The Walking Dead, an American television drama on AMC, has struck a chord in popular culture. Set in a post-apocalyptic fictionalized present where zombies, or as they call them “walkers” roam the Earth, like many I was interested in seeing how things would work out. The other night I watched as a “walker” in a suit shuffled past. And it hit me… That’s just like one of the old suits in the agency world – brainless and just trying to feed.
Saving Account Management
For many years we’ve all watched the decline of Account Management. Watching that other great AMC show “Mad Men” reminds us that the three-martini days of Account Management has been reduced to the “bag carriers.” The bag carriers are the “walking dead” who lug creative from the agency to clients and back again today. In terms of agency effectiveness, Account Management is brain dead. In the TV show, “walkers” are slow, constantly getting shot in the face, and want to eat the living. However, the problems Account Management has today are far more severe than what’s portrayed on The Waking Dead. The reasons are many, and it all starts with the fact that client top executives don’t look upon advertising agencies as critical to helping them meet their marketing and sales goals. They view other communication activities and tools as much more important. And what business are you in?
Today, account management teams, Zombie Suits if you will, have to cope with the demands coming from a new breed of client: younger, smarter, more aggressive, and more anxious than ever for results. And these new clients aren’t tied to the traditions of the past. What’s more, these clients don’t want high-paid account management teams that just manage projects. Clients quickly see the inefficiency of this and resent paying high-priced fees for low-level work. Clients are willing, and even anxious, to pay for smart people who can have an immediate and strategic impact on their business. And age, or seniority, doesn’t matter. The stress on Account Management is not a passing phase but represents a long-time trend in the making that marketing firms must overcome.
How to Survive an Attack of the Zombie Suits: Prepare Now for the Change!
The more prepared you are now for the coming Zombie Suit Apocalypse, the better your chances of not only surviving and becoming a new breed of marketer, but you may escape the chance of being a zombie agency. The continuing loss of Zombie Suit prestige impacts the way you should think about your business. Clients are thinking about marketing differently, and you have to think differently as well. To them marketing is tactical. And tactical is measured on achieving results, fast delivery and staying on budget. So anything that keeps you from delivering on their tactical-oriented measurements needs to go. Your Zombie Suit Apocalypse Check List should include examining inefficient operating structure, department thinking and department silos, slow response and low productivity. All these things need to go. The zombie horde is coming so leave behind anything that’s not necessary for survival.
Take the High Ground!
It will happen – zombies will surprise you, catch you off guard. The roaming undead are everywhere, and there’s only one of you. It’s time to move up, into the larger and faster growing market of consulting. You do this by launching a flanker brand, aimed at the client top executives, offering a variety of strategic services: serious CEO type work that’s more than just communication, and more than just the branding work that agencies do just to win an account. Every decision you make in advance of the Zombie Suit Apocalypse is an important one. Developing consulting skills now will help you become more agile and adaptive to the changes in the market down the road.
Start a Serious Training Program!
The coming zombie attack means you’d better be in peak shape. Shed any excess weight and dead wood, and be prepared to book it out of there when you see the first Zombie Suit. Always be faster than at least one person in your group. Everywhere you look, Account Management suffers from poor fitness, or what many call “under-delegation.” This is a systemic problem at most agencies. Under-delegation is when you have A people doing B work and your B people doing C work. That’s a killer. Top performing account management teams do the exercise needed to outrun the Zombie Suit Apocalypse.
Top performing agencies train their Account Management teams in three ways:
- Always bring Business-Building Ideas (BBI) to clients. It’s what they want and value most. And they want one at least every month. Most agencies aren’t set up to create these for their clients.
- Offer Value-Based Initiatives (VBIs). Does your firm work to do just what it’s assigned? Is your Account Management developing marketing communications, or do they have the skills to offer VBIs on those things that trouble clients the most? Like daily organizational problems and conditions that drive clients crazy.
- Always do Client Retention Planning. Are your largest clients handled with a written 18-month client retention plan in place that shows the steps necessary to bond them to your agency for a long time? Developing these skills, doing the drills, practicing NOW will help keep the Zombie Suits at bay. You are now moving faster than the competition.
The future for agencies will belong to those agencies that prepare themselves best, enter into new service areas such as branding and consulting at the right time, don’t compete where there are few home-field advantages, and avoid getting outrun by quicker, cheaper competitors on the tactical side and by consultants on the strategic side. In the future, agencies will discover that there will be no “Walking Dead” survivors left standing in the middle. Agencies will be forced to move one way or the other.