There are some important issues that good account executives consider when doing their daily jobs. Following are some thoughts from a very savvy Second Wind member who teaches his AEs well.
How to get close to a client
We would be fools to think that most clients just hire us to do a job and then go away. The marketing and creative process is very personal and requires people who know how to build and maintain personal relationships with clients. It also requires people who know how to build these relationships professionally and appropriately. It is difficult to be authentic with a client while at the same time remembering that anything you say can and will be used against you in a project recap.
How do you do that? First, find a way to ask non-business questions about your clients that are non-threatening. Where did they go to school? What was their favorite vacation? What do they like best about their job? Do they have special weekend plans? What values do they look for in a creative vendor? What is their career story? Stay away from religion or politics. But try to ascertain the political landscape of their office. When you establish a personal rapport with the client, it is okay to probe a little more—life philosophy, family, goals, hopes and aspirations. While many clients choose to work with us because of the personal fulfillment of being connected to creative, exciting, vibrant people, you also must demonstrate a desire to work with them because they are interesting and vibrant people.
Communicating money issues
This is the area where most account managers fall down. We are somehow afraid to broach money issues before, after, or during the project. Just imagine a service provider who did not communicate about money up front or during a project—working on a house, buying a ticket to a play, going to the dentist, whatever. What would your reaction be? You would probably feel that you were being taken, or that they were incompetent.
In account service, you need to discuss money regularly: before, during and after the project. Talk about budgets, estimates, updates, and the potential cost of changes. Always treat the subject lightly but firmly. You have decided not to work with people who will not spend money out of their pocket. But remember that they still have to justify money to their bosses and meet tight budgets, and that their salaries and benefits reviews may be directly based on how they control—and save—money. Make sure they know every cost sooner rather than later. We recommend that you provide budget updates at critical points in each project:
- At project kickoff
- After creative presentation
- At mid-production
- On release to printers/vendors
- Before delivery
- After delivery
If you have many simultaneous projects for a single client, it may be easier to do an Excel spreadsheet every other Friday showing an update on all projects.
Project management process
There is one rule to remember: Call the client every day, even if only to remind them that you are working with them on the project. Typically, projects are bid and executed in three phases: Orientation/Research, Creative, and Production. While there are many tasks that fall into these phases, we have tried to simplify this process for the client.
- Client input
- Strategic marketing plan
- Account service input
- Creative development
- Review and approval
- Digital layout, illustration, photography
- Review and approval
- Final production
One of the best ways to let a client know that you are on top of the project is to produce a schedule. It should include as many steps as you think will apply. The more detailed the schedule, the more confident the client will be. Always let the client know that dates in the schedule move and change based on project flow. But key milestones and deadlines should not change unless you have agreed with clients that they can be flexible. Missing a schedule without much warning is a key way to lose an account. It causes clients to think that you are asleep at the wheel. It is never okay to blame a missed deadline on anyone else. We are hired to manage every aspect of project schedules.
How to take a client to lunch
This is your best opportunity to get to know the client personally. There are all kinds of reasons to ask the client to lunch: to recap a certain phase of a project, celebrate a success, say thank you, or have a planning meeting. Take the opportunity to learn more about the client’s industry, job function, and political landscape. Account managers should take a client to lunch at least once a month. Always pick a place that is fairly quiet. Always pay for the meal. Broach any bad news toward the end of the meal… or use the meal to announce a successful result. It is usually best to pick the client up at their office. Take other team members when appropriate.
Your clients’ biggest fear…
Is the agency putting their project as their top priority? It is the account executive’s responsibility to allay this fear. Never communicate to the client how busy you are with other clients or projects. Make them feel they are your “best” client.