Episode from the podcastCreative Agency Account Manager Podcast

How to have a successful career in agency account management

Released Thursday, 10th September 2020
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Welcome to the Creative Agency Account Manager Podcast with me, Jenny Plant, from Account Management Skills Training. I'm on a mission to help those in agency client service keep and grow the existing relationships, so their agency business can thrive.

Jenny: Welcome to episode four. Today, I'm delighted to be speaking to Phil Lancaster. Phil has spent most of his career in account management and has worked for some of the most successful holding companies in the agency space. He's worked for companies like the Lowe Group and W P. P at a very senior level as client team leader and global business director. And he's worked at a very C suite level with clients for brands such as Bayer, Reckitt Benkiser, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc. So he's got a huge amount of experience in this space. So what he's going to be sharing with us is what he sees is the true value of the role of account management for both agencies and clients. He's also going to share some examples of the actions account management cant ake to save clients time and money. He's going to share with us his advice for agency account managers to help position you more as a trusted advisor versus a reactive order taker. He's also gonna share some examples where agencies get it wrong. And he has a particular interest in helping agencies reach the C suite level relationships of their clients. So he's going to share some tips around how you can start to think about doing that. He's also going to share his views on the role and how it's evolved, given that the report has come out recently saying that there is an urgent review needed. And also he's gonna share some advice for how to strengthen your client relationships, given the fact that many of us are still working remotely. So without further ado, let me go straight to the interview. Phil, thank you so much for joining me today. Would you mind spending a couple of minutes just talking about your experience in account management?

Phil: I'm very happy to do so. Good morning as well. I've spent my entire life actually in account management, which is in terms of a career a very long time, and I came from the various lowest positions to one of the more senior positions through that function o that department. I started my career with Grey. In fact, I'm a product of most of the agency large networks around the world and holding companies. And I worked with the Bates Group and the low Group and in the last two decades with W P. P. and with an agency called J. Walter Thompson, which one point I was ahead of client service at J. Walter Thompson, which was about 120 people. I think that made it the largest account management department in the world of that time, so that was quite a challenge. But I am, you know, a child of account management. I believe fervently in it and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of being in it, so happy to discuss that with you this morning.

Jenny: Fantastic. I know that you also were leading at a sort of holding company level some huge blue chip clients on I see from your background their brands like Jaguar, Landrover, Reckitt Benkiser, Bank of America, Kellogg's those a huge blue chip brands. So I'm so delighted that you've been up to join me and talk to me about this because I think you are the epitome of sort of someone who is leading account management at a very senior level. So I'm curious to know what do you see as the value of account management, both for agencies and for clients?

Phil: I mean, that's if I could put this into a short answer, rather in a very long one. I again, I believe very strongly in the value that account management brings to the relationship between an agency and its client. But if we start with the client side for a moment, I think that, you know, notwithstanding the fact that many clients are perhaps beginning to in-house creative capability and resource, largly speaking, it's still, there's a world out there of very good agency people in agencies. that client's work alongside and use as partners. It is not their skill therefore to exact the creative mysteries of an agency to produce work that has a commercial impact on their business. They leave that to people within the agencies, and that's particularly led by the function of account management not exclusively, of course, but certainly often led by. And so the value to a client of account management is that it is, and the people who work in it  are those are the most expert in getting out of the agency all of its brilliant skills of creativity from its people and its execution on behalf of their business on behalf of their client brand, their service, their product, whatever we're talking about. So it's a vital role for any client institution, particularly when they're probably playing a great deal of money for it as well. So you know it's an investment in an individual and a function that will at some point return greatly on the performance of their brand or their service. So something that they don't enter into lightly, at all. It’s a deeply competitive areas as we know. So they have plenty of people to choose from and agencies. If you face the agency point of view there's so many talented people in an agency you know, and I include in that talented finance people, talented admin people as well as insight and strategy and, of course, creativity. But they would muddle together and produce very little if there weren't some kind of leadership to that process. Someone and a group of people who are absolutely accountable for ensuring that the agency presents the best creative thinking, the best creative execution, which has an impact in the real commercial world, where it drives a top line of a business for a client and indeed may fall to the bottom line, too. But there's a very clear relationship here with getting out of an agency group, its very best creativity and in some way making sure that that has an impact on the financial performance of a client business, because ultimately that's what clients are concerned about. So there have been experiments without account management in the past occasionally in agencies on none of them have worked. And that's not to say it's any more important function than it is planning or creative. Of course not, but it's a vital role, and it will continue to be a vital role. But it's changing profoundly, has a role. I'm sure we'll talk about in a moment.

