midnight-text-messagesWhy is client service sometimes so slow to change in the ad business? Creatives work hard at keeping the magic alive, but that’s not so easy in account management, right?

We’ve all been there. You send the client a spreadsheet with line items to jointly review in a weekly status meeting. You buy them a cocktail at the obligatory monthly happy hour as a way to connect. Or worse still, you snag the agency tickets and treat them to a big game. If any of this is you, you’re not trying hard enough. Not anymore.

Times — and expectations — have changed. Competition has, too. We have to be more than account people for our clients — or someone else will. We’re more than just the gatekeepers to the creative and media departments. It’s up to us to really become an access point: the client’s always-on fast track to what's cool and why, to what’s breaking and when.

It’s time for account teams to cross-pollinate data for our clients. To witness, filter and identify the trends, technologies and business models we’re all exposed to day in and day out, bringing our clients the perfect seed of information to make them smarter and their businesses more effective. And insight is key. Clients are too busy, too distracted or simply too exhausted to read trade media, industry reports and whitepapers. That’s where the account manager steps in to analyze and synthesize news that clients can use to stay one step ahead.

I tell my team regularly that we can be the best part of a client’s day, and our meetings with them must reflect that fact. The truth is that it is much bigger than that. It’s not about the project at hand or the line items on the sheet. It’s about integrating into our client’s way of doing business, becoming part of their routine and adding value way beyond our individual roles.

Content is critical, obviously, but so is the means of communicating. Think about how your clients ingest information, where they are and what they find relevant and helpful. As account people, we have to adapt our communication styles to mirror what the times demand. We must hit them where they are (mobile, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.) and provide the news, tips, advice, check-ins and other content that they sometimes don’t even know they’re looking for. And remember, it’s not all about work either — a great account person is a source for the next cool app, a killer download or a breaking deal for a client in their downtime.

Watch their communication behavior patterns too, and get ready to mirror them. Are clients on their phones sending text messages during meetings? Are they firing you emails at midnight? Do they repeatedly call you on their drive home? Once you’ve learned their patterns, here’s the tricky part: adapt your style to meet theirs. If they’re text fiends, send them messages to keep them in the loop during the week, even if you don’t text very often. If they only call you on their drive home, make sure you have given them everything they need to communicate with you in a form that is optimized for their mobile device. It sounds simple, but it’s amazingly effective.

In doing all of this — collating cool trends, firing off texts at all hours of the day and night and anticipating client needs before they’re known — we cannot lose sight of our own needs. Our need to be trusted, produce great work and earn a fair profit.

Great work takes time and needs to be planned and executed meticulously. The ripple effect of not doing so can be catastrophic. If you can’t protect your needs, you may as well not implement any client contact improvements at all. Your relationship is already dead.

If you’re doing all of this correctly, you’ve made it extremely difficult for your client to leave you. No guarantees, of course, but help a client by keeping them informed, current, cool and operating on a higher level, and you should have a long, happy relationship that’s more meaningful than the monthly martini or the weekly list of to-do’s.

And when it’s over, well, there’s something to be said for a 14-year-old Highland at that happy hour too.

Originally published Aug 20, 2012 1:00:19 AM, updated December 02 2014