Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Account People Are Responsible For Solving Problems With Their Clients

The one thing that I hear from every agency person who has gone to the corporate side is that they finally understand what clients do, how they spend their time and the priorities that take them away from agencies. And they all also say that their client side experience puts the issues that agency people have into complete perspective. (I actually hear the same thing from clients who go to agencies – before joining an agency they had no idea how complicated the relationship is).

As I have previously written, agencies don’t like to hire clients (and vice versa).  It is a terrible mistake because every agency could use the perspective which client-side experience can bring.
There are many consultants and consulting companies who have made a fine living by lecturing senior agency management on the issue of agency-client relations and how to get along better, but they never seem to actually resolve the problem.  The reason they cannot solve this issue is because disliking and distrust of clients are endemic to the business on both sides.

Clients resent agencies pushing for their work; clients don’t think agencies understand their business.  Clients think their agencies are too expensive, especially when it comes to production. But there are other areas as well.  Agencies can’t understand why they don’t get better direction; agencies aren’t allowed to know their clients’ business. Corporate procurement has squeezed agencies to the point where the relationship is constantly strained and account people are merely suppliers, not partners.

A lot of the enmity is internally generated on both sides of the business.  Dealing with each other can be frustrating.  Nevertheless, I put responsibility for handling this squarely in the hands of account people. Good account people should learn enough about their clients to not only know about the client’s business, but to understand the ins and outs of the client’s culture in order to put their business in perspective and explain to their agencies what has happened and why it occurred.

This means that account people need to be well enough trained nd familiar enough with their clients to know what will sell and not sell; by no means should any account person prevent good, on-strategy creative from being presented. And once bought by the client, their job is to keep it sold.  

Their job is to keep creative, media and planners enthusiastic and excited.

When I was a senior account person, I would not allow the account people to badmouth their clients to others in the agency. I told them that they could come in to my office and bitch and moan to me all they wanted, but when they discussed their client issues with others in the agency they only succeed in destroying enthusiasm for working on the account.  Some account people mistakenly believe that by speaking ill of their clients that they will strengthen and build their relationships with others in the agency – especially creative people.  Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

In today’s environment, agencies do not spend enough time at the client.  When ad agencies don’t spend enough social and getting-to-know-you time with their clients, they cannot learn the subtleties and nuances of their client’s jobs and their businesses.  Clients are partially to blame for this issue because their procurement people have cut agency compensation to the bone which discourages this kind of quality time. Nevertheless, learning the client’s business is the essential job of account people so that information can be translated back to the rest of the agency. 

Of course, there are some bad clients, but the only way that agencies can handle them is by trying to understand what makes them bad and attempting to deal with the issues in a positive way.  Mostly, I found that bad clients are clients agencies don’t spend enough time with.

Even good clients occasionally need to be hand-held.  It is part of the job.


  1. I started my agency career many years ago at Ted Bates Worldwide, and in the two years that I was there before moving on to SSC&B:Lintas, I only met our Chairman, Bob Jacoby, once. But I remember in the course of our very brief conversation using the term “client service”, whereupon he immediately said to me, “If you want to be in ‘Client Services’, go work for DDB. At Bates we only have ‘ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT’ “. Which I later learned meant, he held every account person, at every level, directly responsible for the state of their client relations and client business. But then, you couldn’t even get into Bates without some proven knowledge of Brand Marketing AND Advertising in the first place. And that is the problem facing agencies today. Because that standard has been replaced by digital this and social that, irrespective of whether one knows anything about the “4 Ps”. More like hiring well-educated counter clerks from Burger King, a la, “Have It Your Way.”
    All of which is to say to what I think is Paul’s point … Of course “social time” with the client is critical … but you’d better know your marketing “stuff” when opening your mouth. And if you’re not Leading (and Managing); then you’re just following and “Servicing”.
    That said and ironically, Bates is long-gone to the agency dustbin and DDB is still standing. And so much for what I think.

  2. Well, Bill, there is a difference between managing and servicing. Good point. My concern is an has been that agency account managers must be responsible and given the tools with which to truly manage their accounts. Which means both anticipating and handling problems.

  3. After starting my career with five years in media I moved into account work and learned what a tough job it is! I used to joke that everyone hated the AE; creatives thought we were just empty suits (we wore suits back then) with no artistic vision, media planners thought we dumped client requests on them and had no knowledge about their practice (I had an edge there), and brand managers would just beat us up over estimates! Ha! But it was a great experience for me and expanded my knowledge beyond "media" to "advertising," more in tune with the actual marketing and selling of products.

  4. The point of my post had nothing to do with Brand Marketing. It was about what good account management is. Phil Kotler is a friend of mine (he and his wife, Nancy, are fellow glass collectors). I have seen this presentation and, like most things he does, it awesome and worth watching.

  5. I certainly got your point, as I generally do, whether you realize it or not. In this particular instance yours was “… Agency account managers must be given the responsibility and tools with which to manage their accounts.” Got it! But if you don’t have the knowledge to know which tool to use in any given situation or, even then, how to use it, all the responsibility and authority in the world won’t make a wit of difference for the good..

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    1. Tim, I am not sure why you removed your comment and the link to your AdWeek article. I fully agree with you.


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