Jenny: Just on that point. Actually, that's curious, because I do know that some agencies decide consciously to not have an account management function, and you say there that it hasn't worked. Can you tell us a little bit more about why you think it doesn't work?

Phil: Well, my personal belief, you know, I say this with humility because others may disagree with me, is it’s really quite difficult to be a brilliant creative person in an agency and to also be worrying about building the relationship with a client, understand the client's business inside out, to spot the opportunities to grow the business with the client challenging environment. And the same for perhaps the planning function the same, perhaps, for anything to do with that broad term media. It's a great deal to take on if you're going to be brilliant in one of those functions, frankly, on behalf of the client. So my experience has been that it becomes like a drag anchor on those individuals where if you're trying to be creative, because that's what you are accountable for and then to trying to take on some responsibilities of orchestration, process, dealing with procurement, whatever happens to be, you'll never produce your best work. You don't simply don't have the bandwidth. You don't have the stamina to do that and I think allow people to be brilliant in their area of expertise, gather them together, point them in a very similar direction and motivate them and inspire them. But let them be great at what they're really good at.

Jenny: I love that you said that. I feel that was a great response, actually. What do you think makes a brilliant account manager?

Phil: Gosh, well, I think there's some underlying skills sure than this, which is, let me tell you what it's not, in a way. If any young account manager management to person thinks that being incredibly popular with the creative group and focusing primarily on their internal reputation, and that it's simply a function of presenting what's being created internally to a willing client who will always say yes, you're not going to get very far. And equally if you take on more of the kind of the hue of the client, so you almost feel like you're outside of the agency, because what you do is you align with the client most readily and most often and see it entirely. From their point of view, it becomes quite dispiriting for the people in the agency, particularly creative people. I think the brilliant skills required of account management is that you have got to have an understanding and an innate interesting curiosity around two things. One of which is the broad business world, you know how do clients make money. How can I help them make more money on how can I grow their business? But equally you've got to have the, you know, the qualitative skills, the EQ, the genuine intuition and desire to be interested in anything creative. Not just the creative art of producing materials that stimulate brands and products and services, but, you know, you've really got to be genuinely interested in what the agency produces, you know, because that's the sausage machine that you work with every day, you know? And I've seen too many account people who come in who have really no interest in the creative product whatsoever and align themselves terribly with a client business and vice versa. You know, people who look very naive because they only talk about creativity within the agency, and it has absolutely no impact whatsoever on a client business. So the profound skill of very good account management people is to face both ways. And the thing that ties it is an intellectual curiosity and a heartfelt desire for creativity in its broadest sense.

Jenny: What an articulate response. Thank you, that was really, really interesting. I think you've highlighted a couple of times about the importance of the agency account managers understanding the world of the client, their business world, the business outcomes that we're helping them achieve. Can you share with us maybe a couple of actions or examples of where you've witnessed the function of agency account management actually saving the client money or making them money, as you say, the top line revenue, or perhaps eliminating cost?

Phil: I mean, the very best way to be the most effective partner for your client group is to produce the highest standard of work first time with little or no rework because it's so inherently good and finished that runs successfully in the marketplace and has the required impact on the business. The problem with that is that often we start out wrong and we get more wronger. Frankly, the brief is sloppy, inarticulate, imprecise carries no definition, no competitive difference whatsoever from the competitive set. And if you start out with a poor, sloppy, dull or lacking any kind of insight, brief things only get worse from there. And ultimately, the work that served up is frankly, average and its impact is probably worse than average. So if you want to save your client time and money, then be absolutely zealous around the quality of the brief on that. Of course you can do with your client, but you must take on the responsibility for it. And the only way that you will write brilliant briefs, frankly, is to know more about the client business than sometimes do themselves. To have this Olympian understanding of your own business in the agency and what it does, and to go further than anybody on the detail of writing something which is so perfect in its short form that everyone understands exactly what you're trying to do and what you'll be measured against. But it's such a brilliant platform for the creative teams to work from, but they find it inspiring in itself, let alone as a brilliant springboard for great work that they can produce. Poor brief, lots of rework, lots of arguments, lots of cost and ultimately a failing relationship.

