So we work in an industry where clients often come from financial backgrounds, their lives are run via targets, their days split rigidly into meetings, financial achievement and delivery (aka “performance”) is often (and rightly so) the ‘be all and end all’ of their working existence.
The creative agency, on the other hand, comes from a different perspective. Days are often less structured – and deliberately so. Creation of the freshest, most on-brief and original ideas is the objective. Financial measurement, at least for the creative department, is less of a priority. Instead, the equally stressful objective of achieving stand-out creative work is the goal.
These two views are very different. Generally – clients are from Mars, creatives are from Venus. The genius often lies in the combination of the two perspectives. And this is the sadly much-maligned role of the ‘account management’ people – or suits. They are like translators or mediators – they need to facilitate the communication between the two sides, to ensure the goodness and validity of arguments from each perspective are heard. By building consensus, a better solution for both sides is achieved. This is frequently an uncomfortable, awkward and thank-less process.
Whilst acting as mediators, the account management team also need to know when and how to say ‘no’ to clients. Creatives often stress this leads to better work – by standing up for good ideas when push comes to shove and preventing dilution of great ideas. Saying no to a client is often the hardest thing to do for the account person. However, the really great suits can do this often, whilst making the client feel like they are getting something bigger and better than their original request.
Too often, from the agency perspective, clients treat creativity like a spring rather than a well. What do we mean by this? A well is a source of fresh, delicious, clear drinking water. A well is like the creative’s mind. You can dip into it, but if you keep on dipping, pulling bucket after bucket, then the well will eventually run dry. The well needs time to refill. Due to the ongoing nature of client relationships, clients can make frequent demands, change briefs or alter work piecemeal during the course of months, sometimes years. This leads to dry wells on the agency side. Motivation runs short and the ideas and execution suffer. This is because the client feels that the creative product is like a spring – ever flowing, full of freshness. If only that were the case….
So the other crucial task of the great account management person, is to ensure at all costs that the relationship stays fresh. That the clients understand the precious nature of their ‘well of creativity’, that buckets are extracted carefully and are fit for purpose, which means briefs are accurate and agreed up-front, without using the creative process to define the strategy.
Of course, the creative department and their ability to conjure great ideas and work is central. However, the account management team, when properly run, should rightly feel they have as much a part to play in the creation of great work. And of course, how many agencies credit their clients? Because at the end of the day, every great idea and piece of work, needs a great and brave sponsor.
We do wonder sometimes, who is training and teaching the future great account management people in the industry? And who is leading the example on the client side? I have been lucky enough to work with Coca-Cola, who truly have a remarkable appreciation and understanding of the transformative power of creativity. Partly because they have actively hired agency-side people to bring them over to manage their marketing function. We would love to hear from any other clients who feel they can match Coke in this regard 🙂