OPINION: Wethey on ... Account Handlers

I’ve always hated the term ’suit’. But for an accident of history account handling would be a religion or at least a smallish race like, for example, the Patagonian Welsh. Then the suits of the world could have invoked anti-discrimination laws should anyone dare to use the demeaning word.

I’ve always hated the term ’suit’. But for an accident of history

account handling would be a religion or at least a smallish race like,

for example, the Patagonian Welsh. Then the suits of the world could

have invoked anti-discrimination laws should anyone dare to use the

demeaning word.



Life is getting tougher for account handlers. And not just from

demanding clients, intellectually superior planners and pushy creatives

- ’don’t come back unless you have sold it’. Last year I had an audience

with a legendary agency head who told me ’account people are a waste of

time’.



I suppose he should know, he must employ thousands of them

worldwide.



Now I should declare an interest. Before settling into the

respectability of consultancy 12 years ago, I was an account man for

more years than I will own up to. I enjoyed almost every minute of

it.



So where exactly is all this leading? The answer is that the Institute

of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland is so concerned about the threat

to the account handler’s role that it has formed a client service group

to defend them. I know this because I was invited to address this issue

the other day. Until then I had never given this issue much thought. Is

client service an endangered species?



Client service in Dublin is markedly more relationship driven than it is

in London, so they could be more vulnerable. But I did what any right

thinking marketing person would do: I carried out a small survey. I

asked clients and senior agency people from both sides of the Irish Sea

and some interesting conclusions emerged.



The first conclusion is that the Irish are probably right to worry.

Account handling no longer has the status it once had and not just

because planners have stolen some of the limelight. The real problem

seems to be that account people are no longer viewed as experts.



Second, account people used to be free when agencies were paid on

commission.



With fees everyone on the account has their charge-out rate. Clients are

a lot more choosy when they know the cost of the account director,

manager and executive.



Third, I have come to the conclusion that agencies are incorrectly

organised, effectively consigning account people to largely solitary

lives as one-person customer-care operatives. This thinking belongs to

the old ad factory era, whereas now the emphasis is on the campaign

architecture and integrated solutions. What I advocate is more teaming -

both with clients and as members of client service. Why not deploy these

people as a crack team and take advantage of their complementary

skills?



Finally, I am convinced that the semantics are all wrong. The job titles

’client service’ and ’account handling’ have minding and relationship

connotations. Surely it would be better to give these roles more dynamic

job titles that suggest adding value. Titles such as business director,

team leader and project manager all sound better to me.



Suits the client. Suits the agency. Suits you sir.





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