Rethinking Account Management—With a Dose of Creativity

“Suits” and “creatives”—an old convenient myth in the industry based on creatives’ output and suits’ clothing. We may work differently, but we don’t cancel each other out.

We are much more like our creative counterparts than we often seem to embrace—and creative account management means being an account person that the creatives are begging to work with.

We can be critical in getting creatives’ best work sold and made, then out in the world kicking ass and making awesome things happen for our clients.

Luke Sullivan, author of the iconic ad book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, says of good account managers: “[They] have the soul of a creative person and will share your excitement over a great ad. They’re articulate, honest, inspiring and have a better batting average selling your work.”

That’s the root of creative account management.

Great work or bust.

Mal MacDougall, former president and creative director at Hill Holliday, said, “I happen to believe that the only purpose of an agency is to create great advertising. To me that is the only significant way we can serve our clients. I don’t even know what ‘client service’ is if it doesn’t serve the goal of providing the client with great advertising.”

Clients come to us for great work. We all want great work. And as account managers, we must own our role in the process of making it.

What’s the creative account manager’s role?

Our creative account managers have one goal: creating a community where great work can live and where people can be great.

That’s what we do inside our agency and for our clients. We can’t design and we don’t write copy, but we can create a set of conditions and establish the aligned strategy for that work to happen. We lay the groundwork for creative success, bringing in the right people with the right skills at the right time in the process.

Jeff Graham, SVP/Managing Director at Barkley, described it best when he said, “We have to start thinking of creative as a verb. It’s no longer a noun, a person, or a thing that we show—it’s how we do our jobs. We’re active, constantly hustling to get great work done.”

As account managers, we have to care more than any other reasonable person would and see possibilities that others miss or overlook.

What does a creative account manager look like?

Mad Men’s Pete Campbell is the image that has been painted for account management—a yes-man who cares more about himself than any ounce of great work or any teammate. And he exists because enough people have worked that way for years.

But that approach is the disease. And creative account management is the cure.

How to be Anti-Pete:

Never forget the most important client.
Your personal brand will always be your most important client. Infuse your vibe and your values into your thinking, and you will find great fulfillment in your clients’ work.

Ask yourself, “What am I doing to make the work better?”
We spend our day pushing. We’ve got this on repeat: “move it forward, get it sold, get it made, get it out into the wild.” We’re selling our time—our most precious asset—so it’s critical for us to align our time with the goals of the client.

Deliver a thoughtful and inspiring brief—for every project.
Outside signed estimates and SOWs, there is no more important document than a brief inside an agency. Too often our briefs read like a to-do list when our projects deserve more. We should be co-authoring our briefs with strategy counterparts and hunting for insights along the way with them.

Bring ideas.
We should be experts on our clients’ business. Our unique expertise gives us the runway to confidently bring ideas. This doesn’t mean writing scripts or giving art direction. It means seeing gaps in the client’s business that we can fill and considering how we can respond to make our clients successful. Root your ideas in the business intel that only you can bring.

Own the energy.
No matter what, our enthusiasm is contagious. It’s our job to bring that relentlessly. If we aren’t excited, why the hell would anybody else be? It’s our job to find the creative and business potential for each client and each project. Be the hype man for your team.

Let’s go!

 So, let’s ask ourselves—how can we do our jobs, as account managers, more creatively? How can we inspire an imaginative and creative plan—and make a difference for our clients, in our suits or our jeans?

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