Five things that make a great suit

In this guest posting, Gareth Collins argues that the role of a great account manager is to make the work better

I’m surprised at how many suits I meet who don’t know their role in the advertising business. The question ‘what does an advertising account manager or director do?’ is frequently met with answers such as project manager, relationship manager, plate spinner or go between … and those are the nice ones.

Success is judged on the ability to manage a process, be strong administratively and get stuff done. And while a good suit needs to do all of these things brilliantly, if these are the traits that define a great suit, then I’m in the wrong job.

A great suit is defined by their ability to make the work better. Great suits create an environment and relationships where the best ideas can flourish. Where they can get the best out of planner, creative, producer, and client alike.

And great suits judge themselves by their creative output because they realise the work is all we have. The work is all the consumer sees, it is what changes behaviours, builds brands and sells products.

So, as a suit how can you make the work better?

1. Love what you do

You have to love ads and the process of making ads. You can’t fake this bit. If you don’t watch ads on TV, follow brands online, read the blogs and the trade mags and if you don’t talk about ads with your friends in the pub and have passionate debates about the work – then you are in the wrong job.

Because if you are here just for the money, and the glamour, then you will either be disappointed or have to be extremely patient. Without the love, advertising will quickly become a thankless task.

2. Know what makes great work and love that work

As a great suit you have to be able to spot a great idea from a mile off. You will be able to talk about it, argue it, defend it and shape it. You will know why it is right.

And when you find an idea that is right, you need to love it as if it were your own. Great suits are foster parents. While the idea may not be ‘theirs’, they love it like it was. They nurture that idea, take care of it, stand up for it, defend it, and go to the ends of the earth to make it brilliant.

3. Great suits sell the work

A great idea if worthless if you can’t get someone to buy it.

Great suits can sell the strategy and the work. Not in the way a used car salesperson sells, but through knowledge, expertise, trust, respect, reason and passion.

4. Great suits forge great relationships with their clients

Peter Mead, the ‘M’ in AMV BBDO in London, once said to me: “Relationships cost nothing to produce but are the most valuable thing we have”.

And he was right. Without the ability to forge strong relationships, you will never be a great suit.

And when it comes to forging great relationships, you can do a lot worse than follow some basics – trust, respect, common ambition, openness and honesty.

Get these relationships right and they give you the license to make great work, grow business, and buy the time and latitude you need. They can even buy you forgiveness.

5. Great suits are great planners

Dave Trott, ECD of CST The Gate, London, once said that a run of the mill suit knows what the client wants. A great suit knows what the client needs.

The ability to understand the clients business, their objectives, audience and barriers to success and translating that into the right work not only makes a great planner, but a great suit as well.

Or as Robert Senior, a founding partner of Fallon London, puts it, great suits understand: “It’s not what the client will buy, it’s what they should buy.”

Gareth Collins is a managing partner at Clemenger BBDO Sydney


  1. Grant
    8 May 12
    3:49 pm

  2. I know I am a douche because I only comment when I have something negative to say, but lately these op ed pieces have been mastabatory rhetoric.

  3. fleshpeddler
    8 May 12
    4:12 pm

  4. no surprise that he only quotes English people. Clems Sydney is completely run by Poms

  5. Archie
    8 May 12
    4:42 pm

  6. i don’t know what grant and fleshpeddler’s problems are – i actually think this is the best piece about suits i’ve ever read on an industry publication

    thank you Gareth i hope our suits read this and are inspired to lift their game

  7. jean cave
    8 May 12
    4:54 pm

  8. The best suits are avant garde go-getters, which doesn’t necessarily make it nice and cosy for the mob.

  9. Offal Spokesperson
    8 May 12
    4:59 pm

  10. 1 vent or 2?

  11. Amorphous
    8 May 12
    5:30 pm

  12. Boss, Pierre Cardin and a ‘good friend’ of mine in Singapore all make great suits!!

  13. The Awful Truth
    8 May 12
    5:56 pm

  14. LISTENING – the first great trait of any great suit. The ability to keep the motor mouth closed and listen to the business problems (the real ones – not whats always in the brief) – then, and only then, can you develop a value add role with the client. Otherwise it is commodity-ville for you my friends. Gareth – are you listening????

  15. Peasant
    8 May 12
    7:48 pm

  16. Or you could live by the gospel of Killin’ It Suit:!/KillinItSuit

  17. Darren
    9 May 12
    1:54 am

  18. This is incredibly old school thinking and assumes a business and supplier style relationship where there are opposing forces at play. What if agency and client both own the brand? What is the solution isn’t ads or feeding your production machine. What if you’re constantly co creating a piece of technology with your client.

    Your article could have been written by Darren from Bewitched.

    A good suit gets shit done well and fast

  19. Ron Jeremy
    9 May 12
    9:31 am

  20. I personally liked the article, while many seem to have found it to be ‘pedestrian’ or stating the obvious, but how many suits do you know that fail to even know the obvious?

    Most are just glorified secretaries, being told what to do by both the client and the creatives.

    This piece may have been slightly useful to them.

  21. Gezza
    9 May 12
    9:45 am

  22. I think he’s made a pretty good case here for what the gig is all about. Making great ads to achieve the client’s business objectives. Simple.

