OPINION: Account management needs evolution to meet client needs

Ash Farr
By Ash Farr | 19 November 2012
Ashley Farr.

If Harry McCann walked into any office of McCann today – or any agency, for that matter, he’d struggle to recognise the modern face of advertising. Advertising has changed a lot since Harry opened the doors to his New York agency, The H. K. McCann Company, in 1902.

That’s why ad agencies are a different beast now than they were 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. As part of responding to the constant change, people’s roles within ad agencies – and in media agencies, media companies and client-side as well – have evolved accordingly.

In this light, it was interesting to read the comments of Y&R global planning boss Sandy Thompson in AdNews last week. Thompson argued account managers have become little more than meeting schedulers, and that as a result planners have had to pick up the slack.

I couldn’t agree more in one sense and that is why at McCann we are redefining the role of account management. We see the role as being consultant, business partner and agency leader who adds value to our clients.

To undervalue the role of account management is to fail to deliver on clients’ needs in today’s complex environment in which change is the only constant and the old metrics and rules of marketing do not apply. Clients want and need their agency to walk hand-in-hand with them – to help them transform their brands.

Both planning and account management roles are vital and both roles need to be strategic. The answer is not to just hire more planners. At McCann we are redefining the account management function to be strategic generalists that lead our clients’ business – exactly what the role was always meant to be. We are doing this through training and development of all our people, through internal and external programs.

Naturally, planning is critical, especially as clients increasingly seek truths from big data to transform their brands. Despite being a planner, I am mortified when I hear clients say “I am only interested in the planner’s opinion” as it devalues the strategic business and brand vision that great account management brings to an account and puts the onus on the planner to solve all the strategic problems.

It is true that account service has become devalued on many levels. In some instances, account executives are being used merely as production managers. It is up to individual agencies to invest in these two different and separate disciplines and elevate account management to where it should be – strategic partners for clients who provide valuable marketing expertise. At McCann, we are broadening our production management rather than let that responsibility fall solely under the remit of account management.

With more strategic generalists and digital generalists throughout the business, our planners are freed to be increasingly focused on specialist areas – be it in data, comms, brand, analytics, behavioural economics and change, econometrics and enthnographic work – to deliver compelling consumer truths.

Yes, we need more planning Jedis but account management executives are real leaders and partners of our clients’ business. Both roles are critical, both roles need to evolve to meet the needs to our clients and the challenges they face.

Simply, the truth is clients demand the smartest people to help them solve the biggest problems.

Ash Farr
McCann Australia

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