Jenny: And presumably also, you know, if you spend the time on the brief, get the brief right and the works right first time it can not only saved some time and cost, but also makes the money because ultimately what we're doing is a marketing action. It could be an ad campaign. It could be a comprehensive strategy around positioning. But ultimately we're helping the client achieve their business outcome.

Phil: Yeah, yeah, we are. I mean, I think long gone are the days where an agency could be a partner that provided simply creative execution, that did or didn't work and that there appeared to be no accountability. Frankly and thank goodness to be any form of partner commercial partner for any client, business and agency can only be a concerned with one thing, which is how can we be most brilliant with our creative thinking execution, but only to impact on their commercial success? Because if you delve just a little into the world of the client organisation that you're working with, it's very obvious very quickly that they are accountable to very hard nose metrics, quantifiable metrics, of share and growth  and ROI you know, and profit. And so that's the language with which we need to discuss it with them. But at the same time, you know, we know that we are one of many partners that can impact on their business for a very particular reason. The management consultants that they were with may do something else and the frenemies that we are more familiar within, the Facebooks and the Googles, do something else. But none of them serve up the creativity that in theory agencies do, that can have such a dramatic impact on their commercial success. So I think account management today need to be really throw off the clothing of naivety and on worldliness and really understand if you're gonna have an impact on a client, business is gonna have to be first and foremost commercial. And it is impact will because it's just brilliantly conceived and different and captures the imagination of ordinary people like you and I in our homes, and builds that affinity with the particular company that we're talking about. So, you know, some things have changed enormously when we talk about data and technology, you know, in the delivery, to these clients now great speed and agility. Some things are always the same. I mean, we must never forget we're still dealing with ordinary human beings and need to be encouraged so genuinely fall in love with what we say and what we do and what we offer and to stay with us over the long term. You know, it's a very human interaction this and thank God, too, because it makes it so much more interesting.

Jenny: You're so so right. We are dealing with human relationships. You're absolutely spot on. If there's an account manager listening right now and they're thinking right, this totally makes sense. How do I start showing up and acting like a true trusted advisor to my clients rather than sort of a passive reactive order taker? What's your advice for them to help them position themselves more in that way?

Phil: Well, I think you started in the right place, by the way, that there is no future of any young account manager into next senior representative, an agency or otherwise if they are reactors. You know, we do need the practicalities of people who are good at making things happen in an agency, but they don’t tend to necessarily now sit just in the account management group. Account managers need to be forcefully in a very positive way with their clients, so that they are always prompting, always initiating, always suggesting proposals that develop the business and the thinking in the outcome. So by natural inclination, you know that's a skill that can be learned and taught. But it does help if you begin that way, as well as personality and character trait. So that's the very important start point on this. What I tend to say to anybody that I've ever interviewed or I've worked with in my groups and developed is you will always be reputationally thought of highly within a client organisation if you know as much about their business as they do or indeed, at times, more. It’s a criticism of the industry to a little, to a degree, that we still don't know our client business as well as we should. The brilliant account management people are those that have spent the time because they enjoy understanding how the client makes money. You know how they grow, where they're trying to grow, what the insurmountable problems are that they're trying to surmount. It's a bit like anybody. If you sit in front of someone and you talk about yourself for half an hour they don't find it particularly rewarding exchange. If you sit with a client and talk about them and their business and suggest things, tell them things that they don't know, you're inevitably more interesting than the other agency and the other people in it who really there to take orders to produce creative work which we’ll come onto in a moment. So, first and foremost, if you really want to stand out from the pack, either within your own agency or indeed with other agencies know their business, chapter and verse and show interest and go and see them in a post Covid world. Phone up anybody you can think of in the business, talk to anybody you know in the tertiary industries that support their business. I can assure you, you’ll be absolutely delighted in the response you get when you're able to talk about their business in great breath and depth because you then move towards this wonderful word which is such an enigma to us, this word of trust. You become more and more trusted the more you understand what they're trying to do, and how you could suggest that they might reach those goals. 

