by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) To be successful in their roles, agency account managers need to know how to wrestle an octopus. Not literally (the days of that dubious sport are long gone, thankfully) but metaphorically: the position is multifaceted and plurally challenging, as an award-winning book by New Zealand client and agency specialist, Sarah Ritchie, reminds us.
The Kiwi author’s groundbreaking 2018 book “How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager’s guide to pretty much everything”, which scooped Bronze in the 2019 Axiom Business Awards, is described as covering everything an account manager needs to know to do their day-to-day job. At 672 pages, tackling 300 different topics in the broad categories of adland navigation, client relationships, paperwork, money matters, the technical of things, and how to bring campaigns to life, it certainly seems to live up to this claim.
“In our industry, we have precious few professional development opportunities for agency account managers, at any level in their career,” says Ritchie, who has over 25 years of experience in advertising and design, including 10 years as director of a design business. “The book provides an opportunity for both training and upskilling, and a desperately needed best-practice manual for individuals and teams alike.”
The book, which is available through various online retailers, was four years in the making. During that time, Ritchie conducted more than 800 interviews with account managers, team leaders, and agency owners from 30 different countries — including South Africa. Its breadth makes it relevant to the entire spectrum of the communications industry, including advertising, design, PR, experiential and other media businesses, and is a recommended read for anyone with client-facing responsibilities.
“We’re all in the same boat”
“At different times during my personal [career] journey, I felt frustrated at not being able to find instructions on how to do new things, or resources and training courses to help with my professional development,” she says. “The longer I was in industry, the more I looked around at my colleagues and thought, gosh, we’re all in the same boat.”
To help fill these gaps, Ritchie founded AM-Insider.com, a professional resource for account managers across the creative communications industry, in 2014. As the website expanded, she found herself with a lot of useful content — and, while out walking her dog one day, had what she describes as a bit of an epiphany, realising that a book might be the best way to consolidate and more widely share all of the information.
One of the key insights she gleaned while working on the book was that agencies worldwide seem to have been built on what she describes as “the original American agency model”. It doesn’t matter which region you’re in, she says, we are all very similar” “In terms of our issues, our agency structures, the type of work that we’re producing, it’s all pretty much same, same, same. The only major differences are the culture and the marketplace in which you operate.”
It’s a spectrum
However, when it comes to the role of account managers, different agency owners have very different ideas of what the job entails; in fact, it’s a spectrum, according to Ritchie. “Different agencies will put different value on their account managers,” she says. “Some are there purely to do admin, while others are there to give a strategic voice.
“What I very quickly discovered to be true is that, if you can empower, train and encourage your account management team, and treat them with respect, they can demonstrably affect the bottom line of an agency. I fully believe that an account manager who is operating at their optimum will increase the profit of an agency, but there’s got to be intention on the part of the agency management, and a culture built into the agency to allow that to happen. Unfortunately, I don’t see much evidence of that internationally, which is really sad.”
Ritchie hopes that her Octopus book might help to change this. She is also working on a second guide, this time focused on helping marketers work with their creative communications agencies. “I’m taking Octopus and flipping it 180 degrees and rewriting it from a marketer’s point of view,” she says. The new book is expected to hit shelves in August 2019.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.
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