Building understanding

Zuzana Krizanova, Senior Account Manager at CREATIVE PRO
Dino Celjo, Client Service Director at Jack Morton Worldwide
Simon Ivers, Account Manager, Momentum Worldwide

It is no secret that the key to successful events depends on a mutual understanding between the customer and the agency. Much has been said about this subject already. However, not everyone agrees that, in practice, the closest agency representative to the client is the Account Manager. This opinion depends on the "understanding" of it. How can one "reach out to customers", taking into account recent changes in customer behavior and demands, and what trends exist "on the other side of the fence". This is what we have talked about with leading account managers and Client Service Directors of central and eastern Europe.

What are the duties and primary role of the account manager? How do you see it?

ZK: Regarding our structure, we see it as the primary contact for the client and the person managing them. The connection point between the agency and the client. The person who knows what the client needs. And if they don't know, it is our job to get the information to share it with the team.

DC: We can see that the role of an account manager has been changing over the last few years. Today it is no longer just about supporting and providing a service for the client. The role is more about understanding their business, understanding them as people and keeping good relations with their team. And the most important thing is to understand the environment in which they need to deliever. The account manager performs the role of the partner, not only the manager. The latter means for me that you are managing and servicing only the existing stuff. But if you are a partner, you get to reach “eye level” to understand your client in the best possible way and to help them realise possibilities for their brand beyond the existing templates.

SI: Super simple; do whatever it takes to make my client happy and push our talented teams to produce best in class creative work that solves real business challenges. For a lot of clients the day-to-day work they get involved in can be transactional. Working with an agency is their opportunity to engage their creative side whether that’s discussing ideas on how to solve a specific business challenge or having the chance to interact with a creative, strategist or one of our other specialists. It’s something different to the everyday and I think it’s my job to make it an experience they enjoy and engage with.

In your opinion, does the account manager usually need to explain to the client what the agency is doing or is it the opposite where the account manager explains to the agency what the client wants?

ZK: I would just add that we don’t really want the client to ask things. Instead we should first let them know about everything in the first place. This means that our role is explaining to the agency what the client wants and, at the same time, bring in ideas that can surprise the client. We have to be at least one step ahead.

DC: This can be connected to my previous words. The account manager needs to be very deep into the brand knowledge to have real insight into the client’s business and put this back to the agency.

We believe that only such knowledge and insight can drive the agency’s creativity and help to develop the best concepts. In turn, this brings the best feedback from the client.

Dino Celjo, Client Service Director at Jack Morton Worldwide

SI: I don’t think it’s one or the other it’s a collaborative process. It is my role to investigate the brief or business challenge and using the experts at my disposal find the best possible solution. Sometimes this may sit outside of the scope of a brief or conflict with what the client has asked for. As their partner we have to be fearless and do what’s right for their business not just what we’ve been asked to do.

How have clients changed over the past few years and what are their demands today?

ZK: In the countries where we are operating, in Eastern Europe, which is probably a different market — it is still a young and developing one— our clients used to ask us for team-buildings and gala dinners, events with no added value.  It was only an event with nothing before or after it. Now we are trying to teach our clients to explore live communication and it is starting to bring in results. We are trying to explain that it is not only the event, but rather we provide a wider live marketing approach. It is very important to understand that we are not suppliers but relevant strategical partners. When the client understands this, then you can see it in, maybe, a year-long campaign which comes afterwards. You can see it with KPI which were not used before. Now we say, if you give us KPI, we can deliver better results. It is changing now in Eastern Europe and we are looking forward to more improvements in these kinds of relations. Yet, it is just the beginning.

DC: In Germany we have a very strong event and brand experience market. There is great competition between many strong agencies and the advantage, therefore, is now on the client’s side. Clients demand stronger and stronger ideas. They don’t want just a simple event, but are interested in a whole concept which will be appropriate for the brand strategy. They see that the event and experience should be in equal measure alongside other tools like advertising or online marketing. On the other side, today there are lots of agency options and the clients tend to work with more and more partners to ensure best results in each campaign. So, they are searching for specialists in every field, and as an agency we have to learn how to work, not alone on a certain project, but in cooperation with other agencies as well. In Germany the market as a whole is turning to project-based relationships, this is a key shift in the market. Clients are also demanding higher transparency from agencies. Cost must be provided one by one to the client, for them it is not only about procurement, but also about maximizing savings.

