One of the most demanding positions in advertising requires a blend of attention to detail, authority, business flair, people skills, flexibility and – yes – a love of creativity. Wining and dining, champagne, swanky business trips. That’s how Mad Men portrayed the daily life of account people. But what does it really mean to be the interface between the agency and the client, making sure everyone’s needs are met? And how do you get good at it?
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?
My name is Lucy Almond, I’m a 28-year-old Senior Account Director at The&Partnership, looking after the Argos and Prince’s Trust accounts. I’ve been at the agency about three and a half years, and before that I started my career at another agency in Sydney.
How do you define the role of an account director? Has the role evolved much over the years?
I think at its core, your role is to represent the agency to the client, and the client to the agency.
To do that well, you need to understand what’s going on with your client’s business, what their competition are doing and what consumers are feeling, all of which help us as an agency push strategic and creative boundaries to create great work that helps shape our clients’ business.
In essence, this has always been the purpose, but as technology has evolved, so has account management. Part of the role is to keep up with new technologies and platforms, helping clients to identify new opportunities within them. As the media landscape and therefore our creative toolbox becomes increasingly complex, an important part of our role is knowing when to pull in specialists and who they should be.
What sort of qualifications and experience do you need today?
I don’t believe you need any qualifications to do the role well. The&Partnership now interview ‘blind’ for our entry level recruitment and some of the very best people I’ve interviewed don’t have any traditional qualifications. For me, it’s all about people skills and the relationships you build with people; you can learn everything else whilst in the job. As an agency, we want people from a range of backgrounds as they all bring a fresh perspective.
Does the historic tension between the creative department and the “suits” still exist? Or was it always a myth?
I’ve personally always found it a bit of a myth – we all want the same thing, which is to make brilliant work. I think creatives get understandably frustrated by suits who want an easy life at the expense of that.
I’ve been very fortunate to work with both great clients and great creatives, and I hope that I am always on the side of helping to create the best work possible. I think part of a suit’s role is trying to pre-empt comments or concerns a client may have, which can sometimes come across as negative, but generally I find the best creatives respond well and come up with creative solutions that help make it even better.
How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry and what professional achievement are you most proud of?
Both my parents are in the industry, so I guess it was inevitable that I become a part of it. I started out in Sydney, in an attempt to escape any sort of nepotism. I joined a small agency as the sixth member of their team, and by the time I left, a couple of years later, the agency had grown to almost 30. It was an amazing place to start my career; it was led by creatives, and being quite small, I had immediate exposure to both the senior agency team and to senior clients. I got to work across a really diverse portfolio of clients from insurance to a charity to a dating site, so got lots of experience across different sectors pretty early on.
Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?
A little while ago my mum have me a copy of ‘Little Big Things’ by Henry Fraser, who is the most incredible man. He was paralyzed from the neck down aged 17 after a freak accident on holiday. He tells an overwhelmingly positive story as he overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles and teaches himself to paint using just his mouth. His defiance in the face of adversity is really inspiring and really puts everything in perspective. His story is one I often think about when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
How has the pandemic impacted your work? Do you have any tips on how to maintain connectivity with clients?
Obviously, consumers care about very different things in the current climate, and we’ve had to adapt very quickly both with what we’re making, and how we’re making it. With the various production limitations, we’ve had to become more inventive than ever to stand out, and it’s given us an opportunity to try new things and new platforms with clients. I think the brands that will come out of CV19 best are the ones who embrace the challenges we’re facing and use this opportunity to have an authentic conversation with their customers, which is what we’re trying to do in all of our work.
It’s not groundbreaking, but we’ve been doing lots of video calls to stay connected; it somehow feels much more personal than a phone call. I think the same rules apply as in the office, that a quick (virtual) face to face is so much easier than a huge email chain.