7 deadly sins

Here’s one of those posts that’s been sparked by someone asking – ‘what’s the worst that could happen’. And of course the answer for most experienced account handlers is usually ‘everything’. Not that you shouldn’t approach the day to day with positivity – that’s the ‘sunshine can do’ side of what you do – but it has to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. You’re basically paid to worry & anticipate issues so that others don’t have to.  Most account managers are often evaluated a bit like a diving competition – i.e by the mistakes they make rather than the value they bring to the table. And usually we’re pretty okay with that as it can foster a collegiate sense of being ‘a safe pair of hands’. So what are the 7 deadly sins of account handling? For one thing – I’m sure there’s probably more than 7 – but here’s some thought starters:

1) Not delivering

It doesn’t matter if it’s to a client or to a colleague. If you’ve promised to do something then you have to deliver. If you don’t it sends signals & you have to keep focus that this is a service business & you’re the front line. Being on top of things is a priority but more so is keeping a commitment. One tactic that helps you be double/triple sure you can deliver is to buy time before you agree to something – ‘I’ll get back to you’ is invariably better than ‘yes’. And once you’ve checked – check again.

2) No lies

Ouch. These will come back to bite you firmly on the arse. It might sound obvious but this (like the above) will torpedo the most valuable asset you have : integrity. Even worse you’ll make the team look bad & in a trust based relationship this is commercial suicide. It doesn’t matter how thin the lie – don’t do it – the bullshit will fly back in your face & most likely stick.

3) Overpromising/Underdelivering

Of course in a service business you want to be liked & you want to be the guys that get the phone call. But being eager to please can lead to over promising. This is bad. So bad in fact that it can become a nasty habit that unless you manage expectations around what you will/won’t do can lead to some serious trust issues in the relationship too. You might not even be aware you’re doing it until it’s too late. Ever heard –  ‘oh the work is great but they are tricky to work with?’ Well here’s the newsflash – great agencies do great work but still get fired. Why? Because the relationship matters & this is built on doing what you say, when you say you’ll do it & doing it better than anyone else.

4) Making clients look bad via mail/in meetings

No one likes a show off. Being humble, advisory, collaborative & accommodating even when there’s a tricky situation will win you friends in the long run. Digging in doesn’t move anything forward & you’re all about progression – of the work, of the relationship & of the business. There is nothing worse than making a client look bad in front of his/her boss – it could get you or the agency fired. You should be looking for the opposite – make them the hero & figure out how to make this the reality.

5) Not being honest about how the client really feels to the agency

We work in a people business & people have feelings. But don’t fudge or soften how the client feels in order to spare peoples feelings at the agency. First – it wastes time. Second – it will probably result in the wrong work. This is bad. Very bad. In fact you’ll probably shaft credibility with the creative team, the account team, traffic & not to mention management. You’ll also probably piss off the client.

6) Credit is for creative directors – not for account handlers

It’s an old saying but if you want to be a gunslinging glory hunter then you might as well pack it in now. Taking personal credit instead of crediting the team (and the creative workgroup especially) is no way to play the game. Your job is to make sure the client feels comfortable with the whole agency so that when you need to move on the agencies work continues.

7) Not learning from mistakes

I started this post by stating that you’ll be evaluated based on the mistakes you’ll make – not by the campaigns you’ll help facilitate. That’s true. But your real value is in learning from those mistakes & making sure that they don’t happen again. Whether that’s resourcing better on your account, managing expectations with greater clarity, setting more concrete timings or just being better at evaluating strategy/work remember that it’s largely on you when things fuck up. And you will fail. But use this insight to develop a radar that helps you avoid the blood, sweat & tears.



Shapes & sizes

Just a very genuine reminder from a genuine legend about the future state of play. For what it’s worth – the 2 key themes I took away from Cannes this year were:

– The independent’s are in great shape to make a difference

– Collaboration wins

A fragmented landscape means we can finally celebrate agency diversity where different shapes, sizes, partners, allies, friends, spell casters, digital dream weavers & analogue artists play side by side to make magic. One small group that believes in a cause can be far more powerful than the might of the many.

No matter if you’re in a troop of transmedial troubadours. Or in a high clan of cultural connectivity: there’s something in Dan Wieden’s acceptance speech (Lion of St. Mark) for you.


On cars & content

I was struck this week by the dramatic contrast between insight driven communication presenting itself it a 30’ TV spot & the same approach being refashioned for an ‘always on’ landscape.

In my opinion – BMW – a brand synonymous with performance & prestige did some of it’s best work many moons ago. A couple of TV examples below:

Now – taking this into today’s context & you have this piece from last week below:

The styling & setting are nearly identical but the form/content is repurposed to have more in line with the functional/insight driven drama that you’ll find from the likes of The Barbarian Group. The ‘zooming in’ on what’s interesting hasn’t changed but the long form content & storytelling that’s used to dramatize the ’wow factor’ has.

What struck me the most about this BMW spot is that it’s using some pretty heavy budgets (conventionally reserved for 30’ TV work) & it’s being invested in multiplatform content. Much like the wonderful gold cyber lion winner ’Only – The Liberation’.

Today there are just so many other ways to redeploy a budget that can amp up the storytelling, engagement , usefulness & emotional interaction. Arguably we’re now firmly established in what you could call an ’interaction age’ for communication & just a simple look through the car category confirms this. Look at this lovely piece of personalization that let’s you make your own VW Polo:

Or this app that turns a car journey with your kids into something playful & fun – courtesy of Toyota:

These examples are just a very small slice of the content that enables a more emotional interaction between brands/people in what is a very established category. To me it serves up as a reminder that there’s never a more exciting time to drive engagement between brands & people in culture. Everything communicates.  Hell – if engagement for a washing powder can end up being driven like this then surely other categories can take a leaf out of  BMW & Burberry’s book. 

Technology is making new connections more dramatic & innovative than ever.  The only limit seems to be our imagination. It seems like the perfect time to re-educate, be the flag waver, the advocate, the ambassador &  the sort of account handler that has a passion. A passion to take on incumbent business models, build client understanding and create the best possible conditions for truly heretic & insurgent work.

I read a piece last week about how the best thing that could happen to ’digital’ is that the word will disappear. That it’ll become like oxygen. I think Ian Tait opened the Cyber Lions award session with ’WTF does Cyber really mean today?’  And you have to agree that it frames up an interesting discussion when you look around the different categories.

I think on the evidence of the car category it’ll be really interesting to see ’one year on’ from today whether we’re really breathing. And which brands (and their agencies) are oxygenated/innovative & sailing proudly in ’blue oceans’.  And which one’s are just protecting a shrinking bottom line/business model & are left thrashing around in a ‘blood red sea’.