Chris Currier, Director of Account Management at the great ad agency Planit recently posted a great post.

ad agency client leadership

Clients have become accustomed to poor service, fix it.

In it he brings up something I’ve been thinking about for some time. The difference between Account Management and Account Service:

I have something to confess. It’s something that bothers me to the core of my professional self, yet I haven’t really done anything about it publicly. Until now…

I am offended when others introduce me as the “director of account services.”

That’s not my title. My title is director of account management. Is this a case of semantics? To others, perhaps it is. To me, it’s a world of difference.

At Planit, nobody on the account team works the corner to service johns. We do not read from a script to service hundreds of customers in some call center in the Midwest. We manage our accounts. We own the work and the relationships. We set expectations around timing and budgets. We collaborate with our peers and present solutions to our clients’ business problems, and then we set out to implement our plans.

We are trusted advisors to our clients, not just vendors. True, that client-agency relationship exists and there are instances where you just can’t get over that hump. But the best partnerships shouldn’t be built that way.

Let’s face it: Any company looking to an agency is looking for that outside opinion and expertise to help solve an issue they’re experiencing. That issue could be a smaller engagement like creating a new website or it could be large like strategic work to ensure that a global brand has consistent messaging, tone and look across all of its markets. Regardless of size or scope of the relationship, it is extremely critical for account management professionals to know the nuances of managing a project or account. If we just answer the phone and blindly put through a work order, we’ve failed. Not just our colleagues for not challenging the status quo, but we’ve also failed that client for not providing that opinion and perspective for which they initially hired us.

Chris then brings up something I’ve been meaning to do for some time…

An effective account manager learns many skills along the way, but all are based on three main tenets: relationship, strategy and project management. You start off doing more job starters and developing schedules while doing less strategy. As you grow, you do fewer change orders and more account planning. We’re all on the same spectrum and only time, experience, and opportunity slide you along the scale.

Below is a list of the seven best books that will make anyone a better account management professional. Read them early to get a jump start. And revisit them often throughout your career because it’s way too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re managing dozens of projects on any given day.

“Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek

You’ve likely seen his TED talk (which is a great summation, yet not as deep as the book). People buy why you do, not what you do. This is simply a great read about thinking differently for your clients.

“Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy

I find it amazing that Ogilvy’s take on blending the art and science of our craft has become an even greater force in today’s world of applying big data to campaigns.

“Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads” by Luke Sullivan

There is a constant struggle in the ad game between creative and account management. Art versus smart. Shorts versus suits. You fight with your colleagues about the work, yet fight for the work once it’s presented. This book is a nice little insight into the creative process that helped me bridge the gap between myself and the creative team.

“The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy: Open Your Mind to Greater Creative Thinking” by Tom Monahan

This is a great book for creative thinking—specifically brainstorming techniques. I had an opportunity to participate in a training session with Tom many moons ago and often return to this book when I need to lead a brainstorm.

“The Art of Client Service: 58 Things Every Advertising & Marketing Professional Should Know” by Robert Solomon

I hate the title because of that “S” word, but the principles are the same. This book is likely the quickest read on this list, and it lays out a smart approach that all good AEs should follow.

”The Peaceable Kingdom: Building a Company without Factionalism, Fiefdoms, Fear and Other Staples of Modern Business” by Stan Richards

When I read this book, which I actually reread every other year or so, it inspires and refocuses me to push for agency growth because I find that a lot of my personal ideals align with his. I love the story and philosophy that drove Mr. Richards to build one of the largest independent shops around.

“How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

In a business where clients are often won, retained, or lost on the strength of relationships, Carnegie’s principles for how to better interact with people is a must. Developed over 100 years ago at YMCA “talks” and first published in 1936, his approach still applies to all facets of life today. I even recommend attending a course if you can!

And two Lucky Strike extras that are actually the two books I love to talk about but have never read.

“Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by Robert Coram

A modern-day Sun Tzu, John Boyd is considered by many to be the father of modern military strategy and his theories are taught throughout the world in just as many business circles as military classrooms. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) is a decision cycle and the quicker you are inside that loop, the better you are than your opponents. This awesome concept started for pilot training, was adopted by the USMC, and is something that is next on my personal reading list.

“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely

A colleague lent this to me shortly after I started here at Planit. In that first week, I read approximately 45 pages and was wowed by it. I just got busy and haven’t made the time to finish it. I need to finish this book ASAP as I predict it will make me better at what I do.

It’s that simple, my friends. Read these books and you’ll be well on your way to being a great account pro. Better yet, read them and give me a call—I love to talk about these books, and who knows? We may just have a spot for you on the account management team. Just don’t call it account services… I’ll show you the door.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. And I highly recommend the book on Boyd!

A properly trained account management team can provide the insight and inspiration to lead a dramatic turnaround resulting in new directions for ad agency growth. Sanders Consulting Group teaches many agencies one of the biggest secrets to strong account management and that’s the ability of the agency to create great chemistry between the account team and the client. Learn how to do this in a highly memorable day-long session.


Photo by chrisbonney