Having the experience and confidence to challenge a client

With sales and marketing anointing ever-younger staff as account executives, the need for confident, empathetic and conversationally astute communication - and staff training - is more vital than ever, says Ant Gowthorp, in this guest column.

antony_gowthorp-5340Account directors and waiters never used to have so much in common.

One was an experienced, hard-working media professional, highly practiced at her craft and realistic about her client’s goals and expectations. The other was an order taker, charged with wrangling the kitchen and making the customer experience as pleasant and obliging as possible.

With media careers now more compressed than ever, youthful inexperience is fuelling confusion about the role of account services. Account directors who once had the industry bona-fides for difficult and frank conversations with clients, find themselves without experience or confidence to challenge a client’s statements or beliefs.

With account service teams younger than perhaps at any time in advertising history, it’s not surprising that some of these young peoples’ customer service training is making the jump from hospitality or retail and into the realm of agency account service.

The trouble is, this method of thinking does a disservice to the notion of the agency partnership. Wherever possible, agencies and clients should embrace the spirit of the creative collaboration, where opportunities are explored in joint discovery and both sides get a say in the best way forward.

Most experienced business professionals will agree that commercial partnerships are at their most effective when each party challenges the other to be better. It’s this idea of friendly brinksmanship – clever people having clever conversations – that drives true innovation and discovery of new opportunities.

I hasten to point out that none of this experience gap is the fault of the very capable young people working in account service roles across the media industry.

Those very same young people would probably agree they could often use a few more years’ experience under their belt, but who can fault their accelerated career ambitions if our industry is offering account service jobs to increasingly younger people?

The answer, of course, is training. While it may not be a complete substitute for coal-face experience, training does give staff a sense of preparedness and confidence to speak honestly when engaging with clients.

At Imagination, we’ve set an ambitious goal, to have our staff be the smartest people in the meeting room, not in terms of IQ, but in terms of the bravery, pragmatism and leadership to keep projects on a successful trajectory.

Next to experience, comprehensive leadership training might just be the best thing we can offer young people who find themselves on an accelerated career path. With our industry embracing the belief that youth offers no barrier to intelligence or vision, the least we could do is convince our account directors they’re not glorified order takers.

Ant Gowthorp is the Managing Director of Imagination Australia


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.