Account Madness - Felix Mason, Initiative

By AdNews | 20 March 2024
Felix Mason.

This series of articles looks at the world of the account manager.

This time we talk to Felix Mason, Senior Client Director, Initiative

How did you end up account management? Was it by design or a cosmic accident?

I got pulled over by police on the way to my fourth day of university on my motorbike. I was late to the lab class and the gentleman running it wouldn’t let me in. I unenrolled on the spot. I wasn’t giving them another dime. My mother had been in media for 100 years at that point (joking Mum, I know it had been a mere 35) and had a few connections so after a short stint driving a forklift out in the western suburbs I was thrown a lifeline by a daring TV GSM. I managed to make media stick from there. Ten years later across sales and now agency, I’d say I was destined for it, although sometimes there is no doubt the fabric of the cosmos unravels in strange ways.

Balancing clients’ objectives and creative vision can be challenging. How do you deal with that?

I would say that they are completely intertwined. Naturally the client will have more tangible objectives and the role of creative, among other things, is to deliver on a sustained brand strategy and direction. However, good ads and good campaigns tick all boxes—everyone’s a winner. Granted, the challenge for us can often be building media strategy that embodies our unique brand of thinking but magnifies the work that the creative agency has done, in the little time that we always have. I deal with it by communicating my socks off. Little and often is my philosophy.

What strategies do you employ to clearly convey creative ideas to clients and address client feedback?

The cause of death for a lot of good ideas is a lack of enthusiasm, if you aren’t fired up by an idea no-one will be. Always keep it fun, make it exciting, do whatever you can do to get everyone to listen and to buy-in. Also make it simple, one of the wisest heads in our business once told me that we suffer from the curse of knowledge. We know too much about what we do and often are unable to see the inherent over-complexity in our ideas and our thinking. Strip it back always, keep it pithy, keep it entertaining. It’s from the same vein with feedback, do whatever you can to put yourself in your clients’ position and at the expense of sounding painfully clichéd, flex that empathy. Often there’s a perspective or nugget of information lurking in your periphery which you ignored. Be a deep and active thinker, this will give you a better vantage point. Simply put, think as the buyer and not as the seller.

 How to build strong relationships with clients?

One of my hungover guilty indulgences is watching Marco Pierre White vids on YouTube. I find him very amusing. One of the strangest cats out there. One thing he says often which I love is “perfection is lots of little things done well”. I figure that if it’s good enough for Marco, it’s good enough for me. There’s no one thing— to build strong relationships with clients, you’ve got to be timely, interesting, clever, supportive, organised, fun, useful, thoughtful, insightful, realistic, open-minded, passionate and empathetic. In no distinct order of course. Provide good service, always add value, though on the same token never just wing it on the relationship front. I sometimes see myself in a similar role as a caddy in golf, the clients are making the shots within their organisations but unless they’ve been given the right club or the right rub of the green, they can find themselves in the sand. I’m fortunate to have robust econometric modelling at-hand which helps validate and defend ideas inside and outside the walls of marketing. Don’t blindly pull a club from the bag, use the right data to anchor your recommendations to put your clients in a winning position internally – Do this and you'll both be on the top of the podium lapping up the applause. There’s not much more to it.

Do you have any go-to tips for navigating challenging conversations with clients? And effectively selling an idea.

Be patient and have faith that your abilities will improve over time. For me, navigating challenging discussion is something that now comes innately but it wasn’t always that way. For many years I was conflict averse and I’d get anxious when faced with tough conversations. If there’s anyone out there who feels like it’s a nut they will never crack, I felt the same thing and I was wrong. You get more experience, you get more perspective, you get a bit wiser and everything will fall into place more for you. If you’re taking a pre-emptive and analytical approach to having a conversation, you’re thinking too hard. With selling ideas it’s similar to what I touched on earlier, bring a touch of the flair but the other call I’d make is know your audience. Some clients like detail, some don’t. Give the key decision makers the information that best suits their decision-making style.

Are there any emerging trends or challenges in the industry that account management teams should be prepared for?

Strong verbal communication skills will always be the most valuable and effective tool that account management teams have at their disposal. As we enter this world of prompt writers, hyper-incrementality and digital-everything, the basics are only going to become increasingly important. We’ve seen it shift before our eyes with the popularisation of video conferencing. Soft skills are worse for it in my opinion. Teams should always prioritise being present with each other and get in front of the clients as often as possible. Also, never overlook the value of some good old fashioned client entertainment.

What advice would you give your younger self when you first started out in account service?

Don’t try to get the crystal ball out and plan the perfect 20-year trajectory. Never chase the dollars and cents. Find a team you like working with which has a great culture and doesn’t take life too seriously and then good things will happen from there.


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