Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To be in the advertising business...

It was 2004 when I had decided to leave the advertising industry with a strange depressing feeling in the gut. It was yesterday that I was thinking about that day while I chanced upon this blog on Campaign India by Babita Baruah.

It was aptly titled "Where have all the Young Men (and Women) Gone?" It was a summary of the current perceptions doing the rounds on the account management role and of the fact that the young minds are looking elsewhere for jobs.

If we decide to take the summary seriously, then we have to try to understand the causes that have led to this situation. We have to quickly put some structural changes in place so that the industry again starts attracting Account Management talent.

Are we clear about the role of Account Management? Are the young minds clear of the expectations from the the role of Account Management Executive? Is there a need to change the role itself or just changing the perceptions surrounding it, is sufficient?

I consider it a big tragedy that the other more popular name given to an Account Management executive is 'Client Servicing Executive'. Who would know it better than the advertising industry that perception is the name of the game. But we decided to not care. We decided to be myopic.... I remember fighting with my seniors to not have 'Executive - Client Servicing' on my Visiting Card. It was such a non-issue for them.

In Advertising Industry parlance, an 'Account' means a client and hence 'Account Management' simply means managing the advertising budget of the client in the most effective and accountable way. Sounds logical and simple, but do we practice that?

A full-service agency was a farce in my times. Every department actually worked in a Silo. Worst is that we had a department-wise client servicing (CS) person for the same client. One CS for mainline creative, one CS for media planning and buying, one CS for PR, one CS for outdoors, one CS for online media... In such a structure, it is impossible for one executive or one account management team to have knowledge about all communications/advertising solutions available for the client to spend his budget. So, how would a single Account Management team be responsible for adding value to the client's business profitability, to manage the advertising budget of the client? The reality hence was obvious. Client Servicing executives became glorified peons for the clients managing day to day deadlines and other operations.

There was a time when I thought 'Was I the only one who knew 'mainline creative work, studio/production work, TAM/INTAM, media planning, online media, PR, Outdoors...?' If not all, an account management guy should understand the nitty-gritties of media planning and mainline creative work. However the strategy was planned otherwise. The big 'stupid' bosses decided to split media and creative as two different business units. It reduced agency remuneration from 15% to 5% and even lesser. And it made account management function irrelevant.

Apart from money, we work for a sense of fulfillment, respect and appreciation. Lets club these needs into one word - Recognition. To get recognition, we need to add tangible economic value to business. How can an account management executive add economic value to the client's business in a compelling way, which would deserve a respectable remuneration/return from the client? A copy writer writes creative copy. An Art Director makes the layout with brand colours. What does an Account Management Executive do? 

Simple. An account management executive designs and executes 'Communication Strategies'. A marketing team expects a strategy covering TV/Print media, Outdoor, Online/New Media, PR and Below the line activities. It is not necessary that an account management executive needs to be an expert in every media, however he needs to be a generalist. He needs to be a business analyst from the communications point of view.

Once the clients see such value, the revenue model can be worked out. If McKinseys of the world can demand crazy loads of money, so can full service advertising agencies.

With the revenue model of the advertising industry becoming lucrative, the industry would be able to attract talents from IIMs and other top end institutes. 

Then there will again come a time when the ad execs will smoke a cigar...