I’ve found a great way to save our clients time and money: do away with account handlers and let clients brief creative teams themselves.
Okay, I’m being glib.
But as client marketing teams continue to answer to procurement, the commoditisation of communications agencies can be easily dealt with by disposing of the most disposable of the agency team: the account handler.
Clients see account handlers as project managers. Pen pushers. Get-shit-doners. Who’s to blame for this attitude? Agencies are.
The problem stems from how agencies themselves see account handlers. Take a look through a few job specs from recruiters and see what phrases appear time and again. ‘Fantastic project management skills’; ‘Ensure work flows correctly and efficiently’; ‘Keeping on top of multiple projects’. If that’s what agencies are looking for, and it’s what they end up with, why would we expect our clients to consider account handlers to be worth more?
Whilst an account handler does need to have the ability to get stuff done (you know what I mean – timing plans, studio briefs, cost estimates and so on) they also need to do whatever it takes to create the right communication, for the right people, at the right time.
An account handler should have a special relationship with their client – working with them day-to-day to develop a deep, rich understanding of their wants, big issues and pet peeves. And this understanding will help them shape how they get the best for their client (not necessarily what they want, but definitely what they need).
An account handler needs to be curious – to get out into the world, with their head up, and eyes and ear open. What are your client’s competitors doing? What can you learn from their successes (and failures)? What’s going on with your client’s audience? How do they behave rationally, as well as emotively? How can you get them to do what you want them do to? What’s stopping them from engaging? What’s going on in the world of tech? How will this affect how they communicate and interact?
An account handler that asks these questions (and answers them) will be able to identify trends, spot opportunities, challenge the norm, and most importantly – working with the planners, creative and developers – inspire the best ideas.
An account handler needs to take responsibility for developing ideas, starting with the creative brief. “Shit in, shit out” is a crude truism but worth remembering when writing a brief.
At Pepper, account handlers are encouraged to question and challenge ideas. It’s part of our creative philosophy. Every time we write a brief, WIP or present work, we follow a 5-point checklist to judge our work. The fifth point is ‘how can we improve it?’. If our work doesn’t make us whoop and holler with pride then we know we haven’t created the best work for our clients.
Perhaps more important than challenging ideas is for an account handler to challenge the client.
What’s the bigger picture? An account handler that understands the business intentions that drive their client’s marketing objectives will be best placed to create strategies and creative with bigger ambitions.
Most importantly of all: an account handler must champion clients within and without the agency.
An account handler should influence processes within agencies to improve them for clients. If it doesn’t work for your client, change it.
Understanding what your client needs, and collaborating closely with them, encourages a richer flow of ideas and new perspectives – instrumental to finding the right answer, quicker.
What client wants to dispose of an account handler that gives them all this?
The paper shuffler is dead.
Long live the account handler.