I’ve been an account exec for a year and a month now and so far I’ve managed to survive. In the spirit of collaboration and looking out for one’s fellow man/woman I’ve put together a small list of tips which should hopefully help you out as you begin your foray into Advertising Account Handling…
1. You always have time to do that bit of uninspiring admin
So you’ve just booked in a small task on behalf with your client and the next step will be to brief the relevant department. ‘I should probably add this to our status sheet and make sure the cost/ amount of time which we are putting against this is recorded,’ you think to yourself. ‘Fuck it, I’m too busy- I’ll do it later’ you tell yourself before getting your shit together for briefing the creative/VO/production guy or gal.
Now this is where I go all Eminem and Dr Dre in the video for ‘Guilty Conscience’ and pause the scene in time to intervene and convince you to do this correctly.
‘STOP!’ I tell you, ‘ do you really want fall into this bad habit and spend hours going over every job making the costs add up correctly when it come to billing? Is a few spare seconds really worth looking like a dickhead in front of everyone at the status meeting? What if the client keeps wanting more and more amends and you need to revise the estimate- you won’t look very good if you can’t even find it will it? ‘ and so on…
Being confronted like this inevitably leads you to sheepishly relent, looking down at the floor saying ‘no’ timidly and proceeding to sort out all of your annoying little bits of admin before getting on to the stuff that you got into this business to do.
2. Know when to say ‘I’ and when to say ‘We.’
Someone once said ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’ (Wikipedia tells me it was some Italian fascist but the point still stands). It’s tempting to slyly try and take credit for a project running smoothly or simply not mention other members of the team, this is a stupid idea. You will unintentionally piss off the people you see every working day and open yourself up solely to all of the blame should anything go wrong down the line. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your good ideas and contributions, if you do happen to deserve the credit then don’t do yourself out of some much warranted esteem, it is always a good idea to think twice before marching into the boardroom, declaring yourself the undisputed god of Advertising and demanding that unlimited cocaine and sexual partners be brought to you on an hourly basis.
3. Don’t have your headphones in all the fucking time
I know you think that you’ve got the perfect opportunity to catch up on the new A$AP Rocky album whilst you get down to some serious billing/admin (refer back to point 1 you slackers!) but you should try and keep this to a minimum. You’ve got your whole Tube journey to and from work to power-up back to Anthony Fantano levels of music connoisseur. Having your headphones in for an extended period of time disconnects you from your colleagues so that they have to awkwardly tap you to get your attention and there’s nothing worse than having half the office shouting your name as you are engrossed in Jack Ü and Justin Bieber’s (yeah he’s cool now, so is Skrillex apparently) ‘ Where are Ü now?’
4. Don’t be scared of your telephone
I know right- why call when you can text/email? I don’t pick up the phone to anyone except my wife normally. Telephone calls expose you to all of the nuances in tone, the other personal can tell when you are unsure, nervous or just plain confused- it’s a risk for sure. There are however many reasons to pick up that daunting harbinger of tech-dystopia. Firstly you’ll know that the person on the other end isn’t looking to get you banished from Adland to some bleak island of direct sales where you’ll spend your days doing door-to-door cold calls and subsiding on a diet of fried chicken and four quid pizzas and that when they said ‘this is unacceptable, I have some serious concerns about the level of work being done at this agency and I’m doubtful that that we can meet our imminent deadline’ in their email they really meant (as will become clear on the call) is ‘I’m just checking in and making sure that you’re getting on ok with the amends that we gave you, the deadline is in ten days- let me know if we can do anything to help.’ The other big reason is that you will actually get to know the people whose business keeps you in employment, they will appreciate knowing that they’re dealing with a fellow human being and a beautiful relationship will be born. You will be wiser to what they really want doing which will allow you to beef-up the official written brief and the growing relationship will help you retain their trust and could even lead to getting more business from them- a few press ads could become a digital Out of Home campaign or a TV Ad- the possibilities are endless!
Just make sure that you follow it up with an email.
