Account Madness - Hannah Dunlop, The Pistol

By AdNews | 8 May 2024
Hannah Dunlop.

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

This time we talk to Hannah Dunlop, Senior Account Manager, The Pistol 

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

It’s probably closer to a cosmic accident, but if you look closely, you can see the invisible string. Graduating high school, my top subjects were legal studies, media and art. I decided to study graphic design, and began my career in an ad agency, working on print advertising for the liquor industry. As an entry-level creative, I was often the last to be briefed after all the strategic thinking had already occurred, and after a year I realised I wanted to be a part of that.

I went back to university and studied marketing and became particularly excited about digital marketing after seeing how innovatively my lecturer approached the subject (shoutout to Torgeir Aleti at RMIT University). I knew this was where I wanted to go, so I applied for a Social Media Specialist role at a digital agency after graduating and got the job.

From there, I applied for a position at The Pistol, where I started working in account management. I felt this was a natural transition with my prior experience and haven’t looked back.

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

Ideally you want to start with your client’s objectives and match your creative to their brief. There may be some aspects of that brief which are not best practice, and that is where you can ask your client questions to figure out how essential certain aspects of it are and push back or offer alternatives where needed.

It’s important to recognise that you are a team, and you are working towards a common goal: great work and great results, so compromise where you can and don’t be a purist. You want to figure out what is at the core of what you are trying to achieve – what is the real objective. Once you know what that is, that’s when great work can happen.

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

I have a unique advantage here, as I studied graphic design at university and went on to work in the industry, so I have been on both sides of the fence. For small ideas, I will email these over with the necessary details – less is more. For larger ideas, we will get the client in the same room and present the concept all the way through development to output, to show the creative journey we went on. This helps to show the value of the result.

My team rarely has considerable feedback as I have learned how to intuitively understand what a client wants from working as a graphic designer and am then able to accurately brief the creatives.

My best advice would be to talk to the creatives in your agency, get to know the right terminology and integrate yourself into the creative process as much as possible. Writing a great brief is essential to receiving great work that meets or exceeds expectations.

How to build strong relationships with clients?

Relationships are built on trust and connection. Everyone will have their own techniques on how to build that and develop long-lasting relationships (client relationships are no different than any other working relationship), however I personally focus on delivering work on time, to a high standard, arriving prepared for meetings and keeping communication open and transparent, as it plays into my strengths.

I also find it is easier to connect with others if you are connected to yourself. Spend time engaging with the world outside of work and bring that energy into your client meetings. It’s refreshing to discuss topics outside of work periodically, and it helps to build familiarity and connection as well.

I would also say, don’t be intimidated by someone’s title. Clients are coming to an agency because they want to work with experts in their field, which is you. Own your expertise and come to every interaction with confidence and ideas on how you can improve results.

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

Remember that you are dealing with people and most people are just trying to meet their own objectives or KPIs, it’s nothing personal. If conversations are getting heated, they are likely getting pressure from higher up and in a roundabout way, are asking for help. The best

way to diffuse the situation is by giving them what they need and meeting their objectives to the best of your ability. If you are unable to do that, calmly explain why and when that could be achievable with a clear timeline. Check in regularly to keep yourself accountable and ensure the client is across how everything is progressing.

Whenever you are selling an idea to your client, you need to believe in it completely. Figure out what problem this is going to solve for your client, how it is going to improve results and where it fits within the ecosystem of your current agreement. If it isn’t solving anything, don’t sell it in.

If you are having challenging conversations with your clients frequently, make sure you are escalating it internally and bringing in other members of your team to support. It’s important that you don’t carry it on your own. More heads are better than one.

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

The digital advertising industry is ever changing and growing, which means you will need to change and grow too if you want to keep up with it. I’ve been working in the industry for five years now, and what I would have recommended as best practice in 2019 compared to 2024 is completely different.

With a greater focus now on privacy and the ability to opt out of tracking, this has meant that channels such as Meta have had to adjust how they report on conversions, and that broad targeting often generates stronger results than more specific audiences, as it provides the algorithm the biggest data pool and therefore the best opportunity to find your customers.

In terms of emerging trends, we’re likely to see an increase in conversations around measurement and attribution, with Google officially deprecating cookies towards the end of this year, as well as how brands can make the most of their first party data through loyalty programs.

Retail media will become more attractive to large retailers as well, who are wanting to have more control over their advertising and drive incremental revenue through their owned channels.

AI is still a huge focus, and there are so many new tools coming onto the market. The speed at which AI capability is growing is astounding and exciting. You can now create your own GPTs with GPT-4, training them on specific material, such as textbooks, brand guidelines, anything. As you can imagine, this could be hugely beneficial in the future, where we will be able to create a smarter, more capable digital twin to assist with sourcing information previously deep within our subconscious.

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

You don’t need to know everything or figure it all out on the first day. Focus on incremental, sustainable growth and never stop learning. You got this.

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