When Julie and I met (at Doner advertising agency – on Pratt Street – twenty years ago), the world of marketing communications was more clearly defined. Clients hired agencies to create “integrated” campaigns, which consisted of mass media advertising with some coordinated PR coverage around the same theme. And, everyone knew their role in the equation. Frankly, there weren’t that many variables in the equation. The creative folks didn’t expect much from the account guys. The PR people waited for the strategy from the account guys. An invisible, but understood “No Trespassing” sign stood between disciplines. It was a pecking order that has since become a diorama in the Advertising History Museum.
Today, happily, the lines between marketing disciplines have blurred. The “No Crossing the Border” invective has nearly disappeared completely. A recent Advertising Age article, How Account Management Was Reborn, makes this point. The story is about how account managers – the people who interact daily with clients – have seen their job evolve “into one of the most powerful players in Adland.”
Why has the account manager become so important?
First and foremost, the sheer volume of marketing tools has expanded beyond advertising and traditional PR into social media, online advertising, experiential marketing, email marketing, and the catch-all “content marketing” category. In fact, according to another Ad Age story found here, digital now accounts for more than 40% of ad agency revenue. The WPP global marketing conglomerate’s largest “media relationship” is with Google, to the tune of an expected spend of $5 billion this year.
So today’s account manager is expected to understand all these disciplines, how to integrate them, and how to most effectively manage a client’s budget. Yes, today’s account person has evolved from being simply a relationship manager to being a complex problem solver responsible for producing measurable results on a very short, fast moving runway.
I think the real story here isn’t about the agencies, however. It’s about the clients. They’re no longer wedded to distinctions and disciplines – they’re looking for cross-disciplinary marketing approaches. But what they’re really looking for is strategic thinking. Sadly, sound strategy often gets lost in today’s rush to be online.
True account management isn’t exclusively an ad agency function. It can reside there, or at the PR firm, or the digital firm, or the experiential firm. For account management really is about what comes first: defining the market, conducting the research to understand target audiences, guiding the creative process, and then determining where and how to reach the consumer.
The media landscape has changed. The way people interact with each other, and with products, services, and organizations, has changed. The connectivity of the world has changed. The speed at which information spans the globe has changed. Everyone knows this, and is experiencing in firsthand, every day.
What hasn’t changed is the location of a target’s heart and mind. They’re still in the same place. Always have been, always will be. And the heart and mind are still motivated by the same thing: a compelling message, strategically crafted and delivered, that touches a person in both places and motivates them to action.
Developing the strategy to touch the heart and feed the mind – however you want to define the position of an account manager, and wherever you want that person to sit, the role they play with the client is defined that simply in today’s complex marketing world.