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Roles of Account Management and Strategic Planning

Question: How do you define the roles of Account Management versus Strategic Planning?

Answer: Before I answer this, a little historical perspective is in order.

When I first came into the advertising business (circa 1974), there was no such thing as account/strategic planning.  And the development of creative strategy was clearly the purview of the account manager.  The account manager was aided in this job by people in the agency’s Research Department.

Once the strategy was developed, it was reviewed with the client and modified as necessary.  Once approved, it was given to the creatives (who were obligated to say that it was too complicated and had too much information to be communicated).

In the early 1980s, account planning was imported to the United States from London.  Jane Newman (founder of Merkley Newman Harty) is generally credited with being a main force behind bringing planning to the U.S.

As originally conceived, planning represented “the voice of the consumer” in the conversation about how to talk to the consumer, and what to say to them.

Planning quickly became popular and initially most planners were researchers who changed their title to “planner.”  As a result, there was a very quantitative orientation to planning.  The early days of agency planning were more about whether an agency had a planning function than the benefits of having a planning function .

Over time, planning became more sophisticated and true planners (as opposed to researchers) became prevalent.  The planning role evolved to a function of developing creative strategy and understanding the “brand” and its value/attributes.

And, as clients came to have a greater appreciation for understanding the value of their brand, the planner achieved an elevated role in the client’s eyes, and therefore within the agency.

The newly defined role of planners and their elevated importance to some clients had the de facto effect of diminishing the role of the account manager – in the industry at large and at The Martin Agency especially.

The truth is that the account manager’s role can be diminished,  only if we let it.  And if we let it, we are doing an important disservice to the client, to the agency and to ourselves.

The role of the account manager has indeed changed.  And it is up to us to decide if we want that change to define our job as supervising the making of ads or taking on a bigger and I believe, more important role.

And that role, as you’ve heard me say many times, is to become the expert on the client’s business.

The more we know about the client’s business, their product/service, their distribution systems, their targets, their objectives, their politics, and how they go to market, etc., the more value we will have and the greater contribution we can make to the agency.

There are many benefits derived from knowing the client’s business, but the key ones are:

  • It can ground our rationale for why a client should buy great creative work
  • It can create client confidence in the agency, and therefore strengthen the relationship
  • It can provide fertile knowledge to develop proactive initiatives that can generate incremental revenue for the agency
  • It can make you an invaluable member of the client’s team and thereby increase the client’s loyalty to the agency and strengthen the security of the account

This is not to say that account managers should not be active participants in strategy development.  They should.  But it does say that there is a big, critical role that account managers can play, if they commit to it.




Bruce Kelley

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