What is the Client Actually Buying?
An upside to spending too much time in advertising is the number of quotes related to the business that I come across. I save them. My favorites are the ones that can be applied to non-advertising settings. I like what Lee Clow, TBWA’s creative director, has said, “Listen real hard to the smartest guy in the room before you go trying to prove how smart you are.”  Or Joe Crowley, Crowley-Webb: “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” Conversely, I sometimes find a quote from another field that works really well for an ad agency.

James Beard, the famous chef person, had a great comment about service. “There are great restaurants, good restaurants, and poor restaurants. No restaurant is any better than the performance you can extract from it by knowing the owner.” Took me a couple of reads to break that down, but it really has a lot of application to pretty much any group you can think of where service is defined by the relationship.

I was thinking specifically of the average good ad agency. No doubt knowing the owner will generally ensure a full measure of priority service. But in a regional or national level shop, knowing the owner likely isn’t practical. More practical than knowing the owner is knowing who owns the relationship.

Look to the account service director.  Not always, but often, the best run shops will designate the account service director to be responsible for the agency-client relationship. Regardless of who the assigned account manager is, knowing the director of account service can be as good as knowing the owner—maybe even better.

Recently, Robert Solomon in his Adventures in Client Service blog, posted a comment from ADWEEK about Account Service titled Why Client Service Should Be One of Your Agency’s Key Competitive Advantages. The article said: We often write about chief creatives, CEOs and brilliant strategists. Today, the unsung heroes of this industry get their due: account service directors. A great account service director nurtures relationships between clients and agencies, helping manage expectations for clients while also effectively translating the clients’ needs to the agency team staffing the account.

And here’s the bigger point. Early on, while still on the client side, I worked with my employer’s designated advertising agency, whose account managers, including the client service director, were little more than salespeople. It so happened in seeking a new agency, I came across Dick Day and Healey Schutte & Comstock. Moving forward, Dick Day and his group of account managers became my standard for what Account Service should be. We hired HS&C—but not because of their great creative, insightful research or clever media planning. We hired them following a first meeting, because of their Director of Account Service.  Before I ever saw any creative concepts, or media planning, I was presented with what HS&C thought were my company’s strengths and weaknesses, in a thorough competitive analysis.

It wasn’t their ability to deliver great creative and produce slick direct mail.  It was their ability to analyze, connect and solve problems.  The greatest service the agency was selling us was their intellect.

A quote from James Quinn, professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of management pulls it together: All growth will come from intellectually based services. Quality products and value pricing will only serve to maintain a static position.”