I recently participated in an interesting panel debate hosted by The Communications Council on account management. The somewhat controversial title was “From Madmen to Bagmen” and we navigated various issues related to the profession.
What struck me was how quickly the discussion turned from a light hearted debate to shining a spotlight on what is apparently a fractious relationship between account people and the creative departments in advertising agencies. The upshot being two distinct stereotypes; account people that add no value to the process and creatives who are lazy spoon-fed prima donnas. While this is not news, what worries me is that this has become the principle debate in what should be a far broader topic.
When I first walked into an office of Ogilvy & Mather fifteen years, the suits were the kings. The Group Account Director ran all aspects of the business and was, for all intents and purposes, the Managing Director of the business team they ran. They worked the clients, sourced the insights team, offloaded on the strategy guys, briefed the creative department and worked closely with the media, direct and PR functions to ensure that the big idea came to life in the best possible way.
The problem for account people now is that all they do is manage the creative department to come up with a big idea – all the while knowing that every other agency partner from PR to media is coming up with their own ideas. So, rather than selling one thing and galvanising people who report into you around it, the account management function has changed to fighting off others attempting to sell the same thing who reporting into different masters. Who would want that job? No wonder they get into skirmishes with creative departments who don’t think they are doing a good job!
Clearly that isn’t fair on people within these roles. So here is a thought. Why don’t we go to our clients with a staffing plan where the account management function is funded by all of the different partner agencies? They wouldn’t be Ogilvy account people, or ZenithOptimedia account people, simply a team delivering the best solution. They would be accountable not just for “selling creative agency” work, but bringing the collaboration partners together.
The sell to the procurement department would be the easiest conversation in the world. Rather than having account people from creative, PR, digital, media and research suppliers, why not centralise the function into one group? That would stop them from being “Bagmen”.
Ian Perrin is Australia and New Zealand chief executive of ZenithOptimedia