Disclaimer: I work at a very entrepreneurial agency. On the side of the house I work in, there are no account planners, no hard-and-fast rules about what an account executive can and cannot do. We blur the lines of strategy, relationships and execution to – I believe – the great benefit of our clients and our people. I mention this because not all of this advice may be strictly applicable in every agency, but, then again, I’ve never heard of an AE being fired for doing too MUCH.
On with the post.
You are a smart, proactive advocate for your client. You understand her business, her customer, her goals for every marketing and advertising dollar spent. You invest time in recommending the best projects and initiatives to reach her goals.
You come to the agency table with ideas for the most effective messages and strategies for the marketplace. You identify research opportunities and key metrics.
You own the lifecycle of a project and speak for the client at every phase along the way. You never accept “no” without understanding why and what other options you can recommend.
You build relationships in-house and out-of-house and communicate constantly to get the best ideas and avoid any surprises. You present confidently. Ask tough questions. Dig deep to bring back meaningful feedback.
You share success and shoulder failure and learn from every project.
You make your client's job easier, better and more effective.
And, yeah, you pick up the tab at cocktail hour and remember the names of her kids. It’s the least you can do.
Eleven Unbreakable Rules for AEs
- No order takers: If you never say no to your client, you are wasting their money.
Your client hired your agency because they believed that you are the right partner for smart, responsive advertising. They want you to push back – tastefully – and make sure they deliver the absolute best product to the market place.
- Know when to give in. The above being said, your client is your client. If you’ve given the best advice your agency can offer. And, have sought meaningful feedback. Accept your client’s decision gracefully.
- Be the voice of the client: The single most valuable role you can play in every interaction is understanding your client’s motivations and preferences deeply. Be able to accurately communicate not only the basics of a project, but the more subtle preferences and politics that will make your agency invaluable to the client.
- If work leaves the agency, you – personally – take responsibility for it being on time, on target and on budget. You own the lifecycle of a project. And you understand your client and the strategy better than anyone else. In the end, the buck always stops here.
- Understand the concept of feedback. Feedback is not a yes or no proposition. Whether it’s strategy, design or a media plan, keep the client talking. Find out what elements they like / don’t like. What the key issues are. What – specifically – is off strategy. Where her concerns are coming from, etc. Never come back to the agency with “she hates it.”
- Learn to talk about money. You and your agency have been retained to deliver professional services. That’s a business relationship. One that involves the exchange of work for money. Get comfortable with it. Talk about money up front. Start by finding out what budget parameters exist and what scope of work the client is expecting – Chevette or Cadillac? Then, always write formal estimates. And, don’t just email them and hope for the best. Call and discuss. If the scope changes, talk about the cost implications.
Seriously, learn to talk about money. For most clients, conversations about money aren’t awkward. It’s the surprise at the end when you’re 250% over budget and didn’t warn them that’s awkward.
- Be passionate about presenting. You’re representing the best work and advice your agency has to offer. Be proud of it. Convey enthusiasm. Get the client talking.
- Show off successes. Make it easy for your client to look successful in her corporate environment. Share results and metrics. Pull tear sheets and Web reporting before she asks. Create an easily-forwardable email or one-pager about the consumer response. Share it internally, too – your team pulled it off!
- Love or respect? Most account person – client relationships are built on one or the other. You either start as the best friend, building the relationship, always saying yes … or the intellectual partner, recommending ideas, delivering results, boldly pushing back. My only advice: It’s rarely possible to be both. And, ideally, every account will have one of each.
- Always have a next idea. Stay on top of your client’s industry and competition. Understand key successes your agency has had in similar categories. Try to come to every major meeting with a new idea or approach.
- Remember: This is the fun part of their day. If you only remember one thing, let it be this: Most of our clients work in political, corporate environments. They sit in meetings. They have enormous binders of documentation. The are forced to deeply understand the personal implications of Sarbanes Oxley. Working with us? It’s the fun part of their day. It’s creative and exciting and engaging. Keep it that way. Invite the client over to the agency. Bring creative people to the table. Have drinks or unexpected appetizers. Bring all the best parts of your job to the meeting. Give you client a well-deserved break…
Be a Better AE Cheat sheet.
Want more specifics? Try this simple exercise to start: Before you hit “send,” on yet another email, ask yourself these nine questions
- Have I reviewed this myself and asked all the tough questions?
- Could I confidently present this to my boss (since that's what our clients are usually doing)?
- If the client calls with questions, can I confidently speak to all aspects of the project?
- Have I compared this to the original work order? Is there anything we missed / deviated from?
- Have all the brand rules been followed?
- Are we on strategy?
- Have I explained the client where we are in the process and what she should expect?
- Have I made this as easy for the client to use as possible? (For example, if it's a 10-page spreadsheet, have I set the headers to print on every page and checked the page break preview screen)?
- Have I noted a time / day when I will call to follow-up?