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