What creatives want from account managers

As we said in part one of this two part series examining the relationship between agency account managers and agency creatives, it’s a relationship that can be both positive and, at other times, disastrous.

And while neither account managers nor creatives want to work in a disastrous relationship, fostering a positive working relationship can be quite challenging.

Now we hear from the creative side. What do they need from account managers in order to create the stellar work everyone wants?

In a nutshell, a creative wants a trusted, enthusiastic partner who can bring insight, savvy, honesty and inspiration to the table.


Cultivator Advertising & Design creative director Monte Mead wants a true believer in his account managers. He wants, “In a word: enthusiasm. The deep-set belief that any project can be great. The concept of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ has an account side/creative side corollary: ‘expect garbage and you’ll probably get it.’ It’s not always just ‘give us more time and more budget.’ That’s a lame excuse on our part for tepid work. Instead, help create an environment where the problem we’re solving for the client has as few constraints as possible. And help the client share in the idea that every project is a chance for their brand to show greatness.”

Expect greatness. Provide what’s needed to achieve greatness. And remove any barriers to success.


Of equal importance to enthusiasm is trust. But trust comes in two flavors. Explaining this, Baldwin& lead guitar (yes, that’s his title) David Baldwin says, “Two things creative people want from their account side partner: someone they can trust to ‘get’ great ideas, who loves great work and treats it as their own; and someone they know the client can trust to ‘get’ their business, who can build from that understanding to create new opportunities.”

He adds it’s not always so easy to identify an account manager with these skills, but offers hope. “How can you tell such a person? Easy. Just watch who’s happy to see them walk into the room. If the client and the creative people both light up, you’ve got a good one.”

Insight and savvy

So now we have enthusiasm and trust. What else makes a great account manager? Intellect, smarts and savvy, according to School of Thought creative director Tom Geary, who says account managers must offer, “Critical thinking. Rather than take the client’s request verbatim, ask what’s driving the request. Ask ‘why?’ Because that can lead to something that will benefit the client even more. A great account person will be way ahead of us creatives on understanding a client’s real needs.”

Which, of course, requires a delicate balance. Any good account executive has to challenge assumptions. At the same time, an AE can’t be so forceful that they bully the client out the door or cause an irreparable rift between account management and creative. It’s most certainly a delicate balancing act.


And all while deftly balancing the needs of the client, creative and the agency as a whole, the AE must also practice honesty. TDA_Boulder ECD Jonathan Schoenberg explains: “Candor is a tremendous time saver. Beyond that, the flexibility to adapt to whatever the situation calls for (and that applies to creatives, too). But with a healthy talent for candor, account people are empowered, and creatives are not infantilized.”

“And that whole idea of account people getting in the way of good work is seriously antiquated,” Schoenberg adds. “Account people often have a better sense of a client’s priorities, and honest communication of those priorities is really what helps creatives the most. The better they can share that POV, objectively, the more the work can recognize the client’s aspirations, and the better it can be.”


So creatives want an enthusiastic, trustworthy, insightful, savvy and honest partner watching their back. What else could a creative possibly want? How about inspiration? It’s that quality that sits somewhere between cheerleader and proud parent. Expanding on this, Tierney ECD Patrick Hardy says, “We want account people who want great work. And great work starts with a great brief. One that’s brief (of course). Insightful. And damn near inspirational. We’ll gladly help you write it. Just ask. Our creative process isn’t linear. Maybe we look at the work against the strategy. Maybe we look at the strategy against the work. It can get ugly. It can be sticky. It may not always make sense, but that’s ok if it makes sense to us, if it gets us to great work. A great strategy has some elasticity. Some flexibility. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s debate. Maybe even have an argument or two.”

In Hardy’s seemingly perfect world, things always end well. He adds, “Then let’s sell the work, together. Believe in it together. Stand up for it together. Help fight for it. It’s yours, too. Now let’s go get a drink.”

Ah, yes. Never forget to revel in the glory of success.

A jack of all trades

Perhaps summing it up best is Traction ECD Theo Fanning, who said “…the reality is [creatives] want a partner who understands what it takes to be an on-demand creative professional. Someone who knows the process, is sympathetic to realities, and is an advocate for the agency vision (not their own). Creatives want someone who makes their difficult jobs easier by communicating clearly (and making the client do the same), setting realistic expectations, and shielding them from the ugliness that can happen in this kind of work so they can focus.”

That’s not asking too much, right? Or is it?

Fanning concludes eloquently: “So basically, creatives want a beautiful unicorn that cherishes the subtle majesty of kerning, knows the difference between an orphan and a widow, and can help sell-through a campaign that references the enigmatic brilliance of Walt Whitman without sullying his name.”

And here we thought account managers were just paper pushers.

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.