Adland's suits need an industry standard course on business and finance
A view from Jennifer Black

Adland's suits need an industry standard course on business and finance

The recent IPA report on the outlook for account managers did not make for easy reading, so might now be the perfect time for them to empower themselves by acquiring some serious financial know-how?

The IPA's new report on the future of account management has rather bleak news for the suits of adland: marketers, fretting over their ever-dwindling budgets, are examining much more closely what they are paying their agencies for. As a result, the value of account management has been called into question.

Marketers believe there are too many suits floating around with overlapping responsibilities and they see the account management role itself as nebulous and ill defined, according to the report.

While people in the agency world may fundamentally disagree with this view, they can't afford to ignore it. The new world demands more agile operations, so any agencies that seem bloated or over-staffed to their clients must rethink how they are structured to survive.

I'm acutely aware of the value of account management, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a suit myself. Agencies justify their existence by being partners to their clients, and suits lead that partnership. You can't make anything happen at an agency unless you have that symbiosis between the creative and commercial teams.

Is the problem solely down to marketers' views?

I think it might go deeper, and reflect issues arising from agencies failing to sell their business expertise with the same passion they focus on their creative acumen. As a result, some people who love the business of business probably don't really consider a career in advertising when they're starting out.

Of course, account management's broad scope means that people with all types of backgrounds take it on, and there are many benefits to this diversity. Having said that, account managers should be intimately acquainted with the capital structure of their agency and their clients' businesses – but right now, the role seems to attract few people with any training or knowledge of business finance.

Suits are also responsible for structuring agency fees, as this industry still operates on an outdated model that bills for time. But without a proper grounding in finance, this critical job cannot be done effectively.

To bridge this knowledge gap, an industry-wide training scheme should be introduced that offers account managers, or any agency professional, a crash course in business and finance, covering everything from rate cards to the finer points of a profit and loss report.

With this added knowledge and insight, account managers would be greatly empowered in their decision-making. They would find it easier to prove their value to clients and have better conversations with them that deepen the partnership.

As adland finally makes a serious effort to tackle its horrible lack of diversity, account management is going to benefit from an influx of people who've not arrived in the industry in the way the majority of recruits have over the past 20 years.

That's great news for agencies and clients because we get more diversity of mindsets and skillsets – let's just make sure these newcomers get a shot to shine by providing any additional training that's needed.

After all, if account managers talk to clients in the language that businesses understand best – the language of sales and profit – the value that they bring to the relationship becomes obvious.

Plenty can be picked up on the job, but you don't learn how to run a commercial enterprise by osmosis. Business acumen at all levels allows agencies the freedom to be more creative, agile and responsive, and this not only helps fend off the existential threat to suits, it helps future proof agency and client business.

Jennifer Black is managing director of Havas London

Photo: Getty Images / Karen Hatch

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