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Account Management Deadly Sins

Question: What are the worst mistakes you can make as an account person?

Answer: Unfortunately, account managers are often evaluated like  gymnastics or diving competitions. By that I mean your evaluation as an account person is too often determined by the mistakes you’ve made, rather than the value you contribute.

So, in an effort to avoid making big mistakes, here are some of the worst ones not to make:

Forgetting to deliver on a commitment to a client.

Whether it’s not returning a phone call, missing a meeting or not making a promised due date, all of these not only are rude, but send a signal to the client that his business is less important to you than other things.  It is important that the client always feels that his business and related tasks are one of your top priorities.

Client thinks that you’re recommending an ad/campaign to win awards for the agency instead of being right for his business.

You need to make sure that the client feels that you “get” his business and what it needs. You don’t ever want him to question your priorities. If he does, you also risk having your credibility questioned.

Client catches you in a lie.

Don’t do this! Tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do (and easier to remember). If you lie or stretch the truth, only bad things can come of it. You make the client angry, you’ll lose credibility and you make the agency look bad.

Failure to keep your boss informed (about the good and the bad).

It’s not necessary that you tell your supervisor everything, but you should use your judgment to determine what he needs to know. You never want to have your boss be in the position of not knowing something he should know when he is talking to the client. It also enables your boss to be appropriately proactive.

“Dissing” the agency to the client.

Trying to get on the client’s good side by “dissing” the agency is a bad idea (even if the client is in agreement). If you do this, in the long-term the client is likely to form a negative opinion of you and the agency. Try to be a “glass half-full, not a glass half-empty” kind of account person.

Overpromising and underdelivering.

We always want to be in the position of exceeding the client’s expectations. If we oversell and set expectations unrealistically high, we look bad as an agency and start to erode our credibility with the client if we don’t live up to our promise.

Making your client look bad in front of his boss.

There is little or nothing to be gained by making your client look bad in front of his boss.  It’s a good way to get the agency fired and even if that doesn’t happen, the client will never forget it. And the client’s boss is likely to disapprove of the behavior. Strive for the opposite. Make your client look like a hero in front of his boss. It’s likely to pay dividends in the long run.

Not being straightforward to the agency about how the client really feels.

Don’t fudge or soften how the client feels in order to spare people’s feelings at the agency. First, it wastes valuable time. Second, it can result in the wrong work being done. Third, you’ll lose credibility internally, especially with your creative teams.

Taking personal credit instead of crediting the agency teams.

Besides being wrong (and selfish), this behavior works against our objective of having the client believe that the agency is indispensable, not any one individual. While clients will always gravitate to specific people on the account, we need to make sure that they feel great about the entire agency so they do not get worried when we have to make a personnel change.

Bad-mouthing the client.

Irrespective of client behavior or decisions, it is never a good idea to dis the client back at the agency. It sets a bad example for junior people. It creates poor morale. And, if it ever gets back to the client, it runs the risk of disastrous repercussions.

Many years ago, on my first day in the agency business as an assistant AE, my management supervisor told me I couldn’t earn “points” by doing a good job, I could only lose points by messing up.”

While that helped me learn to think defensively, I don’t agree with the conclusion.

Account management can and should add real value to the client relationship and the quality of our product. Knowing what mistakes to avoid, can help maintain a strong and complete relationship with the client that can last a long time.



Bruce Kelley

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