At a time when agencies are struggling for organic growth, it is foolish to talk about removing the account management function from agencies (Campaign UK, August 30th 2019 "Will the axe finally swing over account people?").
When performing brilliantly, account people are true client leaders who anticipate business needs and can grow the business by selling – yes that word – new capabilities or solutions to the client. Pushing creative and strategy people further to the fore and increasing client contact is no bad thing. The client may buy braver ideas and better understand the insights and strategies, however putting the onus on planners and creative people to grow the business is unfair. It’s not in their wheelhouse and probably not what they signed up for.
All that said, the role of account management must evolve.
Technology will now drive the rote parts of the traditional account manager’s job to automation. Agencies are embracing CRM systems that can track client contact and account planning technologies to keep the client leader informed of all the moving parts of complex businesses. Benefits of these technologies range from protecting client information if staff move on and allowing senior regional or global agency personnel a bird’s eye view into the whole account. Read the latest McKinsey report for more on that topic.
Removing the mundane tasks is a good thing. It will allow account leaders to concentrate on their clients’ needs and grow the business. It will also allow them to evolve their roles and increase their value to both their clients and their agency. Just as the CMO’s role is widening, sometimes to CRO or CMTO, the agency partner must also widen their role. Truly understanding a client’s business, the pre-requisite of any partner, now means being conversant in both their Business Strategy and most likely their Digital Transformation - down to details of their AdTech stack.
As a result, agencies are reframing the account function, not eliminating it. Across the member agencies of the 4As, many no longer use the ‘account management’ moniker. Instead, we are seeing new titles including client development officer, business leadership and client solutions director. These titles better explain the true purpose of the position.
This symbolic change in name underscores a change in focus, which has also driven a change in curriculum for training programs. Learning and Development programming needs to equip client partners with necessary skills to meet the new demands on their role. The 4As is now introducing a training syllabus centered on organic growth. For example, one series is based on the premise that non-sales people need to learn how to sell and will be called "How to Drive Organic Growth." The new, soon to be launched, bootcamp will have growth, and yes selling, as key focuses.
So, in the most literal sense you could say account management is ‘for the chop.’ But that would be misleading. The words to describe it are changing, as is the role, but the focus on client partnership and growth leadership has never been more important—no matter what the title.
Angela Johnson is the U.S. client development officer of the Dentsu Aegis Network and Chair of the 4As Account Management Council (changing its name this month to Client Leadership Committee).