Dear Liz ... can you give me some advice about new responsibilities?

Now that I’m an Account Director I’ve been told that I will now be responsible for the agency’s commercial performance of my clients. What advice do you have?

It strikes me that the need for a greater understanding of business, a full appreciation of the commercials, a comprehensive understanding of business in its broadest sense, and combined relationships remains key. The role of the account person is becoming complex as the world around us looks to us for insight, direction and leadership. 

So what does this mean? I think there are several strands to this:-

  1. An appreciation of the daily world of the CMO or Marketing Director. Have you ever asked yourself what their roles entail? 
  2. Actively seeking out knowledge of your clients business, the sector they operate in and their competitors. How can you advise your clients if you do not understand the business context? 
  3. The skills and knowledge you need to service, grow and develop existing client business. How confident are you in Client Service? My definition is that we are all responsible for client servicing, irrespective of the role we perform in the agency.

So, there are two sides to this commercial equation; the human, emotional side balanced with the rational business requirements of the account and the client.

Let's start with the human side. I truly believe that our business is all about relationships and we all need help, irrespective of the level we are at, to continually develop our interpersonal skills. We are all work in progress after all. As Woody Allen said, "all I need to do is "show up." Sounds easy enough, right? 

My question is, how are you showing up when in the agency and with your client? How present are you in meetings or are you busy thinking about your next meeting? To pay "beautiful attention" (Nancy Kline) is to listen, listen and listen again. 

Our clients are human beings. Ask yourself, how well do you know your client? 

We need to think about the world of business from the perspective of the CMO and Marketing Director. What we do forms such a small part of their working day. They have production, marketing, pricing, distribution, branding and a multitude of other demands on their to do list. They are seeking partners, support, trust and understanding from all of us as their window of job security is getting smaller. How are they measured and rewarded by their company? What are you doing to support them with their needs? 

Getting back into the numbers, there are some easy things you can start today:

  • Obtain a copy of your client's current company reports to understand what is important to their business.
  • Set up news alerts and share price alerts for your brands so that you can track their financial performance.
  • Ask your agency finance team to explain how a P&L works.
  • Locate the best person to explain your agency pricing and business levers. Top line is fine, so that you appreciate the full financial picture you are working in.
  • Talk to your Director about account development plans, how they understand client business and what advice they may have for you.
  • Immerse yourself in your agency's products and services so that you can have relevant and appropriate conversations with your clients. 
  • And as we think about your future carer as you progress to Business Director, Client Services Director and beyond you will need to expand your knowledge. To get you started there are lots of free online courses, Massively Open Online Courses with content provided by the top universities in the world. Strategy and account planning are also in this mix: is a great start point.
  • Next up is the Commercial Certificate. This qualification was created to give future industry leaders an education in agency finance, to help with those important client conversations and to build the understanding that you need to create great work that delivers a great profit. The business case is compelling as we all need to be on our game to serve our clients in the best way possible. 

The IPA’s Business Growth Conference will reveal and discuss the right commercial behaviours you need to deliver business success. Book your tickets here. Join the coversation on social media #IPACommercial.

Last updated 21 January 2022