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March 2, 2005
A New Home for Account Management?

We’ve all read about the balance of power shifting from creative agencies to media agencies; that clients are increasingly turning to media agencies for strategic leadership and guidance on how to best reach the elusive consumer. So what does this mean for those of us in account management?

To begin, we need to think about what occurred when the media departments of the large agencies were consolidated by the parent holding companies. Owning several large agencies with independent media departments didn’t make much economic sense. Lots of redundancies, in systems, outside contracts with research organizations, space and yes, in personnel as well. So the consolidation was inevitable.

The holding companies brought together the media departments from their large agency networks and created the powerful media agencies of today. This left the large agency networks handling creative, strategy and research, and needing to collaborate with their new media agency partners. Sounds like the perfect job for account management. And for a while, it was. For the most part, the agency networks treated the new media agencies as just a different version of their previously in-house media departments. But the media agencies were changing, even if the agency networks didn’t realize it right away.

Media agencies recognized that the changing media landscape was giving ultimate control over media consumption to consumers. Media proliferation, multi-platform deals, fragmentation, entertainment marketing, out-of-home, online advertising, direct marketing, streaming video, DVRs, consolidation, emerging technologies. A far cry from the three-networks days. It was pretty easy to reach consumers back then. Run a few television commercials, maybe use some radio or a print ad. The message was delivered. People saw it and if it was a good message, it resonated and it was acted upon in some way. It’s just doesn’t work that way anymore.

As communicating with consumers became increasingly complex, the media agencies knew they needed to better understand how to use the different media options available. Research was conducted, tools were developed and media agencies emerged with a deep understanding of the consumers’ relationship with media.

Of course media agencies weren’t the only ones to see that the world of media was changing. Clients were reading about the changes and living with them day-to-day. They were looking at the proportion of their marketing budgets allocated towards media and wondering if that money was being spent in the most effective way. They turned to the media agencies for help. And the balance of power began to shift.

But were the media agencies ready? Remember, many were formed by merging the media departments of major agency networks. So they had very smart, very capable media people working in an environment that was putting increasing pressure on them to work directly with clients and build their own client relationships. In fact, in many cases, they were charged with “owning” the client relationships. And this proved difficult. Compounding the issue was the fact that as the media agencies’ personnel were called upon to work more directly and more closely with clients, the clients’ expectations were changing. They wanted the media agencies to look at their business issues in a holistic manner. Not just from a television point of view, or a magazine point of view or a radio point of view. And this proved difficult as well. Although some media professionals embraced their new roles and were able to adapt, many were not. The media agencies began to realize they had to look outside their ranks for help. To the people who had historically “owned” the client relationship.

The call went out. Account management professionals responded.

Is it the same old job? In some ways yes it is and in most ways it’s absolutely not. Yes, in that the skills involved in building and maintaining client relationships are the same. No, in that media isn’t last on the agenda anymore. Media today is an exciting, dynamic, evolving business, requiring both analytic skills and the ability to foresee the future. Media has evolved from being a delivery mechanism for creative into a key strategic asset. And that makes it a great place to be in account management.

So if you get a call about an account management job at a media agency, take the call. Don’t think of it as possibly going to work in a media department, think of it as a whole new opportunity to do what you do best.

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Matt Kasindorf is one of the industry's foremost experts on integrated marketing. Currently, Matt is client communications officer of OMD, dedicated to servicing the Visa account. Matt's depth of integrated marketing experience includes working on accounts such as S&P, Pentax, AT&T Teleport, Mead School & Office Products, RiteAid, and NatWest Bank.

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