So, you've taken that "leap of faith" and instituted Account Management into the Creative Services team. Now what? What does this transition look like? How is it different than functional managers and you leading customer service? Well, this is what you can expect--and plan for.
The Creative Services Department Will Be Different
Previously, you, the functional managers, and some senior designers "wore the hats" of customer service along with their design--and leadership responsibilities. With Account Management, the customer service function is being consolidated. That means the other functions, e.g., design, video, web, will also be consolidated. The advent of Account Management means specialization of roles and positions the Creative Services department for further growth and to serve more customers at the higher levels.
So, what does this mean for the Creative Leader who is used to considerable customer interaction, in addition to educating the team and customers on the importance of design quality and brand? It means his or her role evolves as well.
Account Management will Expand Your Reach
Hopefully, you were able to hire one or two account managers who have an agency background so the learning curve and frame of reference for an agency model is in place. This will help you teach the concept of an agency model across the broader team as these hires will already understand that concept. The Account Managers will actually bring you ideas for improvement.
The core role of Account Managers is to understand clients' needs and ensure they are being met. As Creative Leader, you and your senior team probably performed that role previously. With Account Management in place, you now have more people focusing on that function--making your reach throughout the company that much greater. With a greater number of individuals performing that client outreach and customer care function, you can be twice as productive. Account Management provides a greater depth of customer care and increases awareness of Creative Services' function and benefits--both things the Creative Leader and others were doing--and still will to some degree.
Account Management Will Provide a Greater Depth of Service
Account Managers bring a business perspective to the team. Rather than focusing of design quality and brand alone, the perspective now is the clients' business needs. What are the business goals that they are trying to achieve? The Account Managers use the creative tools that Creative Services offers to meet those business goals. Using a Creative Brief to determine target audience, past communications, competitors' practices, the Account Manager (and for larger projects, part of the design and writing team) can get the information so the creative team can develop more on-target campaigns the first time. Account Managers can then follow-up on the business results, and plan the next campaign for improvement.
Lay the Foundation
Of course, to put this new and improved model into action, you must lay the foundation. Account Managers must not only understand the agency model concept and what constitutes good customer service, but they must also understand the clients' history, preferences, business along with the culture of the organization--what approach is best, internal politics, etc. It is the Creative Leader's responsibility to lay that foundation. In transitioning from the old model of "many hats" to specialization, the Creative Leader will need to identify the "top" clients with volume and openness to a new model. Set the timeline and target accounts to transition. Save the really large ones until later and the smaller ones with more production work should not be addressed initially.
You will need to set up meetings in person to introduce and transition customer care to the Account Managers. You will need to be in the "background" coaching them on each client's preferences and idiosyncrasies. As time continues, you will be less involved in the day-to-day interactions as those are transitioned to the Account Managers. You will still, from a client perspective, need to be available for any questions or concerns clients may have during the transition. But remember: continue to support the Account Management model...no going back! Let clients know that this is the right model and to hang in there and coach Account Managers to be successful. Account Management is not an overnight success. You will need at least 6-12 months to measure the impact across the organization.
Your New Focus
So, now that you are performing more of a coaching role, and not as involved in daily client contact, now what? Creative Leaders will still need to support the larger campaigns with the larger, highly-visible clients. Account Managers will need to learn from your leadership. It will also help them, the clients, and the company be successful. Only focusing your talents and time on the more visible and strategic projects, will allow you to have more impact where it's needed. The day-to-day client activities can be handled by the Account Managers with more in-depth focus than you and your functional managers could ever do alone (or may even want to).
You will also now focus your attention on developing design and creative staff, their skills, and creative products. With your focus on coaching and management, creative services will "go to the next level" to improve the quality and depth of value to the company. Due to the "new and improved" nature of creative services, you may be able to make the argument to management that your team can now handle and perform creative functions that were previously outsourced to an agency, saving the company thousands of dollars--a step that will help management take notice and increase Creative Services' value to the organization. Showing management that your department can fiscally contribute to the overall organization's bottom line, will allow management to have a different perspective of your team, positioning you in their minds as a group to invest in, e.g., more staff, salaries, equipment.
It is a transition, but if you stick with it and allow the Account Managers to "own" the client function , your team will be positioned for further growth and more respect within your organization.
Join us for our Fall CreativeExecs Roundtable Series to discuss the art of managing creatives--we'll be in Atlanta; Bethesda, MD; Chicago; Dallas; East Rutherford, NJ; and Philadelphia. View dates and more information.
Cella Consultant Susan Hunnicutt is an expert in using marketing and communications to achieve business objectives. She works with organizational leaders to assess their needs, determine their goals, analyze their resources and develop an action plan and recommendations to meet these goals. Susan's value proposition is taking a growing in-house creative team "to the next level," not only in metrics but also in systems and processes, quality control and increasing the number of high-profile and quality client projects.