So that's the client side within the agency. I mean, there are robotic account managers that go through the process of just getting work out the door. Not many of them, but they're easy to see. And there are those that are driven by this innate desire to just be creative, think creative, spend time with creative people and produce things that have not been seen before, done before and that have a material impact, which is just exciting, you know, it's great fun. It separates our business from many other worthwhile sectors of industry that don't go about it. But it's very difficult to talk about clients and innovation and inventiveness and originality, when by if nature you plodding through an agency, ticking the boxes, going to work because you think that today is a good day to have another good meeting and to do some process, you know, which is not the purpose of what we do anyway, and then it's just a means to an end. So I think that, you know, the value that that one, as in account management, should be measured by your outstanding contribution to the delivery of creative work within the agency that stands out and has an impact on the client business, but also the fact that you have become more and more valuable to a kind organisation because you seem to be able to trigger the right work regularly at the highest standard, because you know where to take the thinking and where to take the work in the client organisation. It cannot be either or I'm afraid, it really has to be both. 

Jenny: I love that. One of the things Phil and I’d love your view on this as I don't think I've ever asked you this before. One of the things that I get a lot of pushback on is in some agencies account management function have, like a dual role. They actually have to manage the projects but also manage the relationship and inevitably, what happens is they get very bogged down with the delivery of the projects and the development and long term strategic thinking about how you're gonna add value to their business. Spending more time in the client's spotting opportunities, getting more traction within the client organisation goes to the wayside, so it's probably more of a business model kind of question but what's your view if you have one on whether the account management function should not be in any way, shape or form touching projects and they should just be dedicated to client retention and growth.

Phil: Well, I'm suspicious of that. You know what I mean? First of all, I'm not sure that you could grow to be a more senior member of the account management department unless you've gone through the learning curve of delivering the process, getting your hands dirty and understanding the geography of an agency today and its partnership. I mean, you really are going to have to be perfectly eloquent around data and technology and creativity. That triangulation is something that every year, account person coming through the ranks is going to need to be very comfortable with an understand. And I am not so sure either, that you're an effective  developer of more senior relationships, without the understanding of how a conversation you have with that client will impact on the agency whether the resources available. How you might find the appropriate resources direct it and manage it to create the output that you're looking to achieve as a result of discussion with the relationship. Also, the hard truth is that one has to make time on top of the delivery, the practicalities of delivery to build your relationships across a client base, so that's about going the extra mile, actually, to determine who you might need to know in the client organisation, what you need to know from them. And where you can take the information back to the agency to perhaps improve for shortened, to simplify, to remove complexity from the process. To produce things which are more valuable to a client and then the agency has a result in a different way, with a greater pace and acceleration. So I don't think the two will ever be separate or decoupled. Of course, as you rise through the ranks of account management, internal senior positions, you do less, and that's quite frightening, by the way, it's a point we should make that when your account director and you begin to hedge towards the border or a directorship within an agency. I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of that is for those young people to give away the job of doing because they were very good at doing and to start delegating and take on the responsibility of much more, nebulous areas of a relationship development where it's less black and white about whether it was right or wrong or whether it worked or it didn't. And to trust in those people you delegated to as well. So that transition is one that we've worked on very hard over the years in the agencies I’ve been in, to manage that emerging from senior account director position into young board director, young director position where the role is fundamentally different. But you cannot reach that more senior role unless you have underpinned the understanding,  the geography and the realities and delivering work in the agency.

Jenny: It's a really good response. I like that. Great answer. You talk a lot about developing relationships with C Suite, the C suite of your client company. Why do you think that's so important for agency account managers? And do you have any tips that you can share?

Phil: Right I have to keep this to a reasonably short answer. It is entirely vital. It's entirely vital for two reasons. First of all, that it protects the business in the revenue that an agency has in the first place, and secondly, it is the single best source of driving incremental new business from the existing client. I guess one has to start with what's the definition of C Suite and the first thing to disabuse people of, perhaps, is that we're not simply talking about CMO. And by the way, my private opinion is that the role of CMO is diminishing quite rapidly. And here are many other important roles within C Suite whether that's a chief technology officer, whether it's the head of corporate affairs, whether its head of legal, whether it's the CFO, CEO, the list goes on. There is a much broader spectrum now of C Suite that it’s imperative that agency people know, that they engaged with regularly, that they listened to and that they take initiatives to because they all hold budget. They all can grow your business. They all have an increasing say on the output of agencies and communication because they realise that that's a key differential now and that rarely are big decisions about communication made by individuals, including a CMO. They are more often made by leadership teams within a client organisation, particularly when you get to the bigger ones. So I'm working with a lot of agencies and I think you know, this as well for whom a relationship with C suite does not exist. And they are really, really vulnerable because decisions can be made no matter how good the agency's work has been or is at the moment, decisions can be made, which have no bearing whatsoever on the current relationship and output and now suddenly mean that the business is gone. And I have suffered this myself and particularly with the emergence of procurement who don't really care about that aspect of the business. They're more concerned about the effectiveness of the work on the relationship. And that's a separate point entirely, I guess so. It is unfathomable, really, to think that the management of an agency do not work day in and day out, week in and week out and so on, in the development of their broad based C Suite4 relationships to protect what the agency already has the business quite apart from growing up because it's hugely rewarding when you do, by the way, when you build a C suite relationships frankly, new jobs flow. New funding flows, new opportunities to reputationally emerge like out of a chrysalis every six months, 12 months of the year as a fresh agency that has fresh thinking rather than being seen as the agency that was good 2-3 years ago. You know, in terms of the value proposition of an agency, it's a great way to make sure that you look relevant and fresh all the time to a broad group of people in a client organisation that will continually think of you as a current partner, not one of the past.

