Jeff Graham, founder and partner at Grenadier in Boulder, recently delivered a talk on the role of a “creative account leader,” which he describes as the person inside the agency tasked with selling “the product” that the agency makes for clients.
Graham distinguishes between shops that see themselves as service providers and those who see themselves as manufacturers.
He acknowledges that account service and developing client relationships is “the how” we do what we do, but not the reason we get out of bed in the morning. “I believe the strength of those relationships should be based on the quality of the work output that we produce for brands and the results that work generates,” Graham says. “To me, that’s the foundation for the best client relationships that I’ve ever had.”
In other words, the account person’s job isn’t to be well-liked by clients. The job is to move the needle for clients, in ways that can be systematically measured and repeated.
Graham sees agencies as factories of custom creative solutions to business problems. “That’s how we measure our success collectively as an agency. Using the same set of metrics, the same scoreboard (that a factory would).”
Another key takeaway from Graham’s talk comes via his story about working on the Microsoft account at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. His client at the time, Gayle Troberman, believed the single most important factor for success when working with agencies was orchestration, or account management, not creative. The goal was better creative, but the responsibility for it ultimately fell to account service.
I’ve worked in many agencies where account service was prized, but prized for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to see account people as revenue generators, but that’s seeing things through the old service-minded lens. The manufacturing lens for creative agencies places the responsibility on the entire team for revenue growth and clearly outlines the account service role as providing the strategic framework for agency success.
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