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February 11, 2004
The Death of Account Service Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

You've heard it all. The gurus say that the agency account service function is no longer needed. It should be eliminated. It's not relevant any more.

They say that AEs have been marginalized. Their work is being replaced by others. Specialists from within the agency and outside. Collaboration tools and sophisticated traffic systems can now do all the schlepping electronically. And worse yet, clients no longer have time to go to lunch, anyway.

So, what's an AE to do?

But wait. A funeral is premature. While account service is clearly under stress, it's not dead. Far from it. It just needs to be reinvented. The truth is that the future can be remarkably bright for those agencies and their AEs willing and able to evolve. But, that won't happen by accident.

Here's what the successful AE of the future will look like:

1. She will be a Superb Diagnostician

  • Too many agency-client relationships fail because the agency has not adequately diagnosed the client's needs. Clients are increasingly complex. Their needs are harder to read. What they say, and what they feel may be very different.
  • Really penetrating the psyche of the client is crucial. It must be done more scientifically and programmatically. Intuition alone will not suffice.
  • The AE of the future will be responsible for thoroughly understanding the client, so that the course the agency takes is completely congruent with the client's real needs. If this diagnosis is right, the agency's chance of success is dramatically improved.

2. He will be a Marketing Expert

  • Unfortunately, too many of today's AEs only speak advertising's language. They are not skilled in the nuances of marketing that are required to really understand what is going on in the minds of the client's marketing people.
  • True empathy with the client's marketing needs can assure that the solutions the agency provides are more holistically on-target. Thus, the AE of the future needs much better knowledge in the discipline of marketing and to become more highly skilled in integrating that into the agency's thinking.

3. She will be a Skillful Salesperson

  • Salesmanship is not a dirty word. In fact, it is a high calling. Salesmen and saleswomen serve humanity well.
  • Salesmanship is vital in helping clients grasp fragile, embryonic concepts. Yet few of today's AEs have ever had professional sales training or experience. That's a real shame. Because, if appropriately prepared by a sales skilled AE, the client can more quickly recognize and accept the benefits of the agency's proposal.

4. He will Embrace New Media

  • Most agency AEs are very comfortable with TV and print. But, new media (and non-media) can be a strange new world for them. Often, they either avoid it or defer unreservedly to specialists. This is a big mistake.
  • The AE of the future does not have to be a tech-head. But, he must be an expert in new media application. He must be able to work holistically in the client's behalf.

5. She will Think Like a Producer

  • Embracing this concept is perhaps the most important change.
  • In a theatrical sense, there is a big difference between being a "star" and a "producer." It's glamorous to be the star. And, there are plenty in the agency business that aspire to stardom. But, before there can be a star, there has to be a producer to enable the show. In a sense, the AE of the future must act like a producer rather than a star.
  • The AE must be the producer of the agency's holistic relationship with the client, and ultimately the client's customers. She is responsible for orchestrating the application of the various specialized skills and talents the agency applies to meeting the client's needs.
  • This is a very high level responsibility. And, it takes an important shift in psychological mindset. The AE of the future will be very comfortable letting others be the stars. But will take pride in being known as a consistently masterful producer, without whom the stars would not shine.

That's account service of the future. It's a reinvigorated, tightly focused role. It speaks leadership. It demands talent. It requires specialized knowledge and experience. It can contribute dramatically to the success of its clients and agency. And, it can have improved financial and psychic rewards for its practitioners.

All in all, not a bad way to go into the future. And, a whole lot better than being dead.

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President and founder of Carlton Associates, Mike Carlton has spent most of his life in and around advertising agencies. Mike has held offices in the AAAA, and is a frequent writer and speaker on agency issues. Mike provides consultation on agency business models and serves on the corporate or advisory boards of a number of notable firms.
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