Account Management IS The Agency Business.
Anyone who wants to get anywhere in the agency business ought to start out in account management.
Though “creative director” has been the title I’ve held for the most years of my career, I owe a good deal of my success to having started out as an assistant account executive.
BBDO Direct. 385 Madison Avenue.
Pepto Bismol was the agency beverage of choice. There were as many ulcers as vice presidents. But I didn’t know enough to be scared. That was piece of luck number one.
My first client was going out of business and just didn’t know it. Recent tax reform legislation had slaughtered their cash cow. The former Lieutenant Colonel took it out on the agency. Just a couple of months into my first job, my boss got fired and I had an account to run.
Direct Marketing legend and founder of the agency, Ed Nash, called the head of the LA office back to try to save the account. Lloyd Kieran, a former Marine himself, redeployed to New York for the duration.
This was piece of luck #2. I got the first great mentor of my career.
Lloyd had two missions and executed them as if they were equal priorities. One was to do his utmost to show the best version of the agency to our client, whatever the result might be. The other was to make sure I got a first class education in account management. He’d left his beautiful wife, whom he swore looked just like Jackie O, back in Southern California. This clearly pained him, but as I’ve said, he was a good soldier. He put his weekend energy into training me. We’d meet on Saturdays and he’d teach me to make a schedule, to proofread documents, to build a budget, to write a contact report, to negotiate with production over deadlines, to make a media calendar, to stand firm on agency schedules… and on and on.
Robert Solomon, author of The Art of Client Service, would have gladly signed off on this boot camp.
Lloyd was proud of my progress. I know this because he told me so and he didn’t have an iota of bullshit in him. He’d made a competent account guy out of questionable entry-level material.
Then six months in, I went above and beyond my account executive responsibilities and wrote a few ads. When I showed them to Lloyd, he didn’t say much. “Mind if I hold onto these for a day or two?” was all.
A couple of days later he told me that they weren’t bad at all “for a first effort” and that he’d shown them to the agency’s executive creative director and that she’d thought I’d shown some promise too.
Within a month, I was a junior writer in the creative department.
What a mentor! He’d given me wings, taught me how to use them, and then he’d helped me fly right out of his department. Soon, he went back to the West Coast and his Jackie O.
And I will tell you this, I absolutely loved that gruff, chain-smoking hard-ass. Despite the chain-smoking, and long after losing his Jackie O, he is still very much alive, and seems to enjoy the occasional update on my career. “Advertising is a young person’s business,” Lloyd likes to say.
Perhaps most important of all, Lloyd planted in me a lifelong love and respect for great account managers. They are the heart of the agency business.