Design and Self-Sacrifice
That Was Perfect. Can You Do It Again?

The Eight Archetypes of Account Managers

Calling Card

Hello, fine friend. I adore you.

While I am in the midst of brainstorming the campaign, you are having Conversation #34 with the client about how they need to pony up the big bucks for the media buy. Or when I'm having a stakeholder interview with the ornery CEO, you are dutifully distilling our conversation into intelligent soundbites that easily weave into the user experience brief.

Can I imagine life without my trusty partner in (non)crime, the account manager?

Well, yeah. It would suck a whole lot more.

After working with a range of account managers across all sorts of industries, I've started to discern the roles that undergird the business side of our beloved design industry. And much like the various archetypes of art directors you may have met during your own journey through the designopolis, you may have enjoyed the company of these fine account management types that make our work more liveable:

 

The Peacemaker

This fine fellow or gal always wants everyone to be happy. No. Matter. What.

"Joe -- that client you hadn't met yet at the children's museum -- yeah, he doesn't like your logo for the rebrand. He thinks it's too childish. So I told them that you'd revise it. They're expecting something more bold and masculine, kind of like Harley Davidson meets Eric Carle. And it needs to have red. It was in Joe's tie and when I complimented him on it, he said it was his favorite color."

Red like PMS 186? The color of my pissed-off-ness?

But before your wrath smites everyone within two block radius, the Peacemaker says: "I know that isn't what you wanted to hear. So, because this was such a shock, you deserve a treat to ease the pain. Want me to get you something from Starbucks? I can bring you one of those Top Pot chocolate cake doughnuts." [mmmmm] "Then we can sit down with the comps and chat a little more about what you want to show next round. It's not all about them. You need to be satisfied too."

How can you not hate this person?

 

The T-Crosser

That's quite a tailored pinstripe suit you've got there. Look at that delicious Windsor knot on your $250 tie, that stunning brooch from Tiffany & Co. Wow. When you walk into a boardroom, the client knows that you mean business.

And just like your clothes, when you open your mouth, the words you choose are meticulous. Every proposal that exits your printer is glisteningly precise. Detail-oriented to the point of pedantry, this account manager is going to walk through the PowerPoint presentation slide by slide, savoring every word on his/her tongue.

So god forbid, don't say the "R" word in the internal crit before the big pitch: Risk.

That's right, I said it: this creative direction is a BIG RISK. I'm going to shout it from the rooftops! It's messy, complex, emotional, and going to scare the pants off the competition -- after they stop laughing at how crazy we are to even consider birthing something so, well, CRAZY.

Long before the client is mindblown by the big idea, right here, the first salvos of the AM/creative wars doth begin. No matter how much your creative work bends the laws of time and space with its inherent rockstar nature, it must first bear the scars of battle with our T-Crosser's literal mind.

 

The Salesperson

So very good at tap dancing. Possessing of the honeyed tongue. Knows how to walk into a room, memorize everyone's name, listen attentively with head cocked half-sideways like the dog in the RCA logo, and otherwise dazzle the pants off anyone and everyone involved with a meet-and-greet for your beloved agency.

Once you get into the actual meat of the problem, however, the all-knowing facade can begin to crumble. But that's okay. Armed with the right info, the Salesperson can overcome any dilemma -- until something really goes wrong and they're put on the spot. Then who knows what will happen, beyond the ethos of making no commitment without consultation (lovingly provided by AM guru Robert Solomon).

"I don't know the answer to that question, but I can let you know when we get back to the office and I've had a chance to chat with my people." Meanwhile, face is lost. Just because you're good at selling creative services doesn't mean you're creative and/or that you know how to provide services. Clients want to know who's in charge. Looks like you aren't.

 

The Whip

Then again, there's the account managers that make commitments without consultation. They are adored throughout the land.

"Are you done yet? Really, it shouldn't take this long. And I promised the client that you could do it quicker than anyone else, so you're making me look bad. I know I didn't consult with you on the deadline. And you had a few other projects that are due too, but I went and talked with the other AMs and they're going to give my job first priority. I know I shouldn't hang out at your desk, so I'm going to just sit over there in the corner. I'll be in eyeshot if you've got any questions. Just look over at me when you're ready. I'll be waiting."

 

The Strategist

Oh, how we love the planning whiz. Who else can bring a wooly team into a conference room, step to attention, and whip out his conducting baton cum whiteboard marker to detail out an elegant framework that accommodates the best ideas of his/her creative and account management brethren?

Works well with the T-Crosser and the Whip. Plus, someone better write all that stuff down before it gets erased... otherwise those juicy insights just waft into the ether, never to be seen again by us mere mortals.

 

The Inquisitor

No, they don't tie you to a chair and torture you with questions until you submit to their evil master plan. They make you ask them questions to figure out why they're not in love with your work.

AM: I don't get it.
DES: What do you not get?
AM: I don't know... something's not quite working.
DES: Is it the font? The headline? The photo direction? The color scheme?
AM: One of those things. Yeah. I'm pretty sure.
DES: So where should I start?
AM: You tell me what's going to work best for you.
DES: You've got to be joking. This is due in an hour. I'm going to call the Creative Director and we'll get this all figured out.
AM: No, no, that's okay. You just do what you think is best. [leaves]
DES: [makes snarling noise like dog]
[time passes]
DES: Here you go. I changed the font, had the copywriter redo the headline, swapped in a new photo, and updated the color scheme. Whaddaya think?
AM: I liked the last version better. Though there is something interesting about this one too. Hmm... what did you change again?
[scuffling ensues]

 

The Leader

Stoker of the rallying cry. Starts off meetings with a funny story that gets everyone laughing and loosened up. Then, in a deft masterstroke of active listening married to perceptive color commentary, guides and shapes the meeting through a tightly packed agenda to furnish, at the end, a compelling master plan that will then be executed by all parties in the meeting -- except the Leader. After said meeting, the Leader will then go out to lunch with the CEOs of all of your big competitors to swap golf tips.

 

The Gossipmongerer

My personal favorite: The account manager that really wishes they weren't an account manager. And they let you know it. Screw the theoretical space between the creative department and the account management team that protects our fragile, glassy egos from breakage. These walls have ears and eyes and can gossip as good as the Hollywood rags in Internet time. Bring it on!

The fallout of the Gossipmongerer is most often expressed through the following scenario:

"I just had coffee with X client, and you won't believe what he told me!" [Whispers news into your ear of a distressingly personal nature.]

Temperature of the creative department drops to negative 10 Celsius as word travels swiftly through the IM-sphere. Instead of working on getting the wayfinding recommendation put together for the big shopping mall redo, you are visualizing.

After all, that's what we're hired to do. We're visual people.

*

No account manager I've worked with is just one of these types. Usually, they blend various behaviors noted above into a productive frappe of positive character traits that keep projects on the rails and our clients satiated beyond their wildest dreams.

And before you think, "I'm glad I'm a creative person and not an account manager," consider this: If you have any client contact, you are at heart an account manager. At least, any time you open your mouth. When pressed into service, I lean heavily towards the Peacemaker crossed with a faint whiff of the Strategist. I need a Leader, a Salesperson, and/or a Whip to keep me real.

And I'm not just saying this so my friends in account management don't kill me. Try to deny it, and you will still be judged as a businessperson just as much as an artiste. You can do stellar creative work and still screw up royally in making your clients happy without being effective in client service. Whichever type you choose to be, choose wisely, and understand how your actions will affect your creative peers, your business partners, and your patrons du jour.

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