The secret to great creative is...account people?

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You can hire the best creative talent, but without a strong partnership with the account team, the venture won't succeed, says JWT Atlanta's CCO.

One of the most important secrets to delivering great creative to the world is great account people.

I know, I know, some of my creative colleagues would say this is heresy. But I have learned from experience that without bold account leadership, you’ll never sell great work. 

The reality is this: You can hire the best creative talent out there, but without a strong partnership between the account team and the creative team, the venture won’t succeed. If the account leads are only focused on financial growth and not the creative development of the agency, you will fundamentally fail to get the most out of the agency’s creative talent and will subsequently deliver subpar work to the client. So what should agencies look for in their account leads? 

They’re ready and willing to rock the boat
Great account people are bold leaders. Their primary objective is the same as the creative team’s—to push creative boundaries and take risks—not to simply maintain the status quo. They never say, "I know the client and they won’t buy this." They are more likely to say, "The client has never done anything like this before...but this is the direction they need to go in and I’ll help them get there."

They educate the client on the creative process and foster and nurture it. They set boundaries for the client to ensure the agency achieves its full potential. They protect great ideas and advocate for innovative concepts or new ways of thinking, even if these approaches may scare the client. Put simply, they just don't play it safe.

They stand up for the agency’s creative philosophy
It’s not unusual for clients to request a mix and match approach to campaigns. For example, in response to three distinct creative concepts, a client may well say, "Actually, I like parts of each idea. Can't we just take the aspects I like and put them together?"

A savvy account lead would never let the client Frankenstein together a campaign from the dissected elements of different ideas. They understand the agency’s creative approach and the value it brings, and treat creative work accordingly. Great creative ideas are precious; simply slapping parts of different concepts together purely on the basis that it will make the client happy and move things along is not only a disservice to the client, but also the agency.

They bring their own creative POV
Ok, here is one of the most important attributes a great account person needs to demonstrate: creativity! Yes, I said it, account leadership need to be creative. They don't need to know how to design, write, and edit. But they do need to understand the craft of the creative.

The account partners I enjoy working with the most are those who make concepts better by offering thoughtful and strategic feedback on the ideas from a creative standpoint that takes into full consideration the strategy, client, and objectives of the campaign. They add value to the work by providing constructive criticism that is based on a desire to make the work better.

The reality is, if an agency has great creative but poor account support, the innovative spirit of the creative team will fall into decline and eventually die. The members of the creative team will resign themselves to blindly delivering exactly what the client asks for, and the agency will be reduced to a replaceable commodity. Agency resources will exist to take and process orders as opposed to delivering great innovative ideas.

We should always be giving the client more than what they ask for. We should always be producing work that solves the business problem while also offering inspiring creative. Great account teams are connoisseurs of the craft and the linchpins in the agency who facilitate the relationship between the creatives and the clients, ultimately moving the needle forward.

My point is this: For an agency to produce great work, everyone on the team needs to have an active interest in delivering not good work, but great work. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone: account managers, strategy personnel, the analytics team, finance, IT, even the folks in the mailroom...everyone! Creatives cannot and should not operate alone.

Vann Graves is Chief Creative Officer at JWT Atlanta.