Jenny: And what do you have any advice for maybe agency leaders or account managers of listening to this and thinking, we don't have any relationships at all at any C suite level with our clients. Where do you even start with trying to form those relationships?

Phil: Well, I mean, I believe strongly in a programme that's institutionalised within an agency to identify the C suite and to create content to take to them at a programme of managing them across the senior agency people matching them with senior client people and how it's a bit like, you know, selling a car. BMW would be delighted to sell me a car, of course, but there'll be a margin on that, but where they really made the money's in the after sales and the service and the fact that I'd become a long term and loyal supporter of the brand and buy various cars in the future. Therein lies the opportunity here, which is that we have created you know,  I have created on approach, which allows agencies to identify what the key issues are that confront the client, who the clients is,  who have prospects are across that leadership team because there are many off them in theory. And there are the emerging stars as well, coming beneath and everyone needs to pick up. Once you've managed to get something in their diary, virtually or otherwise, what on earth do I say to them that's going to interest them, hold their attention and asked them to perhaps think about a new area of their business on? Then how do I keep in there? How do I keep that fresh? How do I keep coming back? How do I keep from taking the phone call for me once a month? Because every time I feel Jenny, come on the phone, they always tell me something interesting about my business. They always provide me with a solution. Perhaps one I didn't even know I needed. You know, that's a programme in itself, is not a nice to have. It really is a must have. The very best agencies is, of course, do this. Working with the Omnicom’s and the WPPs and a little of the IPG, for instance, they have very good people who know how to build these relationships out over months and years, identifying what a client requires at any one time, but also making sure that that could be translated into what the agency can deliver, building those trust levels. But it's not a short answer to that. There is a programme that one needs to look at, think about it very carefully, you know, we share all our war stories. I think the most valuable thing I'm able to share with people is all the things that have not worked. Actually, all the things I've done wrong all the blind alleys that turned out, but there are some things that really do work time and again across business, domestic business, global business brands, products, services, I think account management needs to know these things.

Jenny: Can you share just a couple of examples of maybe where you got it wrong and where you were hugely successful?

Phil: Yeah. I mean, I talked earlier about the fact that if you don't believe in creativity and if you're not excited by creativity, in its broadest sense. It is not an easy industry to be in. But at the same time, I just see people do get kind of its like a laughing gas. We sometimes get so excited about certain things that we lose sight on why we're doing it, what its role is and where you know, it really needs to be quite commercially impactful. Some of the biggest mistakes I've made is where I've probably wanted to appease what I thought was brilliant creative work out of an agency, because I knew that it would provide a higher profile for the agency because of its creative prowess, and that becomes slightly dislocated from that's all very well. But, you know, was it ever gonna work on behalf of the client business? Should they ever have invested their hard earned money in it and what you're gonna say to them when it didn't work, even though someone standing on a plinth in an award show picking up awards on the trade press has picked up on the beauty of the work. But six months down the line, you're under great pressure because the brand has underperformed and I have made those mistakes a few times, and I learned the hard way, and that's what I talked about earlier. Which is you've got to be really hard nosed as an account manager, account director. Is it going to work in the real world, no matter how exciting it is on behalf of the reputation of the agency and the people who created it. Which is very important, of course, but I have lost business months after producing the most lauded and awarded work, and I have rarely ever lost business when work has been so commercially and fundamentally successful. The clients will achieve their own personal metrics and financial rewards through the bonus scheme because your work drove the performance of their brand or their service. So there's a really careful balancing act there about, as I said to you earlier, facing in two different directions. But you know, creative work can inspire great brand performance. That's wonderful, thank goodness. But equally there are times when other types of, what's the word I'm going to use, precise work, you can have just as much of an impact and develop your business. So I've made plenty of mistakes in those areas. Where have I done things differently? Some things I think that had the most impact is when I've introduced clients to new partners that they haven't thought of working with before, so that they could extend their distribution footprint. Or maybe there was a sampling exercise that they could piggyback on the backup. So the adjacencies of putting a really impressive brand together with another brand that consumers and insight might pull natural together, but have never worked together in the past because they don't see themselves as working in the same areas, has been fundamentally very satisfying, but also quite lucrative on behalf of the client business. So I mean, I think another time, but we can give some very good examples of that, how to put those adjacencies to this together.

