Recently my agency and a client got together for an informal review of everything on the account (which had grown large and sprawling). It was a chance to ensure everything was being run as well as possible, and see the wood from the trees.
However, great account handling is not just about re-examining what your agency and the client are currently up to together and are working on, but about driving examination of everything and often. It's about taking a look at what might be called the full 360 of marketing: new products,competitor activity, advertising, pricing, consumer insights, promotions, in-store activity, SEO, stock, rate of growth, market trends, consumer psychology and so on. The account handler is the person that should be initiating and leading the charge for the agency and client to interrogate what they are doing to this level of depth is.
Why? Because the account handler’s job is not to simply get the client to sign-off creative work. Their job is to have the broadest knowledge base compared to their colleagues in a variety of marketing specialisms (especially of current marketing and business trends), to know the brand back to front, and to be the grand inquisitor of every little thing that might influence the performance of the brand.
This means the account handler must have the most impressive contacts book in the agency, comprising on and offline analysts, technologists, business and market experts willing to share their expertise regularly and at a moment's notice (the handler does not have to be the cleverest person in the room, but he must have access to those peoples brainpower at speed) in order to guide the client.
It is the account handler who must have a close and honest enough relationship with the client to be able to force them to sit down with him or her and interpret together the route from where the brand was, where it is now and where they want it to be; and then help guide the agencies specialist creative and production and communications staff together with the client to fulfil that vision. The modest quarter-back of the team.
The account handler’s value does not lie in being a traffic or project manager, contrary to the prevailing and sad underestimation by employers and candidates. It is agencies which view them as this, that create, recruit and promote useless robotic account handlers who see themselves as list makers and reporters, and are nothing more than bodies around a table.
Real account handling is not a “process" of channeling work through a system, or worse being a forwarder of emails. It is being the high quality advisor and recommendation provider to both client and agency teams.
Creative teams take their knowledge of the history and development of advertising seriously – there is a geeky status to knowing your ad history. It must be the same expectation of an account handler to have a well-rounded knowledge or thirst for knowledge surrounding the evolution of marketing, stand-out campaigns and case study stories of business growth through marketing.
If a head of account handling or client director (and his team of account handlers) can fulfil this whole manifesto then they can provide a unique value to an agency and its clients. However, the credibility and integrity of this value is eroded by “room fillers” with little knowledge, expertise or ability to make recommendations – what I think of as "account wastage” in terms of the money being paid for their presence. Just like every other specialism, client handlers must earn their place at the table every day and a crucial way to do this is through the role of helping the agency and brand to regularly refocus on the “bigger picture” of how the client can improve their brand and sell more product in the round.
Account handling is not the job of junior PRs or social media consultants, but of experienced and senior business and marketing minds within an agency.
Jono Marcus is client director at Inkling and is currently writing 50 Ways To Happier Clients, published this summer