award-winning-relationshipsFor some agencies, too much of what they define themselves as comes from the statues on the shelf. Sure, awards are an easy benchmark to measure creative muscle, but every great account guy (or girl) knows real success and rewards come from building golden client relationships.

But how do you judge that? What is the yardstick for measuring truly great account service or separating gifted client partners from process-driven paper shufflers?

More valuable than any television campaign is the ability for client and agency relationships to weather the storm. It’s critical to be able to call your client with your tail between your legs when something inevitably goes wrong. And in the brand communications business with a million variables at any given time, it’s easy for something to go off plan. Knowing your client well enough, having some credit in the relationship bank and being able to quickly and honestly pick up the phone — good times and in bad — is integral to excellent client-agency relationships.

A typical criteria for creative awards is obviously the big idea: the genius moment and inspiration for game-changing creative that really drives a client’s brand business forward or meets a major goal. But in measuring client service and account management, there is no silver bullet or “ah-ha” moment. Benchmarking success on the account side is more about an account manager taking a daily measure of a client’s needs and expectations and anticipating what’s coming tomorrow before it happens.

Creative gold also comes down to execution — how the work gets on the screen, the page or the street — and the incredible amount of energy and talent that goes into making it happen just right. And on our side of the fence, there’s no difference. The way client service teams execute against plans is at the very heart of our success. Does the team understand a client’s timetable? Is progress against deliverables tracked and reported appropriately? Is the idea on strategy for the core of our client’s business?

The longest marriages and partnerships in life come down to true understanding and honesty on the long road ahead. We are in a business where we need to understand the fit of our client’s shoes, the path they walk every day and the direction they’re headed. But just as importantly, we need to have the market intelligence on the landscape ahead and to help shepherd and navigate both our clients and their programs to success.

There may never be the same level of recognition and reward in client service that our colleagues enjoy in creative teams. It’s not as sexy. People don’t look at a fantastic account person and an incredible creative talent under the same light or with the same lens, but we’re equal partners in the fight to do award-winning (and rewarding) work for our clients. And believe me — every great creative talent understands the value of an account person who talks the talk and walks the walk.

So when the next big, creative awards show rolls around, think about the brilliant but quiet work you do day in and day out for your clients. Then realize that the metric we measure by and the way we mark success is golden, but not gold. It’s never about agency success, and there isn’t an award on a shelf that got there without a client trusting in your ability to do what you do.

Originally published Dec 3, 2012 12:00:51 AM, updated July 28 2017

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