SPOTLIGHT ON: ACCOUNT HANDLING - Media specialists wake up to the new era of client services/Two newly created jobs in client services illustrate a trend, Alasdair Reid writes

Put two dots on a piece of squared paper and you have a line on a graph; two similar appointments in the same week and you certainly have a trend. And when the appointments in question are at the media companies of two of the biggest advertising groups in the business (Omnicom and Interpublic), then you might just be on to a pretty important trend.

Put two dots on a piece of squared paper and you have a line on a

graph; two similar appointments in the same week and you certainly have

a trend. And when the appointments in question are at the media

companies of two of the biggest advertising groups in the business

(Omnicom and Interpublic), then you might just be on to a pretty

important trend.



The first involved the promotion of Jeremy Tester, a media director at

New PHD, to the new position of client services director as part of a

wider restructure where both Morag Blazey and Jon Wilkins were made

joint managing directors. The second saw Universal McCann inviting

Yvonne Scullion, a board director at Zenith Media, to join the company

as client services director. Again, it is a new position within the

agency.



The surprising thing, though, is the fact that both companies were

prepared to make much of the fact that these were new functions. Are

they making an admission that they’ve been muddling along all these

years without account handling skills?



Not at all, responds David Pattison, the chief executive of New PHD -

it’s just that, in the past, the role was managed on a far less

structured basis, usually by the company’s founders. But he does admit

there has been an widening skills gap in recent years as the role and

status of media specialists have evolved.



In the past, account handling was often the province of creative

agencies because quite a lot of media specialists’ business came via

that route.



These days they win all (or almost all) of their business on their own

merits. It’s taken companies like New PHD a while to realise they have

to stand on their own two feet when it comes to account handling.



Pattison states: ’The way that media companies are relating to clients

now has changed and the services they provide are different. We need to

improve account handling skills across the group and part of Jeremy’s

job will be to do that. There are three aspects to that. First, he will

help me with senior client contacts. Second, he will export his skills

within the organisation. And, third, he will be a focal point people can

go to to ensure they have the necessary resource, personnel and way of

managing our clients. The days are long gone when we could rely on

someone else doing it for us. Also, the fact is that we have grown and

we need to devolve management to more people.’



Chris Shaw, the joint managing director, echoes much of that, but he

disagrees about the existence of a structural skills gap. He comments:

’From our perspective it’s not an issue about (a changing relationship

with) creative agencies - we’ve always believed we have a very strong

account handling culture. It’s more a measure of how much we’ve grown

rather than an admission that we weren’t doing it before. As new

business has come in we’ve gone along and staffed from the ground up

and, having doubled in size, we have found ourselves with a very flat

structure and not enough reporting lines. It has become very difficult

in practical terms to cope with 12 group account directors.’



So perhaps all we’re seeing is the emergence of a new badge of size and

status. Perhaps - but it’s more than that, Pattison argues. He adds:

’You’ve also got to look at the way our business is changing. A couple

of years ago, we only had two specialist units outside the core media

planning and buying agency. Now we have nine - and though it’s true that

most clients come through the front door because they want media

planning and buying, media really does embrace an incredibly wide

spectrum of things these days. Clients are demanding a lot more from us.

In fact, sometimes it take a while for everyone to realise that what

they’re actually asking for is quite new. We need someone to be able to

sit there and take a judgment if it’s the sort of thing that’s going to

be a requirement for a number of our clients. We have to be able to

respond to that.’



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