I recently interviewed a terrific account guy who worked at a forty-person ad agency. While never having worked at a big agency on a major brand, he could run circles around many of the account people at his level at the big agencies. He has been at his agency for four years. In his role as an account executive he does everything – budgets, project management and traffic, strategic development, complete client contact, presentations and management, all kinds of production – he does the estimating, bidding, attended and managed the shoots (television, content and print).
As an account executive, he had interviewed at one of the large network agencies and they told him that while he had the skills to be hired, they would not give him the freedom to do all the things he has been doing. He was also told that if he ended up there he would not attend shoots because that was reserved for account supervisors and above. Strategic development was entirely the providence of account planners and, except for competitive analysis, he would not be presenting to clients. He would only see his clients for major meetings – if he were allowed to attend.
Of course he did not want to work there or, now, because of this, for any of the larger agencies. He took a pass. One would think that a major agency would be anxious to hire an account person with these skills and experiences. There is nothing at a big agency he couldn't learn in a few weeks or months.
Ironically, he reminded me of account people I used to know. When I was an account guy, I attended client meetings and shoots from the time I was an assistant. I managed print production as an AAE and started managing television production shortly after. I was always involved with strategy, and drafted my first client marketing plan when I was an AAE (do account people even write marketing plans anymore?). Even as a junior, I was always made to feel that the accounts I worked on were totally mine and I was absolutely responsible for them, even if there were several layers above me who had to oversee and approve my work.
Why are agencies taking this kind of responsibility and sense of ownership away from junior account people? Why do ad agencies limit their enthusiasm and their growth and development? It makes no sense. It is almost like the big agencies are beating the enthusiasm and passion out of their people.
Now I understand that different accounts, like Procter, have rules for who can do what and what each level can and cannot do. I understand that an AAE or AE or even an account supervisor cannot attend a shoot in Argentina. But wherever possible, agencies need to insure that the enthusiasm and training of its people is maintained at high levels.
I don’t think that the policies that limit account people are necessarily intentional. I think the client fee and procurement system is such that they limit people's time, even if they are 100% allotted to the account. But I do think that the administration of these rules has been misinterpreted and it is easier for agencies to adopt a one size fits all policy, which is easier to administer (e.g. assistant account executives do not attend shoots, even if they happen to be around the corner from the office). Agency management must put its foot down and pay attention to the development and training of its people. If they did, it would lower turnover by increasing enthusiasm and commitment, which, in turn, would increase profitability.
Account people, who are the first line of client contact, should be allowed to have as much responsibility as they can handle. It would also help clients to increase their respect of agencies and the people who work there.