Account Madness - Sophie Morris, Hopeful Monsters

By AdNews | 3 May 2024
Sophie Morris.

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

This time we talk to Sophie Morris, Business Director, Hopeful Monsters

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

When I was in high school I distinctly remember my favourite teacher telling me I would be great in advertising, however my dream was always to be a screenwriter. So I suppose I tried to cover off all my bases and studied creative arts, majoring in media and minoring in film.

After Uni, I did make it into the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and thought all my dreams were coming true, but reality kicked in pretty quickly after interning on both film sets and in ad agencies. I quickly saw where my strengths lied, but even more so, where the opportunities were.

Advertising can be a tough gig, but the film industry is even tougher. So maybe I made the safe choice? Or some might argue it was the smart choice? At the end of the day, it was my choice. I don’t think it was ‘meant to be’, or something I spent my life working towards, in the end it just felt right.

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

It can be challenging, but I think if it’s becoming problematic, it probably means you haven’t done your job right in the upfront.

First up, it’s important to dig deep into the objectives and understand what is driving them. Challenge them if you need to. If the objectives aren’t strong, the creative will match.

Secondly, there's always more than just the objectives driving the creative. There are other factors that also need to be considered -  budget and timing limitations are the obvious examples. As much as we wish they didn’t, they will always have some say in how the creative is approached.

Ultimately there is a job to be done in setting expectations every step of the way. Especially upfront. If there is alignment and a healthy understanding of what is possible and the right approach based on the brief (and all its constraints), then everyone should be working in harmony together.

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

Personally I feel the people who come up with the idea should be the ones who present it, no matter their level. They will always have the most conviction when presenting – it’s their idea after all.

If an idea clearly answers the brief, then you shouldn’t really need any strategies to convey it, only to make it concise, and make sure you do it in person, or at the very least on a video call.

You know you have a good idea when you have the magic mix. First and foremost you need to be able to explain it in one sentence. In filmland it’s called a logline – if you can’t explain the film in one line you have no chance selling it in.

The other is that when it’s presented internally the team immediately starts to build on it, thinking of all the different places it can go and ways it can live. When you have that, it’s important to also let the client build, let them get equally excited and invested in the idea. Give the idea the space it needs so the client too, can use their imagination.

And when it comes to feedback, make sure you really understand it. Ask lots of questions. Again, this is why it’s so important to be in the same room so you can truly hear and see how a client  feels about something. If the creative team can hear it first hand, even better. But the more you understand the feedback and the reasons behind it, the better you can explain it and the less personal it might feel.

How to build strong relationships with clients?

Strong relationships are built with trust and trust is built over time. Sure there are things you can do to try to speed up the process, like making a concerted effort to get to know your clients brand, regularly sharing what you find. Make sure you listen to your clients empathetically and understand their position on things. Always be thinking ahead and try to make their lives easier. Be available, approachable and just be a good human. These are musts in our line of service.

But just like in life, the best relationships are often the ones you’ve had the longest.

And at the end of the day a long-term relationship, built on mutual respect and trust will always lead to better work - something so evident in the seven year (and counting) partnership Hopeful Monsters has with Converse here in ANZ and across the globe.

So make sure you nurture the relationships you have within your agency and don’t rest on your laurels while always chasing the next big brand. Because the client relationship you’ve held the longest will often be where you do the work that will get you the attention of other amazing clients.

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

Early in my career someone once told me ‘a challenging situation is an opportunity to strengthen a relationship’. I wish I remembered who it was so I could thank them as it has got me through some stinkers!

It obviously depends on the type of challenging conversation, but it could be as simple as a conversation around timings needing to be pushed (which I know can be daunting when you’re starting out). I think it’s important to really think about what you can do about the situation to improve it first, and then how you position it to the client so it shows you are doing everything you can to make sure you get the best possible outcome. So a bit of prep always goes a long way.

Same for selling an idea. As an account lead we should always be anticipating what a client might say or think about an idea so that those conversations can be had internally before presenting. Is the idea easy to get? Would your mum get it if you explained it to her? Are there any holes that can be picked in the idea?

At Hopeful Monsters we’ve also created tools to gauge client's appetite for ideas, encouraging them to explore those that challenge social norms and impact culture, driving greater effectiveness.

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

Life/work balance. I’ve been around long enough to see a huge shift in people feeling like they need to be online 14 hours a day to becoming more and more fed up with the grind. Particularly the Gen Z’s who are so much better at creating boundaries (and it’s inspiring as hell to be honest).

However, I do often wonder how this new found attitude towards work will play out in an industry where deadlines are still just as tight and the pressure is just high. I don’t have all the answers, but I do think this is something Hopeful Monsters is great at managing.

When we have to go above and beyond, we always get that time back in time in lieu. And when things are going nuts in the studio, we bring in additional support so the team doesn’t fizzle out and the work doesn’t suffer.

Hopeful Monsters prioritises the team (and the work) over a profit margin, which is probably why we’re  ‘Great Place to Work Certified’.

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

Just to trust my instincts more. I think if you’re built for this work generally you will be the type of person with all the important qualities required to effectively manage clients : you’ll have patience, be a team player, have a strong sense of ownership (and humour), be a natural leader and empathetic.

You won’t get it right every time, but don’t be afraid to share your point of view on how to handle a situation.

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