When I started out in my advertising career, I had the benefit of going through extensive training programs. At JWT, we were all trained on the T-Plan. You could virtually talk to anybody in any office around the world, and expect to communicate in a common language.
The training was ongoing. JWT also had a yearly retreat for selected attendees at Delevan Wisconsin, called the James Webb Young Seminar. I was lucky enough to attend one year. In How to Become an Advertising Man, Young advocated seven core concepts that every advertising practitioner should know.
When you were assigned to a piece of business, there was a brand plan or brand book, and you were briefed as part of your orientation. Yes, that’s right – you had an orientation. In Canada, we also attended the Canadian Advertising Practitioners Course for three years, while working. It was taught by industry principals and leaders.
Today, I think all of that has changed. New AE’s get business cards, a cube, and a computer. Their training probably consists of advice to read some old e-mails, and then they’re told they will have to attend a client meeting next week, and possibly even present. I think it’s training by fire.
There are also less levels of account management to train people today, because many layers have been eliminated. There is less mentoring, fewer people to bring them along, and probably less time spent on the idea overall. Today, to succeed in the advertising industry, you have to bring yourself along. It’s basically all up to you to chart your course. Being a self-starter is incredibly important.
So what are the skills that make a successful AE today? We all have a pretty good idea of the tangible skills; they are in the job description: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint proficiency, social media, schooling, etc. But what about the intangible skills? These are very difficult to assess, and never appear on a resume.
When I would ask supervisors or managers at many different agencies how a person was working out, their response would often be, “they get it.” It was a universal response, whether I asked the question to someone at an agency in Canada, in Chicago, or in California: “They get it.” Three short words that would generate an understanding nod. So what does “they get it” mean? You never find “I get it” on a resume.
AEs that get it have an intuitive sense of how to match client needs and agency opportunities. It’s as if they have radar for connecting client problems with possible agency solutions. You can call it vision. They have great periphery vision for their client’s business.
At client meetings, some AEs are just there, and they write up meeting reports saying where they were and what took place. They don’t really see where they need to go. Others see opportunity with great clarity – to these AEs, the future course is as big as an IMAX screen; to the former, life is seen by looking at their cell phone screens.
An effective and successful AE is not an order taker; sure, they give clients what they ask for, but they are always looking for opportunities to sell clients what they need. A good AE has to convince clients that what they see as a risk can be crossed. If clients embraced risk, they would be working for agencies.
A good AE is hard to find. Invest in them and train them.
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