Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Account People Should Carry A Portfolio and Reel

I have been in the business long enough to remember many of the great “creative” agencies.  The list of them was long and, sadly, most have disappeared or been merged out of existence.  What characterized these agencies was an absolute belief in the ability of their work to cut through clutter and sell their clients’ products.  The people at the bigger agencies liked to call these agencies, “creative boutiques”, which was slightly pejorative, meaning that they were not strategic, especially since many of them were actually fairly large.  However, the truth was quite the opposite; these agencies were actually quite disciplined and hired really strong account people.

What set the creative agencies apart was that everyone who worked at them felt to be a part of the creation of the work.  The really good account people were considered to be an extension of the creative department. Not only did the account executives (in the broadest sense) develop the strategy, they were often able to make significant additions and contributions to the executions.

As a result, if you were an account person, the work was almost as much a product of the account group as it was the creative team.  It was evidenced by the fact that a significant percentage of the account people from these agencies carried portfolios of their work.  As a recruiter, I took great delight in looking at the reels and “books” which the account people brought for me to see.

Today, few account people carry a record of their work. I miss this enthusiasm and dedication.

Account people should carry reels and portfolios of their own. It would show their pride and commitment.  The fact that they don’t keep a record of what they have been doing is a manifestation of the way that most agencies operate vis-à-vis account people.  

One of the observations that I have made is that the most successful account people – the ones who rise to the top – have an innate enthusiasm for the business and the work.

It isn’t necessary for an account person to take a recruiter or a job interviewer through their portfolio page by page (nothing worse, actually), but the fact that they have one and link to it on their résumé says volumes about the account person and how they feel about the business and how they see their role.  

I would like to see more of it.


  1. With all of the strategic and digital specialization today, I think the problem for most account people having creative portfolios or books would be convincing anyone that what they contributed really had anything to do with the initial or final creative product.

    "Creatives" still create, as they always have. But "suits" don't really seem to do strategy anymore. They report on Google Analytics and dashboard metrics, which are after "the creative fact". Bill Crandall

    1. Two things. Perhaps I didn't articulate my point well. Account people carrying a portfolio or reel is not necessarily about contribution. It is about pride. It is showing people the work you have been associated with and being able to tell why it is smart and effective. If an account person has made a specific contribution, so much the better.

      By the way, I always hated being called a "suit." It is a pejorative term which comes from suit as in, "empty suit".

  2. Here's my problem: I have my reel....it's just on a 3/4" cassette. :)

    1. All us old codgers have that problem. :-).

    2. Copywriters and art directors could always waltz into the agency producer's office, ask for an extra 3/4" cassette, and it would be provided without question. Of course, as the account guy, I'd always get the bill for it.

    3. @ Anon: Well, that says a lot about your relationship with the producer ;-). I never paid for a reel in my life.

  3. Paul, totally agree. I have a portfolio website, which allows me to share the work and add a bit of context too.

    Another big challenge is how to best show digital, mobile and experiential work. First thing most shops are looking for today is 'omni-channel' skills, and some a digital-first mindset... which I find hard to present in a compelling fashion as often the best ideas in this realm don't 'show' well or easily. For this reason I continue to work on improving my portfolio in this area... likely to always be a work in progress.

    1. @cre8: Digital is an issue, but links and screen shots can help. The main thing is that account people are proud of the work they have participated in for their clients.

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