  23. true that
    9 May 12
    10:01 am

  24. Good article, worthy points made. Thanks Gareth.
    I’d say that all those people that will pipe up to hate this article are the same ones that have no idea how to support or get the best out of their account handlers.

  25. Lucio
    9 May 12
    11:00 am

  26. Spell checking copy prior to publishing helps…

  27. Peter Rush
    9 May 12
    11:40 am

  28. I recently freelanced in a digital “start-up” where everyone’s a suit and everyone’s a creative. It was both refreshing and humbling to see the flexibility of these guys. Allen Alder –sorry, Gareth Collins is skilfully describing a stereotype that may only have a few years to live. Still, that’s a long time in advertising I suppose.

  29. Archie
    9 May 12
    1:08 pm

  30. @Darren are you for real? i’m an advertiser and i can assure you that ownership of the brand is not jointly owned with our agency nor do we ‘co-create technology’. Our agency is an adviser, just like in every other professional consulting relationship. Our lawyers don’t ask to ‘share ownership’ of the contracts they draft for us, nor do our actuaries request co-authorship rights vis their financial models

  31. neocube champ
    9 May 12
    3:19 pm

  32. The observations apply to account managers in a number of industries, including my own – I particularly related to the line about being ‘administratively strong’. A supremely underrated skill. I often watch colleagues flounder and spend far more time than they need to just because of a lack of organisation.

    Admittedly I spend all the time I save playing Angry Birds and reading Crikey, but hey

  33. Sandy
    9 May 12
    4:27 pm

  34. Old. School. Approach.

    In my opinion, for what it’s worth, account service should be, and need to be, passionate about fuelling the creative process.

    I’d love to see the brief writing become every account manager’s most valued craft – above selling, above project management, above being ‘administratively strong’. It should be the single thing that differentiates us from any other project manager or salesman out there. Sure, there are plenty of important components to the job, but more than any other element, producing a quality, insightful, inspiring brief that kicks off the creative process should be a thing of pride. It should be what sets us apart from the next guy that takes our job, and why the agency or business needs us to stay.

  35. Ron Jeremy
    9 May 12
    5:08 pm

  36. Well said, Sandy.

  37. Reeko
    9 May 12
    11:01 pm

  38. Nice little article of some basic truths that are often overlooked.

    Nothing wrong with an old-school approach either – seems to have worked pretty well for Gareth, being the MD of BBDO and all.

  39. Dear Sandy
    9 May 12
    11:09 pm

  40. Don’t you have planners at your agency?

  41. About time
    11 May 12
    9:51 am

  42. I have worked at agencies in this market for years now and have noticed the standard of account management is woefully poor. Suits are more likely to see their job as ticking off lists and acting as the client’s yes-man than contributing to the work. It may seem old school and basic to you idiots in the comments but it isn’t happening in agencies around here so it’s about time someone spoke up for improving the calibre of account management .

  43. Where did all the talent go?
    11 May 12
    1:24 pm

  44. ‘About Time’ has hit the nail on the head! I agree with others that the article is somewhat pedestrian but the basic principles are right and the fact is, these ‘basic principles’ are seriously lacking in Australia’s industry right now.

    The standards need to be lifted and it is those like Gareth that have the power to do so.

    The execs in this industry need to take more accountability. They need to demand more from their existing staff, from their HR/ organisational development initiatives, from their talent attraction and from their own PR and marketing activity.

    Unfortunately in today’s environment, these are all seen as expendable overheads!

    Only by nurturing and recognising genuine talent in the industry will we see the bar be raised. Until then, we’ll continue to suffer through the mediocrity and read numerous articles on “what makes a good…”

  45. underwhelmed
    11 May 12
    1:37 pm

  46. If you can’t write an inspiring, solid brief – you shouldn’t be in advertising full-stop. Account Service and Planners alike. In fact, the most inspired briefs I’ve come across (in my 15 years experience in Multi-nats and Independents) were born out of account service, not the planning department. Why? Because the ‘suit’ is inherently closer to the business and has a keener understanding.

  47. Client
    14 May 12
    11:10 am

  48. Call me old fashioned but the best suits I’ve worked with have given me what I needed, not what I asked for. From a client perspective, their critical role is:

    – fighting for an excellent creative brief (aka fuelling the work @Sandy)
    – keeping the process on track (including the client)
    – giving the brand what it needs, sometimes not what the client briefs I’m sad to say

  49. collared shirt
    16 May 12
    8:52 am

  50. I agree with almost everything in this article and most of what’s been offered up in the comments above. We need to love the process, understand the client, their business, what they want and need but most importantly understand all of these things at once.
    As a suit we have to balance out the fact we’re in a creative business that wants to be a professional service.
    We can have it both ways, i think this is what good suits understand and strive for, but there are too many numpties in account management who are either yes men or wanna-be creatives.

  51. Daniel Jacob
    25 May 12
    11:22 am

  52. Damn problem?

    People that hire suits.

    Agencies tend to set boundaries and constraints around the nature of a ‘suits’ role.

    I disagree with agencies like this. Suits can be creative as well. Suits can be strategic. Suits should be able to shine, but still remain focused on their core responsibilities.

    I’m surprised more so in the hiring process, and yet somewhat disappointed.


  53. gimme a break
    26 May 12
    7:18 pm

  54. Gareth walks the talk. He genuinely gets and likes great work and does his best to sell it. Unfortunately very few of clems sydney clients want it or buy it.