SI: Clients are dealing with Customers and Consumers with an ever-decreasing attention span, lighter pockets and competition popping up all over the world. It’s not doom and gloom; it just means they demand more disruptive, progressive and original thinking. It certainly makes it more fun for us!

How do you correctly establish KPI’s? Who should propose them - the client or the agency? Or does it require additional audience research?

ZK: From our practice, we usually discuss the KPI’s with our clients. We ask them to propose something and then we are ready to work on it and give our proposals which will be tied to the client's ones.

DC: We really believe in KPI’s. All of our proposals or pitch documents include measurements. With our strategies we look really deep into them and strongly discuss these matters with our clients. We find our clients are very open to this process.

SI: Due to pressures within organizations, we understand clients have to justify their activity and measure effectiveness, it’s important. KPI’s should always be set collaboratively to ensure what’s proposed is achievable and measurable.

All our briefs are written with input from planners so they’ll often flag if additional information is required. We will only propose or accept a KPI if we are confident it’s realistic and brings value to the brief.

Simon Ivers, Account Manager, Momentum Worldwide

What are the general client's priorities in the organization of an event and have you observed any changes and tendencies here?

ZK: Again, if we speak about Eastern European countries, for a long time it used to be about price and cost efficiency. Probably even the main and only priority. Finally it is beginning to change, as I've said. Companies are looking for partners who can help them with more long-term strategies. It unfortunately does not yet mean that we are always working with some client for 5 years under a signed contract. But if we can deliver to a client a larger focus on a live communication strategy, even in a pitch for just one event, then we see that the clients appreciate it a lot. So we are building our partnerships based on this knowledge and dedication and we are getting to understand them better.

DC: Besides the growth in digital and media which are obvious trends in the industry, we see that one of the most important changes in experience marketing is the change of audiences from passive delegates to active participants. This means that people don’t want to just sit in front of the provided content and be spoken to, but today the participants want to have a voice for themselves. They want to be interactive with the brand. The aim of our strategy and our concepts, if I look over the last couple of years, was to engage the audience more and more. What we also see is that the line between the live experience and social media is getting thinner. For example, in the last couple of months I have worked on plans with social media managers. For tactical campaigns including the social media they are moving into more creative areas. Say, they want to do a 5 minutes stunt in the public space just to create a social media campaign. This means that the event industry is more and more being driven to social media departments! This is very interesting.

SI: Clients are looking for more added value than they used to. This is definitely a good thing and keeps us on our toes. They expect us to share case studies, research pieces and insights from our offices all over the world. They want to be inspired which is great and it also gives us a chance to interact with our own colleagues we may not otherwise meet.

What does the client need to know first and foremost about the project? How is it understood where the details and fundamental decisions are?

ZK: Besides all the basic information — where, who, when — we always need to know why the client wants to do the event. This is why they are doing the pitch because every agency gets the same brief — what, how many and how much. But if you understand why, then you have a chance, and this is the most important thing, and the client should know it. If this question is clear, then you will have a successful event. It is not enough to just say “We have to do this”.

DC: When we start to work, we invest a lot of time to understand the problems of the client and their objectives. Jack Morton is always driven by ideas, and we propose the best of them to the client. Execution is also important, but before we develop the project we need to know what the exact budget is, discussing its fundamental elements.

SI: Every project we do starts with a detailed analysis of the client brief. This is done in collaboration with our clients to make sure all their needs are built into our response. The campaign cost and production schedule are created as well as the identification of key dates and allocation of responsibilities.

What do clients expect from different countries and agencies working there?

ZK: We are operating on the Czech, Slovakian, Polish and Hungarian markets.  The expectations are very similar. But even with clients from other countries there is one point which is always repeated: “We expect professionals”. So, if we are professionals, then we should understand and deliver exactly what the client needs. Creative quality is the foremost priority. And the clients trust us, they trust that we are responsible and professional experts.

