you come down the hall, you want them to be thinking "here comes someone who is going to help me," not "here comes the `account waitress' with another order from the client."
Don't be a "wuss." You may run into people who will try to bully you. Rise above it. They'll want you to either run away scared or get angry. Don't do either. Be strong and rational, and know what you're talking about. Know the budget, the "real" due dates and all the information. Keep your cool. It'll drive them crazy and then they'll come around.
Finally, don't expect a lot of thanks. You can share in the successes. But they win the awards, you don't. The client thanks them, not you. If your ego needs stroking, find another line of work. But know in your heart what your contributions were!