Jenny: I think that's a fabulous example. It also highlights to your point before about the more we understand about the client's business, actually, our job in account management is to retain and grow the client business, but we need to keep their business objectives in mind. This is not about us selling more of our services. It's looking at what is right for the client business right now. And you know, just there's one great example there of introducing a new potential partner, which is going to open up a revenue stream for the client. And that's not selling more of your services. That is adding value truly, adding value to the client organisations. I think that's a great example. I love the fact that you've said that you need, every agency, needs a programme for reaching the C suite and we’ll certainly share the contact details for your systematic approach to reaching the C suite because I think again, that's absolute gold. Just recently, we've talked about this briefly but there was an IPA report that was commissioned.  It talked about the role of account management and the fact that there needs to be an urgent review and it was kind of putting into question the value of the account management. Do you have any thoughts on that report and its findings?

Phil: Well, I agree with them. I really do think it requires an urgent review of what account management has become and it really should be on. I would start with some of the terminology. I find account management, client service, you know, some of these terms unhelpful or redundant, and yet it's really very difficult to find a better term somehow. So I think a review of the function and its so called skillset is desperately needed. I think that sometimes the headlines would suggest that there's a tremendous crisis involved, you know, because that makes a good headline. There's an awful lot that's good in the account management within agencies, there's some very good people with some great skill set who are doing things the right way. I think what we're talking about here is like anything else you know, creative destruction which is, if we were starting from scratch what would we lay aside in terms of what the offer of account management is now on, what would we retain and what would we add going forward on. I believe that some of the requirements of the remain same, which is about, as I said earlier, you know, this duopoly off, being inspired and motivated by creativity generally and at the same time having curiosity and an interest and understanding of the world of business and the commercial opportunity that confronts our client. So those are the broad perspectives. Added to that, and I talked about the triangulation earlier of understanding what data means what technology means in creativity, they're just words that are thrown around, you know. Ultimately, one has to take it back to what do human beings want, desire, need, look for. What could we persuade them that they had never thought about before but could be quite interesting to them? And I have genuinely think, and I looked for it in anybody that worked with me in this area, you have to have a fundamental  interest in people. You have to be quite nosy and curious, you know, and watch and listen. And a piece of advice, I would give, by the way, too young account people but carrying throughout your life is, I read a different publication every day. I’ll read something out of The New Statesman one day, but The Spectator the next. the Daily Mirror one day,  The Daily Telegraph the next. I will watch ITVB and the terrible collection of reality programmes. And I will watch something like Newsnight. I have listened to you know, Asian radio, overseas radio, commercial radio, Broadcast Arabia. The more one listens and watches and assimilates information from different parts of the spectrum of society and people you'll find them more interesting and engaging. You'll understand a little bit more about where they shift in their attitudes in a society. And you're a lot more useful to your clients because I'd worry terribly about those people that never watch much TV or who don't know the plot of Eastenders, you know, or here’s good example someone recently, you know, somebody in account management in their twenties, what’s your view of Gym Shark, tell me about that, and they hadn't even heard of the brand. Now populist brands are popular for a reason because they capture something of the imagination perhaps for the first time. A young man has created an extraordinary business on the back off being in competition with major players like Nike and Reebok is an extraordinary story. But when you take it back to its base, he just loved the idea of working around this area of young people who wanted to work out and be fit and Crossfit and all the rest of it. Wow, what a story, he created it. My view is, the more you know, the more you read, the more you watch, the more knowledge you have, the more ideas you have, the more interesting you’ll be to your client. And if you're not interesting, you're not gonna last five seconds with a client organisation and you're never going to reach a senior position. And you're not gonna hold the interest levels of C suite. So feed the machine of your knowledge and understanding. But make sure you balance it. That's why I say, don't be drawn in by a left wing persuasion, right wing persuasion, populism, intellectual, academic. It doesn't matter.

