What account managers want from creative

What account managers want from creative (aside from great creative)

It’s an age-old battle…uh. excuse me…relationship between agency account managers and agency creatives. It’s a relationship that, at times, can be the best kind of relationship and, sadly, at other times, can be the most disastrous.

Of course, no account manager or creative truly wants the relationship to be disastrous (unless they are one of those sadistic types that revel gleefully in the face of manufactured conflict), but all too often the relationship between account management and creative breaks down.

In this two-part series, I’m taking a look at this relationship by reaching out to those on the front lines. This first part will focus on what account managers want and need from their creative department. Part two examines what creatives want and need from their account managers.

Let’s dive in.

It should be understood that the end goal of both account management and creative (and everyone else in the agency) should be to create advertising that accomplishes the clients’ goals. Getting there isn’t so easy.

The relationship must be collaborative

Jennifer Hazelett, account director at Raleigh-based Baldwin&, wants the relationship to be collaborative, involving all parties early on. She says, “Bring us into ideas early enough (even if not fully formed) so that we can help with the strategy of how to present it to the client. Can we have a prep conversation with key decision makers? Are there barriers to approval we can remove? I’ve heard the football analogy of ‘clear out the obstacles so my team can score.’ We are connected to the client’s business in a way most creative cannot be, which makes us able to identify and help the team get rid of obstacles.”

With that approach, she aims to make live easier for creatives. She adds, “More generally, one of the biggest aids to efficiency and great creative is when creative and account (as well as production, media and anyone else involved) remember that we are all on one team, all working towards one goal of producing effective, great creative ideas. When we truly work together, the results are so much better. And hey, it’s fun!”

And it should be fun. Advertising is a fun business. It always has been and should continue to be. After all, what business gets to go to the south of France for a week every year?

Leave preconceptions out of the creative conference room

Scott Coe, account director at Denver-based Cultivator Advertising & Design, doesn’t want any preconceived notions or opinions to muddy the waters. He suggests, “Be open. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and a great agency environment will tap into all of them. That’s probably the single biggest deliverable that an account team wants to see from their creative brethren: an open-minded attitude that collaboration fosters creativity, and that when everyone shares ideas, ideas get better. And the work thrives. If there is a metaphorical fence that both teams just lob stuff over – creative briefs, schedules, concepts, feedback, and so on – the work ultimately suffers.”

The net? Open your mind and fully wrap it around each and every piece of work you do for the client.

Become one with the brand

Sarah Lenhard, EVP director of account management & strategy at Philadelphia-based Tierney, wants creatives to be actively involved, to go beyond the creative brief and actively immerse themselves in the brand. She notes, “What account folk look for (and appreciate most) from creatives is a genuine intellectual curiosity in solving the business problem at hand. That starts with digging in to ask good questions to get to the core of the what we are trying to achieve through the craft of creativity. And then if a creative should take it upon himself/herself to do their own mystery shopping, consumer interviews, taste testing, site tours – purely because they want true perspective to inspire their creativity – they’ve won the account person’s heart forever.”

Details matter

Gillian Lynch, director of client services at Boston-based Winsper, has a more nuts and bolts approach to the needs of account management. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The heady stuff is great, but details matter, too.

She wants: “Reasonable and realistic deadlines — dates we can confidently plan against, and the assurance that they will be met. Timely progress check-ins, updates on status without having to be asked. Written acknowledgment of receipt of email instruction. Early warnings if projects are going sideways. Common language/definitions so we’re all talking about the same things. Informed consulting on project costs, time commitments, etc. Quality control! Version control — we have brought back job jackets to save time. It’s much easier to proofread new rounds if you have a marked up copy of the last round next to it. Questions if instructions/feedback are unclear… the sooner, the better. There’s nothing worse than jamming all week, not being able to review work day of, and hearing that several things weren’t done or guesses were made because the designer was unclear on what client meant.”

While a collaborative mindset is of great importance, adherence to basic, sensible procedures is of equal importance.

Don’t be a slob. Be smart. Be clever.

And bringing some wit into the desires of account management, Adam Kleinberg, CEO of San Francisco-based Traction, shares, “What do account people want from creatives? First and foremost, to clean up the beer cans and pizza crust when clients are in the office.”

But he does get a bit more serious as well, adding, “The Work does not live in a vacuum. There are so many factors influencing what and how it needs to be delivered — budget constraints, conflicting and complementary brand initiatives, multiple stakeholders, and developing relationships with clients are all examples of things that influence the ask. The best creatives are not only creative, they have a sharp sense of business acumen and present solutions that are not only clever, but viable.”

Business acumen. Cleverness. Viability. All reasonable needs, right?

What have I missed? Do you have some tips to add? If so, please share below.

Steve Hall
Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, Monster.com and Marshmallow Fluff.

2 Responses to What account managers want from creative

  1. Insightful post. I especially like that you’re going to cover the other side of it in a subsequent post. Both sides have needs and when both sides are met, work usually goes great. But in reality, pieces usually fall through the cracks on both sides, generating conflict. An account manager may be doing a great job keeping a reasonable schedule until the client arbitrarily advances a due date and a project can daily get delayed on the creative side if a creative director has a bad day and pisses on everyone’s work to make themselves feel better. Territorialism and expendability can play a role too. Every time I’ve ever been in a meeting as a creative and an account person came up with a good concept of a snappy headline, everyone feels the need to start joking about “Well, if we can come up with the ideas, what do we need you here for anyway?” It’s meant as a joke, but when you traffic in ideas and work in an industry that lays off people at the drop of a hat, it can lay an antagonistic groundwork (not to mention engendering feelings that account people don’t respect or appreciate what creatives do). And it cuts both ways, of course. It’s not uncommon for creatives to go off strategy in the quest for something memorable and fun, but they may unconsciously be stomping on weeks of hard fought strategy work the account team has done.

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