Monday, August 20, 2007

Here's to you, Account Handlers...

Max Clifford: The ultimate account handler? Thanks to ijazphoto, usual rules apply.

Frankly, I'm a little tired of hearing/reading about how planners are the next rock Gods, saviours of the agency world and generally, would end world hunger if they just produced a big enough pie chart.

No, today, I want to focus on those who represent the agency, the account handlers.

In the digital landgrab that is blogging, twittering and other such mediums, they've been curiously silent, or so it would seem. Well, why's this a surprise?

And no, it's not what the more cynically minded would have it - 'they've got nothing to say'. Bollocks. Absolute toss, in fact. That sort of view makes me angry. Unlike we planners, with our occasional ivory tower world view - hell, we're paid to think, for the most part - account handlers have to ALWAYS be on the go, multi-tasking constantly. It's no surprise not many of them are blogging (barring the indefatigable Nicola Davies - her blog's great).

I know this, partly because I was a damnably awful account handler. My worrying nature meant that even when I got the job right, I'd still be concerned that it was wrong, and occasionally the opposite would happen - I'd not get the job right because I wasn't worried about precisely how it would look.

But I'm so glad I had that experience. Because it makes me realise just what a skill it is to be a good account handler, and makes me more empathetic when they've got to deal face to face with a very difficult client. Sure, planning has to meet clients - but not to the same degree as account management.

And the job is hard, hard work. Especially, it seems to me, at junior levels. At it's worst, you get shat on by all and sundry, and have little to no input into the strategic direction of the campaign. And God knows, I know enough bright account handlers who have become planners. But I'd like to try and stem the tide, at least slightly.

For the best account handlers (and believe me, the job gets more strategic as you become more senior) are the rocks on which new agencies are founded. CHI and DLKW both have been phenomenally successful, due in a large part to their account handling prowess (yes, the strategic and creative departments have had a lot to do with it as well). If you can sell, are charming (and know what's going on all over the place) there's always a place for you, at any agency.

And it's a fantastic job if you like meeting new people, challenging clients, representing the agency's interests, and generally being a bloody good salesman, able to paint pictures in clients' minds (hopefully without overpromising, the cardinal sin). You'll go very very far.

I just hope we as in industry don't paint a picture of account management as a glorious pipedream - surely, by being honest and saying 'yes, you do have to do a lot of photocopying in the beginning' is the way to approach matters; some naive stereotype is not the way to go about things.

NB: I've always preferred the term account handler - I don't quite subscribe to the belief that accounts can be fully managed; real life is always too chaotic for that. Heh.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very nice mention. Hey, it's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it! So who's been saying that planners are gods or something anyways? Lol. No seriously, I love you guys...

It's also interesting that you value the experience you had as an account handler, so you can understand the other side of the tale. Even though it wasn't for you. Similarly, I used to be the client which really helps me understand why they act in their crazy ways on occasions! But everyone's got an important job to do - planners, account handlers, creatives, producers, art buyers, whatever, and we all need each other to deliver top notch work on time on budget on brief on brand.

I'm seriously still curious though as to why more account handlers don't blog. If we're so good at multi-tasking wouldn't we be able to have blog as well?!

Will said...

Well, one of the reason I value account handlers so much is partly because I was such a rubbish one, but also because my father's one - so I get to hear all the stories.

Yep, everyone has an important role to play...more account handlers don't blog because..umm, they have more going on in their lives than overly bookish planners? Hmmm..don't know..

Anonymous said...

What a delightful post. As one closer to the handler than planner world, though do both, I am glad to see you've hit a very big notion that account handlers potentially being the new rocks of an agency. While great creative and planning are essential and the core lifeblood, true integration starts with the handlers. They are unbiased and look for the best solution, whatever the medium. One you assign a division or team, a particular bias will always crop up. That's not a knock against them, but nobody can be a craftsman in every discipline.

A great modern account handler is a true generalist. Maybe one of the last remaining with you GP.

Anonymous said...

How long have you worked in the industry? I get the feeling that (from your stance and tone) it must ba a long time, so maybe you know more about this thatn me, but I have worked at a number of agencies myself and the only good ones (Lowe, Mother, BBH) have been the ones where the disciplines were seen as mutually dependent and respectful. I think admiration for Account Handling is alive and well in some agencies: maybe you need a change of scene?

Will said...

Anon - I have worked in the business for little over a year, at a variety of agencies (especially in the last 4 months, as I've been freelancing).

This post was borne out of a conversation I was having with my father (who is an account handler by trade, outside of London) about the difference between London account handling and outside London.

In my experience, it seemed quite marked, especially at lower levels of account handling.

As for a change of scene..keep reading the blog; I may have an announcement soon.

Shoot me an email at william dot humphrey at yahoo dot co dot uk if you fancy having a proper chat.

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