The case for account management at in-house agencies

The five qualities that great account management people bring to in-house agencies, and why their impact can be transformative, by Alex Walker-Sage


In the recent IHA Benchmarking Survey from the In-House Agency Leaders Club (IHALC), one of many eye-opening statistics was that only 37% of in-house agencies have client services or account management functions in place.

With the data showing that IHAs want to be known for their creativity above all else, and that they see raising the standard of creative work as their number one priority, is the impact of a lack of solid account management across the majority of those IHAs surveyed being underplayed?

There are five qualities that great account people bring to an IHA team in particular:

1. Orchestrator
Whatever the size and scale of the organisation, managing stakeholder input and ensuring the right people are consulted or informed at the right time and in the right way is always more complex than it should be. This is even more of an issue in-house when there are a number of different bits of the business that touch the work and can, rightly at times, lay claim to having input of some sort, particularly when they know the people making it are their colleagues and all part of the same P&L. This is made even more complicated by different team structures and sign-off procedures per department. Knowing this, planning for it and ensuring all the steps are in place well ahead of any issues arising is crucial, as is then being able to conduct the often elaborate conversations themselves in order to get to useful outcomes.

2. Enabler
Achieving the above successfully, and being able to hold your own in a wide-range of conversations with senior specialists right across the business, allows the IHA strategy, creative and production specialists to stay out of the way. Instead, they can take the time and space they need to do their thing and focus on what’s important: making the work as brilliant as it can possibly be, before being brought into the right conversations at the right time. The skill here is getting the balance of contact time right, and that takes time, care and attention.

3. Educator
When you’re on the inside of a business or organisation whose primary focus isn’t marketing or advertising, just how little is known about what you do and how you do it can initially come as quite a shock. Questions about the seniority of job titles, salary bands and reporting structures can prove pretty challenging. In such situations, consistently looking to educate the wider business and champion the importance of time and space for creative ideas to come to life is key and, often alongside strategy, it’s in the account person’s gift to deliver this information, in as empathetic a way as possible… Not often the easiest of tasks!

4. Cultural architect
There continues to be much debate about the importance of IHAs having their own identity within the larger, more corporate structures they’re often a part of. Having an identity that ensures some separation from the wider business can help fuel the creative culture and in turn help the IHA carve out a position in which it can flourish. But it shouldn’t be reliant on it. Given their close proximity to both the work and the stakeholders responsible for commissioning and approving it, account people have a unique role to play here, helping build the culture through modelling and reinforcing the required behaviours and performance internally with their colleagues in the agency, but also with that wider group of stakeholders.

5. Creative guardian
With so many different business priorities competing for attention and agency specialists being pulled into myriad projects across different parts of the organisation outside of marketing – from product and R&D, to corporate comms and PR, to events and board-level discussions about the next shareholder presentation – time can tick by, side-bar chats can be had in abundance, and that once-brilliant and original creative idea can rapidly be whittled away. In these situations, when the agency strategist and creative are otherwise occupied, the best account people will be the guardian of the original brilliance that everyone signed up to, ensure it doesn’t lose its magic, and steward it through from conception to award show.

Ultimately, without account management in place in-house, crucial skills and experience will more than likely be lacking. Whilst others in the team might at times be able to lean in to provide the cover required, in my experience that only ever leads to the work suffering as a result, the antithesis of what the IHALC community reports it’s aiming for.

Alex Walker-Sage is senior consultant at marketing and creative operations consultancy WDC. Previously, he’s worked client side at the BBC and Channel 4, agency side at BBH, and in-house at The Agency at Specsavers.

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