Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Six Secrets To Save An Account

I interview a lot of senior advertising executives.  Many of them have saved accounts.  I have made it a point to ask what they have done to correct a bad situation.  I realized that their solutions are always pretty much the same.  The results seem to fall into several categories and I thought I would pass on the things I have learned.

Agencies and clients rarely part due to creative differences or strategic disagreements.  Mostly, I have heard about agencies losing business over lack of communication and lack of connection.
1)  Listen to the client   
This is an issue I hear virtually every time someone tells me that an account runs into trouble.  Clients complain that their agencies are simply not listening to them.  

This mistreatment manifests itself in many ways, including not doing what is supposed to be done when it is due.  One person who saved an account told me that he simply started to deliver on time work.
Listening to clients doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead when it comes to creative work.  More often than not, it means that the client needs a willing ear on the part of its agency.  Many agencies seem to treat clients as if they don't know their own needs.  Sometimes this is actually the case, but the smart account manager knows to listen to his or her client, develop the asked for work on a timely basis; that breeds trust  and when the client trusts the agency, they are able to push for better solutions, if necessary.
But first and foremost, clients need to know that the agency is on its side.

2)  Meeting with clients in person
Some time ago I wrote that email was killing the business.  Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.  It is critical that senior agency people meet with senior clients on a regular basis.   

I just interviewed an SVP who had been running a major account which changed agencies recently.  He told me that the EVP previously running the account at its old agency had lost touch with the client because he had only gone to the client twice in a year.  Ouch.  To make matters worse, the agency was in NYC and the client in NJ. 

The former EVP, at the turn-over meeting, had insisted that the client refused to see him or kept cancelling meetings.   His mistake was waiting for an invitation; it became a vicious circle.  Many senior managers have faced this issue in one way or another.  The smart ones don’t wait for an invitation. They simply show up and, after a while, the client realizes that their agency really does care.

Getting to know the client applies to junior people as well.  It is critical that account executives, supervisors and account directors visit clients regularly. Ditto the creative people.  A relationship cannot be built on the phone or with email or even Skype.  And if the people who are doing the day-to-day work do not have a proper relationship with their counterparts, the foundation of the business will be weak.

Agencies have to become part of the client’s business.  That can only be accomplished by being there.

3) Knowing the client’s business
Many agencies have simply relegated themselves to executing work.  That is not a way to build a relationship.  There are many things which should be done in order to build trust and a partnership.  That is what account people are supposed to do. 

An account which went into review was recently saved.  The person running it made sure to get his account group to really dig into the business.  They came up with insights which were new to the brand group.

The creative work they presented showed a depth of knowledge and commitment.  The agency kept the business.

This is the kind of thing which agencies do when pitching an account but often forget about once the get it.
Knowing the client’s business enables the agency to sell better work and it builds mutual client/agency respect.

Getting back to basics saves business. 
4) Knowing all the client marketing people
Senior people at agencies need to spend time with people other than advertising people – brand managers, promotion people, sales people, manufacturing and the like.  These people are a gold mine of information and insight, not to mention a possible source of new revenues.  I heard a great story about an account director who befriended the client’s specialty sales people – military, incentives and premium, food service. 
These people became great advocates for the agency because they felt that someone was paying attention to them (which goes back to point number one).  They also became a source of additional revenues for the agency, because many of them have specialized budgets which the agency had not previously tapped.

Too many agency people go to visit the client, have their meeting and leave.  Having a meal and walking the halls does wonders for the relationship.
5)  Exchanging Ideas with the client
One person I interviewed told me that twice a year he instituted what he called a group grope.  He called a meeting of his entire account group, including planners, digital, media and creative and had all the clients, including the CMO, in attendance. These meetings have a loose agenda; their purpose is ostensibly to brainstorm about the business. They are informal and fun.  And they take place off campus.
It gives everyone a chance to know each other, to develop ideas and to learn each other's business.  These meetings generate ideas which are far afield, some actionable, some not.  But much good comes out of these get togethers. Everyone gets to really know and respect each other.
Both client and agency look forward to these meetings. The clients feel that they are partnering with the agency.  The account person told me that for the next meeting, they are trying to get the client CEO to attend.

Doing this saved the account.

