Avoiding the minus points

I was given a pretty clear  & memorable lesson in my first few weeks as an account handler.  I remember being pulled into an office by our head of client services & told: ‘You’ll get no points for doing your job well. But you’ll get minus points for this agency if you screw up.’

Looking back on this in today’s landscape what strikes me is that this can easily put you & the team into a defensive mindset. Yes – you need to be a safe pair of hands but you have a responsibility to inspire too. Being defensive (at least outwardly) is probably not the healthiest mindset to to be in when it comes to creating breakthrough work.

Yes – you need to check, double check & check again. Yes – you are paid to worry & anticipate problems. But being defensive isn’t always conducive to delivering the best working atmosphere for the creative/collaborative workgroup.  Today you need to be switched on, use your ‘what could go wrong’ antennae & be very, very present. Most of the time.

Woody Allen famously said that ‘80% of success in life is just about showing up’.  This is kind of true for great account handlers. You need to be in the game so that you can recognize where you can add the most value for the relationship over the short, medium & long term.

Whichever way you view this it’s undeniably true that your evaluation as an account person is too often determined by the mistakes you’ve made, rather than the value you contribute.

Get over it.  You’re in a very special club. You’re not just another project manager – you’re an account handler.

So, in an effort to avoid making big mistakes, here are some of the worst ones not to make. The hot seat will always be hot but some of these tips might just prevent a meltdown:

Forgetting to deliver on a commitment to a client.

Whether it’s not returning a phone call, missing a meeting or not making a promised due date, all of these not only are rude, but send a signal to the client that his business is less important to you than other things.  Recognize that everything you say or do affects your personal brand, your & your agencies reputation. I’ve had managing partners rip up contact reports in front of my eyes because I sent them out on his behalf without an approval. He caught some punctuation that was out of place & felt that it reflected badly on his reputation. He was right. I was wrong.

Client thinks that you’re recommending an ad/campaign to win awards for the agency instead of being right for his business.

You need to make sure that the client feels that you “get” his business and what it needs. You don’t ever want him to question your priorities. Focus on building trust with your clients. Details & commercial understanding are the foundation on which trust is built. Win trust. Build relationships. Make great work happen.

Client catches you in a lie.

Don’t tell lies. Nothing shafts your integrity faster than if you get caught in one & you probably won’t recover from it. Even if it’s small your honesty (and your value) has been compromised. Tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do (and easier to remember). If you lie or stretch the truth, only bad things can come of it. You make the client angry, you’ll lose credibility and you make the agency look bad.

Failure to keep your boss informed (about the good and the bad).

It’s not necessary that you tell your supervisor everything, but you should use your judgment to determine what he needs to know. You never want to have your boss be in the position of not knowing something he should know when he is talking to the client. It also enables your boss to be appropriately proactive.

“Dissing” the agency to the client.

Trying to get on the client’s good side by “dissing” the agency is a bad idea (even if the client is in agreement). If you do this, in the long-term the client is likely to form a negative opinion of you and the agency. Try to be a “glass half-full, not a glass half-empty” kind of account person.

Do your timesheets & incentivize your team to do them.

Figure out with your FD how client/agency value is going to be calculated. Then make sure your getting the reporting you need to make things work. If you need to – incentivize the team for doing their time reporting & set an example yourself. If this means taking advantage of ‘the golden hour’ then do it.

Overpromising and under delivering.

We always want to be in the position of exceeding the client’s expectations. If we oversell and set expectations unrealistically high, we look bad as an agency and start to erode our credibility with the client if we don’t live up to our promise.

Making your client look bad in front of his boss.

Nothing sinks your ship faster than this one. The same goes for making your boss look bad in front of his boss. There is little or nothing to be gained by making your client look bad in front of his boss.  It’s a good way to get the agency fired and even if that doesn’t happen, the client will never forget it. And the client’s boss is likely to disapprove of the behavior. Strive for the opposite. Make your client look like a hero in front of his boss. It’s likely to pay dividends in the long run. The same with your manager too.

Not being straightforward to the agency about how the client really feels

Be honest. Be clear. Again – you’re all about personal integrity & your being paid for your point of view. So have one – internally & with your clients. Don’t fudge or soften how the client feels in order to spare people’s feelings at the agency. First, it wastes valuable time. Second, it can result in the wrong work being done. Third, you’ll lose credibility internally, especially with your creative teams (and most likely with your planners, managers, account execs etc).

Taking personal credit instead of crediting the agency teams

Besides being wrong (and selfish), this behavior works against our objective of having the client believe that the agency is indispensable, not any one individual. While clients will always gravitate to specific people on the account, we need to make sure that they feel great about the entire agency so they do not get worried when we have to make a personnel change.

Bad-mouthing the client

Irrespective of client behavior or decisions, it is never a good idea to dis the client back at the agency. It sets a bad example for junior people. It creates poor morale. And, if it ever gets back to the client, it runs the risk of disastrous repercussions.

Account management can and should add real value to the client relationship and the quality of our product. Knowing what mistakes to avoid, can help maintain a strong and complete relationship with the client that can last a long time.

It’s generally accepted that creativity is all about embracing failure faster. Wayne Gretzy famously said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Great account people foster this rapid failure with their teams & remove the culture of fear so that great work has the best conditions to develop.

Great account people recognize that failure in the agency is a good thing.

But failure in front of the client can be disastrous.

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