Jenny: I think that's just such a fantastic tip. I really, really do. I'm usually banging the drum for reading, certainly reading, too, particularly personal development books, all about developing relationships and obviously industry information. But the fact that you've just shared that tip about, just broaden it out, you know, diversify your reading sources. I think that that's just gold. So thank you for that. That's brilliant. Currently, Phil, with our relationships with clients, we're recording this just coming into September 2020 and we're just kind of coming out of the Covid situation, lifting slowly the lock down rules. But essentially many of our clients are still working from home. Many agencies are kind of moving to more of a hybrid model, letting their staff also worked from home and maybe a couple of days in the office. How do you develop relationships or continue the momentum of developing relationships when you can't meet in person? Certainly so frequently as we used to.

Phil: Perhaps there is a shift of focus, actually, which is, I believe, undeniably in the need for a relationship I really do. But I think that the shift of focus is perhaps now on the word value, and I do believe that whilst it is more difficult to achieve, we can project our value on our clients remotely as much, if not more so we can, in the old model of presenteeism and being together and that having that idle time to get to know each other. So it's a tricky one, and it's perhaps a rather stock answer but I genuinely believe that you will drive a relationship over the long term because of the value that you bring. And the value you bring will be your intellectual stamina and observation and point of view, as well as the initiatives and the proposals that no one else is bringing to a client organisation, or client individual that will help him drive the business and, frankly, looks smart at times within their own organisation. So when we had the opportunity to meet in person and to spend time and to build our relationship from the outside in as it  were, and reveal our value over the course of hours and weeks and years and whatever it worked well, but you ultimately could track through to being quite a valuable individual to the client organisation. You kind of have to turn it on its head now, present yourself immediately as someone of value, on behalf of a valuable agency and a valuable function called account management that brings a point of difference and a commercial impact on the business from the word go and that will then lead to a long lasting relationship. Inverted commas. Whether relationships on the metrics of those will be in the future hard nose quantitative r ROI metrics, probably, less so than they ever were in the past, when they were more qualitative or it was as much about who you were, how you engaged with the client on a, you know, just a human aspect, as it was on the performance of what your outcomes were. So shift, I think a shift is the order of the day. But I do think engagements vital finding ways and means of engaging with these people in these organisations. And you'll do that because you're valuable.

Jenny: Great point. Also, I believe that I've heard a lot of people say even the most senior people inc client organisations just are tending to be a little bit more available because of this new way of working so it could present an opportunity.  Just a couple more questions, I'm very conscious of your time. Have you got any thoughts on just generally how the creative industry landscape is changing in terms of how agencies are working with clients.

Phil: Yeah, my sense is that the rules of the game have changed, actually. Probably the most unhelpful word at the moment is the word agency because it suggests to many, and this is the black propaganda that goes around this from people who was wish this to be the case is that agencies are boxes with rigid walls and ceilings that are ponderous and narrow in their scope of understanding and output, and therefore diminishing in terms of their value to a client base. Because there are so many other organisations around that are much more fluid, much more agile and much more, you know, technically competent as it were. So I think that my view of the way forward is that collectives of inspired people who work brilliantly together to deliver the creativity of thought and deed, with their data, with the technological understanding, with the ability to understand the consumer mind, and to change the course of that attitude in consumer behaviour, because of the something we learn from our data or because of a piece of simple technology that just changes everything good means that the method of agencies, if we're going to continue to use that word, has to have changed. It can't be so linear. It can't be so ploddingly process oriented. It has to be and has become in more recent years, much more quickly consensual around the good and the best, of the people and the thinking or the execution and taking rapidly to a client base, onto pilot tests, put in a crucible of, you know, life and see if it works. Course correct. Move it on. And not, in the days of past, where there was almost a delight in the process as much as there was in the work.  I think it's move. Make things, try them, test them, hold their feet to the fire, change, course correct, move again. Keep moving. 

