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Agencies: Do you need an account handler?

Author's avatar By Mark Kelly 13 Jun, 2016
Essential Essential topic

When your agency gets big enough you'll have to think seriously about account handling

Maybe a surprising question (especially to those account managers or handlers reading this post) but it is a question that comes up fairly regularly from owners of new or smaller agencies. And that’s who this post is aimed at.

Actually, rather than being asked if an account handler (at the right stage in the agency’s growth) is necessary, I’ve sometimes been told that it isn’t. Period. To paraphrase some conversations:

we won’t be recruiting account handlers, clients will deal with a flat structure, we’ll save on overheads and that’ll also set us apart from other agencies”.

Not to sound flippant, but ‘good luck with that’! That approach will be what eventually makes you over run on projects, miss new business opportunities and underserve on proactive ideas. And tie you (the business owner or creative/tech lead) up in knots, trying to service each and every client yourself.

Account handler

Still need convincing? Well, the role of account handler has been around as long as ‘advertising’ itself and for a reason. Whether you call it account handling, account management or client services: the role probably goes back to the 1800s and the birth of advertising and promotions agents. Where there was creative work to produce or (initially, print) media to plan and book - there was ‘the suit’. Handling the client’s instructions and organising each step of the creation and delivery process.

So what should you look for in a great account handler? They should be excellent in seven areas:

  • Communication
    - both verbal and written. With clients and in-house teams. That includes briefing, presenting, writing proposals and more. I would ‘bundle’ active listening and the ability to establish rapport (with clients and agency team members) in here also.That’s not say that account handlers should always act as buffers, dogmatically separating client and agency specialist teams. Clients can sometimes be better served at key stages in a project with some direct collaboration between them and the agency creative or tech teams who work on their account. But the best account handlers stay on top of that and steer both parties for mutual benefit.
  • Strategy development
    - that means understanding marketing strategy frameworks (for example the RACE framework) as well as thinking strategically to devise campaigns (along with colleagues) and help the client build their brand / business. I would include analytical thinking within this area - great account handlers ask questions: of the brief, of pre and post campaign or initiative data etc.
  • Account growth
    - which will flow from the two attributes above.
  • New Business development
    - few fledgling or smaller agencies have dedicated new business staff. So some element of the account handler role may be ‘sales’. E.g. assisting with content creation for inbound marketing efforts, devising the response to a pitch or tender request, and/or attending chemistry meets or pitch presentations to represent the agency and sell-in the proposed ideas.
  • Financial management
    - As a guiding principle, account handlers should clearly understand how the agency makes its money. They should be aware of the differing charging models that are available and always have an eye on project-level and over all account profitability.
  • Project Management
    - This isn’t to say that account handlers should also be dedicated PMs: depending on your agency size and service structure, account handlers will very likely manage projects with a small ‘pm’ rather than a formal (as in an Agile or Prince2 certified) ‘PM’. But some PM skills are required.
  • Personal development
    -
    the best account handlers are ‘always on’ in terms of educating themselves (and their clients) about new approaches, techniques, technologies and tools and marketing.

So, the account handler role is a wide-ranging brief with a lot of plate-spinning going on. Finding the right people isn’t always easy and it’s a skill that the agency owner or senior team needs to develop. But when you do find them, they will make a massive difference to your agency growth ambitions. See the guide to help you with that.

Image CreditsFlazingo Photos

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By Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly is a digital marketing and agency growth consultant working with agencies and their client brands. He can be found at Mark Kelly Consultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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