by Samir Shanbhag, brand partner, Rain Creative
What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, wrote Shakespeare.
But when it comes to an agency role, I think the nomenclature makes a big difference.
Account management implies coordination and admin of tasks related to the account. It is about creating a job list and coordinating efforts to get them done in a timely manner. It is not about spotting opportunities but about finishing a job at hand. The term ‘management’ suggests that the function is active but not action oriented. Is this aspirational enough?
Account development, on the other hand, is a set of initiatives and ideas that help improve the work on the account. It leads to business expansion and increase in profits. Yes, this includes day-to-day operational activities, but also has ‘initiatives’ and ‘ideas’ as key descriptors of the role.
Taking the initiative means to lean forward. It means taking the effort to understand the client’s business and marketing challenges they face. It means being resourceful to harness the skills and experience that exists within the agency and present proactive solutions. It means being ahead in the game, being a keen student, keeping your ears to the ground and eyes to the sky, always learning, always sharing, ensuring the agency team delivers on the account.
We all agree that a good idea can come from anywhere. But should that be left to chance? Shouldn’t that be a stated expectation of the account function? It does not mean competing with the creative on developing the campaign. It means being alive to the possibilities and awake to spot the opportunity. Here’s an example.
In my previous agency in India, this is a legend. The account, a battery cell manufacturer, was faring poorly and the team was well short of their revenue target for the year. A junior account manager in the team came up with the idea of doing a wall hanging with detachable single pieces of battery cells. Which meant customers did not have to buy an entire pack.
He worked with the creative team and presented the idea to the marketing manager and suggested that this can be used as both, a POS and sales dispenser in non-conventional outlets: The ubiquitous cigarette shops that dot the country. There are about a million of them in India. Guess what? The brand bought in to the idea and we produced about a hundred thousand of these wall hangings. It worked brilliantly for the brand. It also got the account team closer to their targets. An idea that led to business expansion for the brand as well as the agency.
I feel sad to see the account management role being reduced to a requisition-filler, meeting-fixer, and artwork-chaser. It’s time the practitioners of this function stand up and reclaim their past glory. Here are my six simple tips to become account developers:
- Immerse yourself in the brand. Know everything there is to know about your brand. Right from how and where it is manufactured to what is the packaging material and pricing. Know the innovation pipeline on your brand. Talk to your client and know what challenges are on their mind, what keeps them awake at night. Big ideas come from the small details on the brand.
- Understand the consumers of your brand. Be interested in market research. To many it seems like a chore, but once you make it a practice to attend research groups, participate in home visits, you will get a far better understanding of consumers. Become the voice of the consumer in every conversation with the client, within the agency, and you will be heard.
- Keep tabs on your brand’s competition. Make it a practice to get out of the office and walk the aisles at least once a week and observe changes in the aisle: Who’s got more facings, who’s packaging has changed, who’s launched a new variant, who’s got a new offer, who’s come up with an innovative display. Move around and change the stores you visit, change the locations you visit. Take pictures, make notes. Feed this back to your client. Over time, they’ll wait for these informal reports from you to inform them.
- Make numbers your strong suite. For starters, stay on top of your outstandings. Know the credit period, know what’s coming up for collection. Know your revenue target for the year, for the quarter. Keep track of how you are doing on the revenue front and don’t wait for anyone else to tell you the numbers. Knowing your numbers will create pressure to look for newer and more avenues for revenue.
- Discuss advertising with your creative peers: Make it a point to keep abreast of the latest work by subscribing to newsletters from industry news sources like Campaign Middle East, Campaign UK, Campaign Asia and join discussions on the latest work with your creative peers. These discussions will not only keep you up to date on the latest ideas but also help you become a better evaluator and seller of creative work. Bonus: Most creative people like suits who display a passion for the creative work.
- Pledge to be a learner for life: Be a reader. Read the classics. Read new concepts in advertising, behavioral science, marketing and management. Be well-informed, develop the right vocabulary to have engaging conversations with clients and colleagues and be well-spoken. The pursuit of knowledge should not be left at the mercy of free time. Make it a part of your daily routine. Like you recharge your body, develop a recharge regimen for your mind.
It is up to the leaders of this function to help their account managers by framing the role of the function differently, creating a challenging set of expectations and inspiring young account managers to become account developers. And it could begin by what we choose to call it.