5. Learn to speak human
The sad truth is that the client that you are about to meet with doesn’t care about your obsession with Neutral Milk Hotel, your dissertation on the Nietzschean undertones to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, your vintage football shirt collection or your thoughts on Keynesian versus ‘trickle down’ economics. They also don’t want to look across the table at someone who isn’t saying a damn word and awkwardly smiling as if they’ve just met eyes with someone they maybe went to primary school with in the street. The glorious middle ground here is called ‘small talk,’ its something that no one on the face of the planet Earth is too clever or wise to take part in and it is essential in order to get conversations started beyond pleasantries. The trick is to keep asking questions that lead to more questions until you get a foothold on the great mountain of talking to someone who you barely know. Once you’ve thrown enough shit at the wall something will eventually stick, you can ten delve into something that you are both sufficiently nerdy about and ride the conversation out until everyone else arrives and the actually meeting gets started.
Starting points: The weather, weekend plans, where the other person lives, transport into work, holiday plans, family and hobbies (not too much on that last one though!).
All being well these tangents will mutate into recurring jokes and casual email sign offs and you’ll be heralded as the Roger Sterling of the ‘Big data’ era.
6. Manage expectations
An obvious one here but always worth emphasizing. The truth is that promising a client that you’ll get extensive retouching to a horse’s eyeball for that Whisky ad within the hour isn’t going to get you an invite to the riveting satanic orgy that they have every year at their remote corporate retreat. You’ll please them for a few minutes before they follow the trajectory from anxiousness to rage to disappointment before they eventually plateau at disillusionment- it’s the account management equivalent of bad sex. Before you do anything make sure you check with the poor overworked sod who actually has to do the work that they can do it within the given time frame. If they can’t then fess up to the client and negotiate a viable timeline.
7. Manage your mistakes effectively
So you’ve fucked up! The cold sweats begin, your heart sounds like the bass drum from a Happy Hardcore tune, you find yourself walking over to the kitchen for an unnecessary glass of water just to have ten sweet seconds where you don’t have to deal with this momentous error.
Once you’ve given yourself sufficient time to get yourself together the first thing to do would be to tell a superior who will be happy to help out without getting angry. Tell them everything, your account of things should make Usher’s Confessions look like a nun’s. Whilst you should spill your guts to your team, your response to the client should be more measured. They shouldn’t know every minute detail of your mistake, it makes both you and your agency look bad. You may have to completely fess up at some point down the line but less detail at the early stages will buy you time and save you looking incompetent. Once this part of the process is sorted it’s time to really pull out all of the stops to get the situation rectified. Now that your line manager and colleagues know what’s happened they will be in a much better position to lend a hand.
8. Write strong briefs
You may be working in the creative industry but when you are briefing things in to the creative/production/VO/post-production team there is little room for nuance and ambiguity. Unsexy things like bullet points and lists will be your friend, any reference numbers would be a plus. When you actually talk through the brief you can communicate some of the more nuance aspects of the job but written briefs require the kind of clear direction that you would give someone who has never done it before.
9. Don’t be scared to put your ideas forward
You’re ideas are probably misguided, missing important practical considerations and poorly thought out however it says positive things about you if you actually put them forward. We all know that Jay Z’s Tidal was a shit idea which is about to become the Microsoft Zune to Apple’s ‘Apple Music’ but that doesn’t mean the conversation about music streaming and artist royalties didn’t need to be started somewhere. Likewise your suggestions might be quickly shot down (in a nice constructive way if you Account Director is any good) but they will respect the fact that you are giving your work some serious thought and the possibility remains that your idea could lead to a better idea which benefits everyone. It is also possible that your idea is great- in that case you’re golden!
10. Remember that you are cool and that you have a cool job
Always let the client see your enthusiasm that you have for your work, speak proudly about things that you’re working on and don’t be modest about the accomplishments of the agency. Obviously don’t over-do it but when you get the chance to mention an awesome campaign that you’ve worked on you should go full Kanye (maybe 25% Kanye actually) and let them know why it is that the agency that you work at is a unique creative powerhouse.