The other day my CEO asked me a simple question: ‘What makes a good account manager?’ I thought about it and realised that I don’t care what makes a good account manager; I’m only really interested in what makes a great one.
A smorgasbord of characteristics takes you from an average suit to a trusted business partner but there are four key themes that I believe define this role. If you remind yourself of them every day and act on them incessantly, you can become a great account manager.
As luck would have it, they make a super cool acronym: PIMP.
Clients don’t simply want to issue instructions. They can have transactional relationships with their dry cleaners. They’ve appointed an agency to grow their brands and they want to know that you are capable of thinking beyond the obvious. When you have a question or an input, don’t be afraid to provoke, to test and push. Your client would rather be told what they should be doing now than have to react to chaos at the last minute.
It’s about planning and foresight. Don’t think about the brief, think about the ultimate creative ambition for that project or job, ask yourself what needs to be done to get there, and then start doing it…now. Use previous projects as benchmarks or consult with the people around you so that on day one you are already thinking about day 34 deliverables.
Always be painfully quick at communicating and never EVER make them follow up with you (that is the ultimate ammo for any client-agency appraisal). Sending a gloriously crafted contact report within the usual 24 hours just doesn’t cut it. Sending concise and clear actions and notes 15 minutes after the meeting – now that’s progress.
I struggle to fathom a relaxed mentality after important meetings. I’ve seen people lull themselves into a false sense of security, wasting time congratulating themselves on how well it all went. Instead, move straight on to the next hurdle and make sure the client is equally accountable. The ball must always roll. Always. And expectations must always be managed.
Account managers need to understand context and know how things are connected and intertwined. Too often we are primed to be operational and robotic and we indirectly undermine ourselves and our worth by believing the client always knows more than us because…well, they are the client. But if you find your ultimate fulfilment in a well-authored debrief or revenue forecast rather than in a deep and insightful picture of what the client really needs, you may not be cut out for great account management.
By contrast, if you are compelled to hone in on the ultimate end goal of a massive project and start thinking about the details, continually challenging the client with what could, should or shouldn’t be done, then you are becoming a partner. And not just any old partner – their most important partner.
Intuition is about using your gut and thinking harder, always with the future in mind. Think like the consumer. Insight is everywhere. Some of the best advice I’ve been given is this: Always aspire to know more about the client’s brand than they do, and always follow your gut.
They call it thick skin, I call it being damn strong. If you get upset at the mere sight of a harsh client and absorb any criticism as a personal attack on your character, you should move on. It’s vital to understand their context and why they are being critical, and then understand how you can help them, not how you can prove them wrong.
This industry is intense no matter which side you’re on. Embrace the intensity and always aspire to be the calm voice of reason in the storm. Be the rational one who can defer attention from a poor brief towards something else that will ultimately get the job done. Most importantly though, maintain a sense of humour – and if you don’t have one, find one. Not taking things personally is easier said than done but in this job it’s essential.
Attention to detail is paramount. Take pride in every single thing you write or say or do. Check the details and check them again. Be hard on yourself if you make a mistake and then move on and don’t make it again. Write to-do lists and live by them.
Being pedantic is also about planning and preparing. Know what your set up and preamble are going to be the day before the presentation; say something profound, intelligent, brave, or insightful, something that shows you care and understand their business. In our world you have to be completely immersed and completely focused. It’s all about adding value and justifying your worth beyond being perceived as the glorified PA and just checking diaries, booking teams and closing jobs.
Being an advertising account manager is damn hard. It always will be. Perfection will never be attainable. Respect and true partnership will be. Get pimping and become your client’s most important partner.
Georgia Pfuhl, Client Service Director, VMLY&R South Africa
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