More and more agencies are finding that account management is misunderstood, under appreciated and maybe misbranded.

agency client relationships

Staying in the middle of the road is never safe.

Agencies have had to find new ways to cope with the demands of a new breed of clients who are younger, smarter, more aggressive, and more anxious than ever for results. These clients aren’t tied to the traditions of the past and your account management team will be judged to be either in step with them or out. What’s more these clients don’t want what they consider to be high-paid account management teams managing projects. They quickly see the inefficiency of this and resent paying higher fees for low-propriety work. This issue is has contributed to the erosion of confidence in many agency-client relationships.

At the other end of the spectrum, clients have demonstrated that they are willing and even anxious to pay for smart people who are able to deliver a strategic impact on their business. Age and seniority are no longer considered a requirement.

More and more it’s about strategy. Brand strategy. Marketing strategy. Business strategy. Online Strategy.

And while this is going on, many agencies are still in the past when talk about strategy only meant advertising strategy, which means getting the ad right. Ad strategy is of less interest to many new clients who are interested in new ways of looking at their problems.

As you consider where your current account management organization ranks in the eyes of your clients, we have prepared the following 10 points outlining how agencies can rethink account management and retool it for the future.

Rethink Agency Client Relationships: 

1 – Stop Treating Clients Like Clients

Put the emphasis on the people side of the business right in the beginning. Learn how to get in step with your clients by first identifying and then matching their expectations. The matching of expectations results in a much stronger working relationship with better long-term retention. Most client defections are caused, not by poor service, nor poor work practices, nor bad creative but by bad chemistry.

2 – Take Account Management off Life Support

Replace the account management function with project managers and account strategists, not planners. This new role of account strategist puts emphasis on moving the client’s business forward, not just getting the ads right, where most planners focus.The results of this dramatic shift can be quite positive including happier clients, more clearly defined roles, and a smoother-operating agency.

3 – Create a Culture of Invention

Business Building Ideas are not easily created in a confrontational environment. Account management teams often find themselves in the difficult role of both client and agency advocate. Account teams work best when their function is defined properly, the team is trained right and the culture supports an inventive work place where innovative thinking is fostered.

4 – Increase Your Service Level. Get out the SWAT Team.

Most agency processes and procedures are too slow for clients who demand great work fast. Agencies need to restructure the way clients are handled from top to bottom. A SWAT team concept that pulls the best and brightest for a given project has been proven to speed up the agency, make clients happier and help staff gain insight into solving the account management dilemma.

5 – Think Strategic. Act Tactical.

Too many account people think tactical and act tactical. By doing this they do their agency and their clients a disservice. Thinking strategically and acting tactically is accomplished by maintaining focus on client objectives while continuously searching for alternative ideas without overlooking the need for incremental delivery. Many professionals have interest and skill in one or the other, but few successfully balance the two for the betterment of the agency and client.

6 – Let the Consultants Do the Heavy Lifting

Agencies serve the clients better by focusing on what they do best. Don’t get the account management staff and creative talent involved in big strategy decisions. More often than not, the project is questionably specified, unsolicited and, when delivered, is undervalued by the client. Progressive agencies are starting consulting firms/divisions to focus on the heavy lifting while your agency speeds up the execution. This way client gets the best of worlds including both solid strategic assistance and solid marketing communications.

7 – Money and Contracts. Contracts and Money

The two most important tools your agency can provide its account staff is a proper contract and instruction on how to set the budgets for projects and jobs the agency is charged with completing. Don’t be caught committing to inaccurate budget estimates and engaging clients with a fuzzy contract that doesn’t protect the agency.

8 – Lead Clients Better By Pushing Back More

Too many account management teams forget that their agency’s value to clients increases when agencies help their clients show proper discipline. This means agencies need to know when to push back with a client and how to push back. Learning how to say “no” can clear a lot of air.

9 – Shift from Agency Centric to Client Centric

Move from the client conference room to the client boardroom by shifting the way your team thinks. Essentially this means that you stop worrying about ads to worrying about the client’s business. Stop talking about advertising and focus on talking about strategies that drive client business forward and increase clients’ long-term equity valuations. This shift transforms the agency from marketing communication vendor to trusted advisor with an honored place in the boardroom.

10 – Uh-Oh. The Problem Might Not Be Account Management.

Many agencies find themselves locked into providing poor service to clients, not because of a lack of effort, but because of the agency’s structure. Structure can be the enemy of good service. If you believe your agency can’t work any harder and service still suffers, you might have a structure problem that needs fixing first. Department silos, agencies within agencies and commanded teams all can cause serious problems in agency efficiency, productivity and level of service.

These 10 points provide cursory insight into some best practices employed by leading agencies.

And you can start to transform your account team by brining in some heavy duty training. All members of the account staff, from the junior level up to group account directors, will benefit greatly by attending our account management High Gear training. Additionally, anyone who works on a regular basis with clients (creative, design, media, planning, production and ancillary services such as PR and digital) will find the High Gear training invaluable. Your full team’s participation will accelerate the program’s impact.



Photo by Feeriee13