DC: If we have good relationships with clients in different countries and understand them, this also brings better understanding of local cultures and local vendors we have to work with. If you succeed in this, it will mean that the local costs will be in the right range and not too high. Eventually, this helps to achieve the same quality that we have in the home-country. For us this is the homework. We have a lot of sister-agencies all around the world and if we go to another country, we involve them to work with us on the ground locally.

The most important thing is to ensure the same quality of the event or production, be it in this or any other country.

Dino Celjo, Client Service Director at Jack Morton Worldwide

SI: In my opinion this is completely dependent on the person you’re working with not the country or market they operate in. We are a global agency and have our own benchmark to hit in terms of quality and service. Being timely, friendly and good at what you do is appreciated all over the world.

Since the account manager must also interact with several departments in the office, what are the most common and greatest difficulties that occur?

ZK: I totally agree. It is important to brief all the departments very well. If we don’t, then we will waste our time without delivering what we need. So everyone needs to listen carefully and focus on the idea that we create together.

DC: For me the main difficulty is that the pitches are coming with even tighter deadlines. Then the focus becomes, how can I get the best pitch-team together, how can I lead the pitch-process to the best concept in a short time. You have to work with creators, strategists and producers, with digital and social people — all these departments need to be involved in a very short time.

SI: We pride ourselves on pushing our clients and our thinking beyond the brief, which leads us to some super big ideas. Sometimes they are too big, I do still share these with our clients as it’s important to inspire them but we’ve got to be realistic. It’s a balancing act.

Could you give an example of some challenging cases?

ZK: I could tell about one recent project. It probably wasn't the most challenging, but it was a very good lesson for us, the whole team. We were organizing a sales conference for an international company and their managers from 9 countries were coming to Slovakia. Even if it did not look like a huge thing, it appeared difficult to meet their requests in the given conditions. The location was not ideal, but it was already set, and we still needed to make everything perfect. We also had to go to their countries and communicate which was not always easy. It was a good lesson learned. We had to deal with many things, languages and countries. But it eventually improved our skills and expertise.

DC: We are working with a pharmaceutical company and we had to support them on a medical conference. It was new for us to get that deep into medical content and adapt it to different European countries. There were a lot of restrictions, and a lot of legal work to ensure that every piece of content, right down to each footnote, was suitable for everyone.

We are the creative agency, but if we see that our client has problems with the project we are involved in, then we have to help and go deeper, as we did in this example. This can be extremely challenging.

Dino Celjo, Client Service Director at Jack Morton Worldwide

What has been the most useful thing for handling account activities?

ZK: I would add one point that I try to push my team as well. You need to know every position in the company. Even if some backup managers are not there, you need to know at least some basics of their jobs. This goes for all positions — executives, juniors, everyone — only then can they grow and know how to do things and not look for ways to keep still. Even if they come to some position directly, without growing in the company, I always want them to know all the positions. Just so they can know how executives and everyone else works in my team and in our office.

DC: I talk every time about this to my team and people in my company. We have to be confident and challenge the client and make them think outside the box. Not only servicing, but also pushing to be brave. Only if we are together, then we can develop something big. This is what I say.

SI: Being thrown in at the deep end a lot. Before coming to Momentum I worked at a small agency for four years. I absolutely loved it and it gave me the opportunity to step up and take responsibility for projects that I may have had to wait longer for at a bigger agency. You had to get involved in everything from creative to production as we were a small team, it gave me a really rounded experience of what agency life is all about.

 How difficult is it to be "between two fires" and still be loyal to both sides?

ZK: I would love to say that in the ideal world where we are partners with the client it is not difficult. But in the day to day work it is not that easy. Some clients are very open-minded and educated; some of them can be just beginning. Sometimes it is really hard to balance both sides. My team has to be passionate about the project, and on the other side we need to lead the client and manage them in a way. But every time you hope for the ideal balance.

DC:  It can be hard to sit between two sides: to consider goals of the agency, drive its business and the crew and at the same time to understand the client. This is not always a nice position. But in my daily work, as I say, you have to be respectful to everyone. From my previous experience I can say that only a real partnership helps to benefit both the client and the agency.

SI: This isn’t something I find that difficult as I’ve been working with my clients for a long time and have got to know them well. I’m always as transparent as possible, so when there’s a discussion to be had around difficult subjects, they’re always open to chat.

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