There used to be a time when account men actually sold advertising to clients.
The theory was that the best advertising was brave advertising.
Advertising that stood out by breaking the category rules.
Given that the client had spent a long time learning and implementing the category rules, this was not an easy sell.
Every time you broke a rule the client would point out the ‘mistake’.
The client needed someone to help them understand why you were breaking the rules.
Someone to hold their hand.
That was an account man’s job.
I heard it put as follows:
“The client knows what he wants.
The agency knows what he needs.
The account man’s job is to get the client to want what he needs.”
Obviously every agency wants a happy client.
There are two ways to do this.
One: do the best job possible.
Two: do what the client wants.
They are the short-term view, and the long-term view.
In the short term the client will be happy if you do what he wants.
If it doesn’t work, he won’t be happy.
The alternative is you insist on doing what you believe to be right
In the short term the client may be unhappy.
But if it works, he’ll be happy.
So the issue is: happy client in the short term, or the long term.
If you do what the client wants in the short term, and it doesn’t work, you lose the account.
Likewise, if you do what you believe to be right, against the client’s wishes, and it doesn’t work you lose the account.
So, either way, you’re betting the account on what you do working.
In short, you’ll be left carrying the can.
So you might as well bet on the option you think will work.
Not just the easy option.
When I was at BMP I had a conversation with the (then) Head of Planning.
I thought the way we were using research made everyone lazy.
Instead of being a source of useful information, it became a thumbs up or down on whether work got made.
I thought we should use research findings as input, but still take the final decision ourselves.
One of the agencies I admired was Saatchi.
They’d always done disruptive work, long before the term ‘disruption’ was coined.
I thought the difference between them and us was the account men.
It wasn’t that our creatives couldn’t do work as daring as Saatchi, it was that our account men wouldn’t sell it.
I said to the head of panning that I thought ‘selling’ had become a dirty word.
In his heavy Scottish accent he said, “So it should be. We’re not some shyster outfit like Saatchi. We don’t ‘sell’ work to a client.
We lay the true facts of research before him and trust his own good sense and judgement to show him the correct path.”
That’s where we differed.
That’s why I always thought one of the things that made Saatchi a great agency was Tim Bell.
An account man who actually sold work to clients.
That’s also why I thought one of the things that made CDP a great agency was Frank Lowe.
Another account man who actually sold work to clients.
Apparently, CDP once had to present a long expensive commercial to a difficult client.
Frank went into the presentation and sat next to the client.
The account man played the commercial.
Frank and the client watched it together.
After the client had seen it, he said he wasn’t sure about a particular part.
Frank said, “Do you know, that’s exactly what I thought. I think we should see it again. Play it again for us please.”
So the account man played it again.
Frank and the client watched carefully.
After it had finished, Frank patted the client’s arm and said, “No, I think we were wrong. It’s actually okay.”
And the client, reassured, bought it and ran it.
And that’s how important real account men are.
We can have all the great ideas in the world, but if the account man doesn’t get the client to run it, it’ll never happen.
And all we’ve got is a bookful of great roughs.