October 01, 2008

The Crisis of Advertising, Part 4 - Brain Drain

Last week, in The Crisis of Advertising, Part 3, I talked about why we are not attracting enough good creative people. Today's post is about the debasement of account management.

The following is a true story.

One of our junior account people was hired by our client. She had done a nice job working on the account. The client, not understanding the difference between cooks and waiters, hired her to be their advertising manager.

Within a month, this woman -- who had essentially been an amiable delivery person and had never been within fifty yards of an ad or a strategy ---- was telling our account director what our strategies should be, how our ads should look, and threatening our tenure on the account.

Is it any wonder smart, ambitious people are getting harder to recruit into agency account management?

These days, you have to really love advertising to be in account management.
  • When things go well, it's because the creatives are brilliant.
  • When things go badly, you fucked up.
  • You have no time to do your job because you're usually doing your client's job.
  • You have little say over strategy. Account planners and creative directors are busy screaming at each other over that. Your only responsibility is to keep them from killing each other.
  • Worst of all, you can never adequately explain to your mother what the fuck it is you actually do.
Is this what you got a business degree for?

A lot of people don't think so. That's why the agency business is not attracting the type of marketing talent we need. Talented account people are now just as hard to hire as talented creative people.

There are several factors underlying the exodus of smart people from account management.
  • The tactical always drives out the strategic: Clients have lost discipline, patience and focus. They are unwilling to stay with any idea for more than six months. This drives strategic thinkers crazy.
  • Who's got authority?: Client side marketing people have been given grander titles and less authority. Agencies will work for months on strategies approved by CMOs, only to have them ripped to shreds at the last minute by the real decision makers. This, too, drives smart people crazy.
  • Account planning: Responsibility for marketing strategy used to be in the hands of account managers. It no longer is. (Concurrently, there has been a general loss of confidence among clients in ad agencies' abilities to provide strategic guidance. Maybe it's a coincidence, but this loss of confidence has correlated almost perfectly with the ascendancy of account planning.)
  • Self-respect: Many high-level account managers are directed by client-side people they wouldn't hire to be their assistants.
Account management has always been a thankless and difficult job. Traditionally, however, smart account managers could get satisfaction from strongly influencing their clients' business strategies. They once provided clients with insights into the hard sciences of sales and marketing. Today, agencies are less interested in sales and marketing than they are in the soft science of cultural anthropology.

Ambitious marketing people want no part of it. I don't blame them.

The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 1
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 2: Consolidation
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 3: Talent
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 4: Brain Drain
The Crisis Of Advertising, Part 5: What To Do

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