Why account people suck.

By Egotist / /

I’ve been in advertising for longer than I want to admit and I’ve seen the insides of more agencies than I care to remember. Some have been really great creative shops. Others have been more middle-of-the-road agencies that (to paraphrase Peter Mayle) are more concerned with doing what the client thinks is right than doing what’s right for the client. But despite all the differences, there’s one thing I found in common at every place I’ve ever worked.

The creatives always bitch about the account people.

Think about it for a second. How many great account people have you worked with? Can you count them on one hand? I’m nearly two decades into this biz and I can still do it with ten fingers. But here’s the thing – if you’ve read this far in anticipation of me ripping into account executives for their shortcomings, you can stop now. Because you know the rub in all this? The fault of bad account executives lies at the feet of the creatives.

Yes. The creatives.

If you went and asked every person in your agency, “Who is responsible for producing great creative?” what would the response be? Copywriters and art directors – sure. Creative directors – yeah. Designers, producers, programmers – definitely. Most will mention art buyers and probably project managers. So do you see the problem? Agencies – and especially creatives – don’t consider account people among those who are responsible for actually producing great ideas.

I’ve always said that when I start my own agency, the very first bullet point under “Job Responsibilities” for every single person in the agency will read “Produce great creative.” Account folks, media buyers, traffic, proofreaders, accounting, HR, reception – every single person’s main job will be to do what they can to produce the best work possible. When I interview account people, the first thing I want to ask is “Can I take a look at your book?” I want to see the stellar work they had a hand in forming and selling.

With the way account people are viewed now by creatives, is it any wonder that creative briefs are as universally bad as they are? When something they create is seen at best as useless and at worst as a roadblock – why would they invest more time and effort into digging deeper? When a creative team won’t take the time to educate an account executive on the thought process behind the creative, can you blame AEs for not standing up for your work in front of the client? How do we expect them to push back when we give them nothing to push back with?

Admit it – you hate internal reviews. You hate having to justify your work to an account person before you then have to justify it to a client. But what if you approached internals as a way to add more ammo to your arsenal? What if including that AE wasn’t a chore but a chance to get someone else on your side? How great would it be to have an account team who could literally sell the idea without you in the room because they were so deeply involved with the process? Someone who knew your idea as well as you did because they gave you the insight (in the brief) that led to your fabulous concept.

So here’s where I backtrack a little bit. Of course the state of account/creative relations isn’t all the creatives’ fault. It’s a two-way street. There’s nothing stopping account people from wanting to be more involved in the creative. There’s no reason to ever cut-and-paste a brief. And account people should never forget that the very best are at least 51% for the agency and 49% for the client.

But would it kill us creatives to reach out and extend an olive branch? Think of the goodwill we’d make by simply listing the account team first on award show credits. How much better could things be if we brought that Junior AE (and a media planner, and a programmer and a few others while we’re at it) into our first brainstorm on a new project and let them riff with us? Would it matter if they didn’t come up with any good ideas? Think about if they did. It’s admittedly corny as Hell to say “We’re all on the same team,” but that doesn’t make it any less true.

And then maybe once in a while you’ll get a brief you’ll actually read.

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  1. Dena De Angelo July 2, 2010

    Coming from the account side, I've always considered myself a "creative in a suit." As a visual thinker, I tried to help the designers get to the heart of a project without boring them with all the minutia. I also felt it was part of my job to protect the designers from any clients who may want to micro-manage a project with incessant changes or input. When presenting a first round of comps, where a client might love ALL the designs, the first folks I congratulated when I returned to the office was the design team. Saying a simple "Thank you!" would go a long way.

  2. Matthew Wyne July 7, 2010

    As a designer, if I work with great account people, I have a much better chance of selling great work. So I want to make sure there is an army of great account people in the world.

  3. Matthew Wyne July 7, 2010

    Mistyped the link above: http://www.bigfuckinglogo.com/account-people-are-muslims

  4. Adam Kleinberg July 14, 2010

    This article is so on point. I'm a former creative who used to bitch about account people now running an agency and working closer to account on a day to day basis. At the end of the day, the secret to effective collaboration is about trust. And that has to come from both sides.

  5. Adam Kleinberg July 14, 2010

    Actually, I take that back. The article is totally on point except for the title, which is provocative and meant to get you to read it, but not fair to account people. But, it is good creative.

  6. Turd (creative) furgeson July 17, 2012

    Account people generally spell better than creatives (except copy) and always get paid more and dress better. Also they are responsible for the account itself, ergo the stupid moniker. All these are facts. What's missed, i would say, is that most of us creatives bitch about account for reasons adjacent to what you've illustrated here. There's so much room for an account person to go astray, so many ways to mess up. Frankly, it's not fair to them and it's an outdated job they are trying to cover. For sure they should all be fired for not being able to do their jobs, but it's because the job is undoable... Except maybe by a creative. (you can laugh now)