Account management needs to maximize client value if it is to succeed: IPA

The role of account management needs to be better defined, and account teams need to find “more agile and fluid ways of working” while connecting clients and their agency team, says a new examination of the role by the IPA.

Based on conversations with more than 30 agency and client leads conducted by strategic brand consultancy Hall & Partners, The Future of Account Management found that the account management role suffers from not being well-defined, and has become “overcomplicated,” with overlapping roles and responsibilities often within a single agency or team.

“It is a structure that implies breadth over multiple accounts rather than a depth of knowledge on a few accounts,” the report concludes.

The report says the future of account management could be in jeopardy barring a re-assessment of the role, with a particular emphasis on maximizing client value. “[A]ccount management is at risk of being not just squeezed in between agency and client but squeezed out altogether,” it concludes. “Agencies and account teams need to value the return on relationships, not just the return on investment.”

Hall & Partners said that the discipline never fully bounced back after the 2008-09 financial crisis, when “roles became spread increasingly thin and the focus shifted and lost its way.”

It also concluded that clients are increasingly aware that certain skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, leadership and charisma are not being valued or developed within agencies, creating concern about the next generation of account teams.

“Account management needs to be about brilliant leaders, not just great project managers. Not just booking meetings but thinking about clients, their needs and able to help them now more than ever,” it says. “The new way of working in more agile, flexible and client centric approach, making the role of account management more important than ever before. There must be an eye on the future and developing the next wave of talent.”

Hall & Partners found that account management is also not a well-defined role within clients’ procurement departments, with one respondent saying: “To be honest, no one has ever really explained what the account management team does.”

Procurement departments increasingly require greater justification for large teams and complex hierarchy. “[I]f teams cannot explain and justify each individual role, it is difficult to justify the cost of the team.”

Of course, this is not the first time the role of account management has been put under the microscope. In 2018, P&G’s chief marketer Mark Pritchard said he would like to see creatives account for three-quarters of agencies’ resources.

Among its conclusions, Hall & Partners says that self-development will be “vital” this year as the advertising slowdown has negatively effected training budgets It also notes that diversity is now a necessity. “We need to constantly challenge ourselves and hold ourselves accountable—from how we find and recruit talent to how we cast teams to solve briefs,” it says.

Chris Powell