Jenny: Have you seen any agencies that are doing that particularly well and adapting to the new way, those new demands of ways of working?

Phil: I see it all around. I'm not to sure it’s just in agencies. I mean, you know, if you look at the FANGs and you look at some of the still some of the great agency groups that I mentioned earlier but also in the independent sector. What a time to be in the independent sector now, as well, you know where major clients, domestic or global, are quite prepared to work with the smallest or largest. If the thinking is good and the execution is there. I think that there are examples all around. I'm particularly taken with the shift as well in some of the more long term publishers who, perhaps, have begun to understand how to confront the likes of Google and Facebook. We've been in this whole area of this dreadful word content, but I think that they are beginning to learn really quickly now about how they change their offer. So there's lots to learn from those boys as well. So lots going on lots going on. 

Jenny: If you were going to start again, Phil, in your career because I'm very conscious is a few agency account managers that just beginning in their journey, they want to sort of be successful as quickly as possible. Looking back on your career, if you were starting again, what would you have done differently, or any tips that you can share for getting people sort of ahead of where they need to be.

Phil: Well it’s still a glorious career to go into, by the way, that I do believe whatever that career is. But, you know, in it's broadest sense. I tell you what the biggest mistake I made in the early years, I just believed in big titles too much. I believed the people of above me and around who wielded their title, convinced me to make decisions and to do things in a particular way, which instinctively, I was unsure about or didn't believe them. And there's a fine line here between a young account manager who thinks they know everything perhaps probably just needs to show a bit of humility and learn a bit more. But there does come a point where you have to stare down the titles and the structure, and than those that have gone before that tell you everything they've done that was perfect and forget to tell you the things that weren't. And you've got to be your own person and I genuinely believe that. I mean, I fundamentally made a change of my approach in my early thirties to begin to trust myself more because I began to assess the people around me. And when I broke down their life experiences versus professional experience and the evidence before me of what they were and weren't achieving in the business I drew the conclusion that I probably had as much to say that might be was worthwhile, and it might just be better. And funnily enough, after a few months and a couple of years, it really was. You have to be careful you don't get ahead of yourself and think too much of yourself, but really, yeah, I guess that's what I said earlier. If you know more, you’ve read more, watched more, thought more, you can begin to trust yourself more. And when you trust yourself more you cand be more sure about what you say to a client and why because you've underpinned it with good evidence and understanding. You’ve tested it. You're not going in there because someone gave you the thought or the work because they were entitled to through their title. Ignore it.

Jenny: I love that advice that made me feel quite emotional because I could identify that a lot myself. Phil, this has been amazing. Lots of golden nuggets and pieces of advice for account managers. Where can people reach you? And who would you like to be contacted by?

Phil: Well, I'm available. I'm on LinkedIn. So that's one method of reaching me. Of course and I'm sure we could share details of my email as well afterwards. Who'd I like to? I really don't mind who contacts me, Jenny, I really don't. I continue even though I'm now working, running my own consultancy in the independent sector, I continue to be very involved with the industry and I continue to mentor casually or more professionally, many young people and many senior people. So I find it thoroughly rewarding to do both, but at the same time, I have my own client base. So I'm having to put what I just spent 45 minutes talking to you about into practise every day and still I make mistakes. Still, I get it wrong, but I get a lot more right than I did in the past. So, I feel like, you know, if you want to talk to me, as a senior member of an agency group on behalf of your management team or as an individual, or you have issues with your clients. Or you're someone that's just looking for perhaps a bit of help with a particular issue in the career. You know, if I can find time to do it, I'll always be very happy to talk. But I'm finding that a lot of agency management senior management contacted me. Just as a sounding board. Maybe one or two ideas about how to change things in a particular way and to think about things very differently. So that's the area I'm operating in, as board advisor and as a non executive, and running the consultancy.

Jenny: Wonderful. Brilliant. Well, Phil, I'm gonna share your contact details in the show notes. So once again, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. This has been amazing. And I know lots of people going to come away with a lot of value. So thank you so much. 

Well, I hope you enjoyed my chat with Phil. And if you're thinking that you would like to test how good you are currently retaining and growing your existing client relationships, I'd like to invite you to come over to my website, which is accountmanagementskills.com, where there's a short quiz that you can take and you'll get a report at the end of it with a score, which will give you an indication of maybe some of the areas that you could be doing to retain and grow your client relationships. So come over to accountmanagementskills.com.

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