6)  Involving clients with the creative process
One really good account person told me that she always brings clients into the development of the work. 

The creative department does tissue sessions with the client.  In turn, the client becomes both a source of information and inspiration.  When the final presentation comes, the client feels as if she is part of the process and supports the work.  The account people have learned how to manage the client during these critically important sessions.

 Making sure that the client has a vested interest in the work does wonders for the relationship.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Adventures In Recruiting: The Best Job Specs I Ever Got

Back in the mid to late nineteen eighties, there was a nice small agency called Doyle Graf Mabley (subsequently bought by Chiat, before TBWA, I believe).  They had one of the hotel accounts, Sheraton International.
A management supervisor there gave me an assignment to find a junior account supervisor.  They wanted someone who knew print production, was strategic and smart.  They would promote an account executive.  They also wanted someone with an MBA from one of the top B schools to mirror their principal client.

I sent her three really good candidates.  Each of them called me after interviewing with the management supervisor and each of them had then been passed on to the president of the agency.  Subsequently, the management supervisor told me that the president had rejected all three, but with no reasons given; she asked for more people.  I was surprised and perplexed since each of my candidates met the specs exactly, so I called the president.

Some of you may remember Charlie Fredericks.  Charlie had been president of Wells, Rich, Greene and had also been a senior executive at several other well respected agencies.  He was a really good guy. He knew the business well and there was no B.S. about him.

Charlie told me that he loved my candidates, but that they were over-qualified.  He asked me about the specs I had been given.  When I got to the part about the MBA, he said, in a way that only Charlie could say it, and in his big, booming voice, “No. No. No."  He then went on to give me his job specs: find an account executive who loves creative, who has a traffic or production background who had been at one of the big agencies.  He said, “Find me someone who has just been passed over for promotion. You know them.  Someone who gets it done, is great at execution and detail.  Screw the MBA and the strategy.  I will promote him or her.  This is about Sheraton International.  It is about changing the logo for the same ads in different markets.” 

He went on to tell that he would do the first interview and that he would handle the management supervisor.
Now that is what I call a great job spec.  With a minimum of words, it was brutally honest, clear, to the point and very actionable.  I knew exactly who he wanted.

That afternoon, I found someone who was exactly as described by him.  She was hired the next day.  She worked there for several years and was very happy.

The lesson here is to know exactly who and what you want when looking for a new hire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Effects Of Sandy On My Business

                                                                        image photo : No phone

This blog post is apropos of the recent outages caused by Sandy.  As an apolitical comment, I am very worried about the impact that a cyber attack will have on our country.  Computers have taken over business and people don’t know how to function without them.  Me included.

Somehow in the storm, despite maintaining electricity, I was left without internet access at the office.  That meant that I could not receive or send email. It lasted until November the 12th, two full weeks.   Sadly, we no longer know how to do business the old fashioned way.  

Imagine yourself with no internet.

Here are some of the things that happened to me.
-       My candidates and clients had no way of knowing that my email was down.
-       I couldn’t contact candidates who had appointments with me who had not sent résumés before the storm.  I neglected to get contact information when they made appointments (I won't do that any more).
-       Clients couldn’t reach me to give us assignments.  Sadly, most clients email assignments with only bare bones descriptions.  I have to call almost every client after receiving an email so that I can ask necessary questions.  Since I hadn’t received their emails, I didn’t know to call.
-       One client called me and berated me for not calling him – which he asked me to do in an email which, of course, I had not received.
-       One candidate couldn’t figure out my company name and called at home.  My wife graciously gave him my office number.
-       Another candidate called me and made an appointment.  I asked him to either snail mail or fax his résumé.  He was afraid to fax from his office and did not have stamps.  His inability to resolve this simple problem caused me to decide not to see him.
-       I couldn’t do my billing via the internet.  I had to do snail mail manual billing, which I have not done since 2005 (My apologies to my clients).
-    I couldn't pay my bills on line.
-    I couldn't check my account balances on line.
-       I had to cancel out of town Skype interviews.
-   My Blackberry worked (but no email) and I could contact both Twitter and Facebook through it.
-       When my email came back on, I had 954 emails to deal with, most had to be answered.  It took me almost seven hours to get through them.

At least my home and office were intact.
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