Account Madness - Rebekah O’Grady, BMF

By AdNews | 31 January 2024
Rebekah O'Grady.

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

This time we talk to Rebekah O’Grady, senior account director, BMF:

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

 It wasn’t always the plan, I was going to be an engineer at one point but in the end I chose to study advertising based on some poor year 11 chemistry results and a loose career recommendation from a test they gave us in year 10. I was in my last semester at UTS still with no clue what job to go for and how I would fit into the advertising world.

So I decided to do the elective ‘professional internship’ and a family friend who worked in the industry said he would help. We met for coffee and he said ‘what’s your brand?’ I had no idea what he was on about, or what to say but, knowing me since I was born, he said ‘I know, you make stuff happen’. Still no real idea if that was me or what it meant, I ran with it and slowly became that brand, which is coincidentally what you need in a great account person. Sometimes you just need someone to believe in you.

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

It can definitely feel like you’re being pulled in different directions sometimes. When this happens, it’s important to find some common ground. The thing that unites all of us is making great work, that actually works. Effectiveness is something we can all agree on so bringing it back to the core objective in the strategy always helps. Strategy and creativity are an art not a science and strategic objectives can keep us grounded, an anchor to refer to when we get caught in the details. Our clients want work that drives impact for their business so explaining how the creative is going to achieve their objectives is critical to getting their buy-in and giving them confidence to move forward with ideas, particularly the brave ones.

Ultimately we all want the same thing, great work, which will lead to great results. So outlining how the creative is going to achieve this and the business objectives, ensures clients see the merit in the work.

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

Going through a successful feedback process is made a lot easier when there is a foundation of trust between clients and agencies. When agencies trust the clients have a consistent and clear brief, and the clients trust the agencies on their creative recommendations, that’s when great work happens.

When it comes to feedback, my first port of call is to make sure you actually understand the feedback. It sounds easy, but the written feedback may not always be the full story. So make sure you interrogate it. Once you really know the feedback, and more importantly what’s driving it, then you can address any concerns to ensure clients are heard and understood.

One thing to avoid is the dreaded ‘you’re not listening to me’ response, as nothing breaks down trust faster.

Once you have the feedback clear, putting a consumer lens on it really helps. ‘Does this make sense?’ ‘does it feel different to what else is in market?’ ‘will people connect with it emotionally? Laugh, cry, feel something?’ The rest doesn’t really matter. We need people to connect and comprehend our message to make sure it sticks.

 4. How to build strong relationships with clients?

By building trust. How do you build trust? I mean you can definitely google it (I google most of my problems) but I would break it down into two parts: competence and connection. Always act with integrity and do what you say. Plus finding some moments to surprise and delight goes a long way in proving your ability.

Once you have proven your competence through consistent actions, it’s important to build a genuine rapport and connection. It might sound obvious, but make time for a chat, get to know your clients on a personal level, just like any other colleague, and share things about yourself too. Being genuine and authentic goes a long way in building any relationship. Finding your style and operating throughout your day in a way that feels authentic to you, really works. It’s crazy how effective a smile can be.

But building trust does take time. Sometimes you can do all of these things and the trust comes quickly, which is great, but other times it feels like it may never happen. But more often than not it does. You’ll get that genuine phone call of thanks after a great campaign, and you’ll know you’ve made it. So stay consistent. It’ll happen.

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

For me it’s all about empowering my clients to buy brilliant work that will actually work. So how do we do that? A lot of the time, how you present the work to the client, has a lot to do with it. The right idea can bomb if you don’t create an environment for it to thrive.

When do ideas thrive? When everything else is taken care of. One of the best presentations I’ve had was on ALDI Christmas 2022. We had three cracking ideas on the table and were very excited to see what our client team would think. In order to do that we knew we needed to make sure all the important details were correct and covered: get the product right, have we thought about retail, will it work in-store, does it work in a still, is it on strategy, etc - and we did.
So we knew we had answered all the important questions with some proof of concept but we also needed to make sure that the idea was clear. We sometimes forget that our clients are seeing and hearing this for the very first time, easy to do when some of us have been sitting with these for three weeks or more. So how are we articulating the idea? Is it the same set up across each idea so they can easily compare? It’s funny what a formula does. Speaking of formulas, it’s crazy the exhale you can feel in the room from a clear meeting agenda, what comes today, what comes next before you get into the work. Doing this via a phone call a couple of days prior does wonders too.

The point is, it is our job to make our client’s lives easier. Dealing with creative agencies is a very small part of their remit and for some, the most fun part of the marketing process, so let’s live up to the hype! Make it easy for them to enjoy the work, and create a safe environment where they can give their honest gut reaction, an instant emotion, rather than worry that you’ve missed the brief.

P.S. update on the ALDI Christmas meeting: it sailed through stakeholder approvals, they picked an awesome idea and we made one of my favourite campaigns ever.

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

As an account person the saying ‘a Jack of all Trades but a master of none’ could not be more true so it’s hard to pick just one here. We play a huge role in the execution of ideas across channel and production, we’re the glue that holds the work together from client brief through to delivery. So knowing the media placements and channel like the back of your hand is so important. It helps when briefing creative, production and being able to have confident conversations with clients.

TikTok is a chanel that many of us are using more and more but being three years into the advertising space it’s still new to many brands. With this in mind, there’s still plenty of opportunity for brands to jump on and create for themselves. Personally it’s one of my favourite platforms because it’s pure entertainment. TikTok is not a platform that is flooded with news like facebook or your friends and FOMO like instagram. The ‘for you page’ is fully immersive, full screen content designed for you. You can find anything from stories of ex-prisoners talking about their experience behind bars to endless cooking videos of how to make the new spicy ramen and even a day in the life of a dog with a hilarious voice over to laugh through the afternoon slump. Or you might even find the first ever reluctant shanty, a TikTok sea shanty featuring real refugees as they share their stories:

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

Become a detective. You don’t know it all and you never will, but you can make it your business to find out. The answers are there, you just have to go get them. I still remember one particular Friday at my first agency like it was yesterday. I was two months into an  account executive role and had been left alone that day because one team member didn’t work on Fridays, the other had an appointment, and the other two were sick. I got an urgent request from a client via email and had no idea what to do or where to start. So I read it, read it again and then just started asking questions of anyone I could find in the office, a producer, an account manager, a GAD. None of them knew the client or worked on my account but it didn’t matter. After many conversations and some interrogation of the server I figured it out and was able to call the client with an update. The client was happy with the solve and I felt such a thrill from being able to fix the problem all by myself* (*plus some clever and patient colleagues).

As I grew in my experience I started to realise that the best detectives don’t just ask questions, they also know how to listen and hear what’s not being said. Listening is such an underrated skill and one I need to check myself on daily, especially when we get busy.


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