Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Missing Part Of Training Account Managers

I had an interesting assignment recently, which had an interesting outcome.

I was asked to find a senior account supervisor/junior account director on a very well known international woman’s HBA brand.  The job specifications were very clear.  The agency wanted to have category experience.  The job, I was told, had been open for several months; I was told who they had seen and was surprised because I knew most of the candidates they had interviewed.  A couple of them were excellent.  

Nevertheless, I found them a wonderful account person they had not previously met.  Honestly, I thought she was a shoe-in for the job.  The feedback I received after she met with the group director was very thorough.  She was the favorite person they had met, she had the absolute right experience, but she lacked knowledge of the trade and distribution.  Of course, this was not part of the specs I received.

I called the hiring manager who is someone I have known for many years.  She confessed to me that this was the reason she had also rejected some of the other people who had interviewed.  I asked her what kind of information she was looking for.  She told me that on this account, in addition to both traditional and digital advertising, they were also intimately involved with distribution.  All their account people were familiar with distribution, had made sales calls with the client’s sales force and some of their very senior people had even met merchandise managers.  The hiring manager was looking to duplicate that, if possible.

I told her that it simply didn’t exist anywhere any more.  Account people just don’t do that anymore. While it was commonplace twenty and thirty years ago, it is simply no longer part of training or account management.  The hiring manager, who was a very senior group director was somewhat surprised, since her brand was from one of the major CPG companies. She was unaware that other agencies which handled brands from the same parent company didn't do this. I told her I was delighted that they did this at her agency but that she would have to teach it to whoever was hired.  She had pretty much come to that same conclusion.

Some months ago she hired my candidate.  I spoke to the account person last week.  She has indeed been on store checks and had met and traveled with several client sales people.  The best part is that this addition to her background has re-energized her and given her an entirely new perspective on the brand and the advertising business; and, she said she can now have real marketing and sales discussions with her client.  She has become a true partner.

Bravo for that agency and the account person.


  1. Great post Paul, terrific outcome. Account people service clients. Brand people service brands, marketing and sales. If you're not driving the dynamics at the moment of truth, you might as well be a waitress.

  2. The story behind the story is the way your expertise and experience help to guide your client (and your candidate) to a new level of understanding and a successful outcome. Bravo all around!

  3. Account people today are glorified, poorly-trained clerks. DDB, DraftFCB or McDonald's -- same basic idea: get the order executed correctly and quickly and don't ask too many questions, you don't need to know...how the business actually works, how to write a creative strategy, how to do a store check, how a sales call works or an actual customer talks about your product. Kinda sad. But at least "Mad Men" re-starts soon...

  4. I truly believe that the change in what account “service” people know and do today started in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the agency compensation model changed and account “management” became obsolete.

    Before then, agencies were generally paid 15% commission on media; 17.65% on production. A very equitable arrangement in retrospect given the depth of agency knowledge and services rendered on the account. In CPG, an MBA was generally desired by agencies because their clients wanted to know that their agency account managers knew that there was more to successful marketing than just advertising, e.g., branding; pricing, sales promotion; distribution, etc.

    Slowly but surely clients started pounding their agencies for lower compensation costs and something had to give. So we went to OOP costs + fixed fee arrangements, where agency manhours and caps became paramount to account profitability. Hence, fewer people and manhours on any given piece of client business. Also, good-bye to agency MBAs; Nielsen deck analyses and reports to clients; store checks; factory plant visits; and so many other things agency account management people used to do to fully understand the client’s business. Clients just didn’t want to pay for these things anymore. Agency tenures with clients went from long-standing and enduring relationships to a 2-3 year lifecycle. And that’s when the “partnership” between agency and client fundamentally changed.

    Fast-forward and heretofore AOR relationships became silos or project arrangements. Especially within the digital domain, where fixed-price quotes now rule the day. Net: Agencies no longer invest in their client's business for the long-term, nor do clients in their agency resources.

    So it’s no surprise to me that well-balanced account management talent seems to be in such short supply these days. Moral of the story being … You always get what you pay for! Bill Crandall

    1. Thanks, Bill, for that very articulate description of the history of the problem.

    2. I'm with Bill on this one. Partnerships are two-sided relationships and those that have respect from both sides (and the long term fiscal investment to match) are the most rewarding for both parties. I've never felt that more than when I was working with a client at an agency where it was a 30+ year partnership.

    3. It is truly wonderful - and unusual - in this day and age when clients and agencies are partners. When I was an account guy, I loved it when I could really get involved with all aspects of my clients' businesses. I was not only a better account guy, but I was a contributing account person - both to my clients and, most important, to the creative product we turned out.

    4. Mr. Crandall is correct. Have no idea why I was reading this, but glad I did as paleontological advertising is where I'm at.

  5. As a younger account person (10 years) I sadly agree with everything written by Paul and Bill. I've had client relationships that did both - gave us a seat at client board meetings, and "the waiter". And it's a question of chicken or the egg: do agencies invest first to arm their people and hope clients open up more invitations, or does the value need to first be agreed to by penny-pinching clients who now more and more often handle robust services internally. Agency senior leadership needs to take a stand one way or the other. Or else the role diminishes, as does a rationale why us account people will be needed on a staff plan in 10 years.

  6. It is an interesting point, Paul, and the comments are accurate in my opinion as well. It may be worth adding that somewhere along the way it also became paramount to have broad experience across all verticals...and not become pigeonholed..,which also adversely affected the ability for account managers to gain a deep level of specific client understanding. In contrast, as a career long field account mgr, I know my client's business...but am always deficient on the latest knowledge at the main office. It's a trade off either way.

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