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It’s Time For Media Agency Leaders To Suit Up

Opinion

It’s Time For Media Agency Leaders To Suit Up

By Hallie Johnston

We all know the doom-and-gloom headlines about the short lifecycle of CMOs, the squeeze on the agency business model and the continuous fragmentation in the media ecosystem.

Never before in the history of marketing and advertising have clients and brands been as overwhelmed with new ways to connect with consumers. And while this fragmentation in consumer media consumption is hardly news, many media agencies have been slow to shift their client management accordingly. They are continuing to act as planners and buyers rather than adopting the more holistic, consultative client-centric approach that has traditionally been the hallmark of the creative side of our business.

Therein lies the need for the tried-and-true “Mad Men” era of the “agency suit”—the Pete Campbell character who owns the client relationship. But gone are the days when this role just meant having multiple martini lunches with clients and wheeling and dealing new business.

The media agency industry as a whole needs to wake up to the fact that clients need trusted business leadership that will stand by their side, shoulder to shoulder, dive into their business and lead them to new heights. This goes beyond just quarterbacking the day-to-day deliverables, but proactive transformational leadership across all aspects of their business.

Having cut my teeth in the creative agency world, I have increasingly found the lessons from my years as a creative to be invaluable in my current media agency role, including:

Reading the tea leaves 
The ability to read client signals when projects or staff members are starting to have issues is crucial to finding solutions before a small flame becomes a consuming fire.

Be the Robin to their Batman and solve problems together
Sometimes a client is facing challenges, internally and externally, that have little to nothing to do with your contracted work with them. Be a partner and a friend … listen to the issues they lay out and brainstorm with them on solutions. Like any relationship, they’ll remember that you were there when they didn’t even know they really needed you.

Make your client the star
Making sure your client shines both at their company and in the broader industry generates two beneficial results: 1) It strengthens your relationship with that client for obvious reasons; and 2) Your team will feel motivated because they see the result of their efforts.

The refined art of the pushback
The key to navigating difficult conversations with clients is knowing when to stand firm and be unapologetic in pushing back (i.e. defending your team and the agency) and knowing when to compromise for the health of the relationship.

Nurture your team
Create harmony and collaboration between clients and your team. One of my clients recently said, “I want to be the client that every employee in your agency wants to work with on my business.” This client would have only said that if the agency team felt genuine respect from the client. Your own agency team produces happier people who generate their best work.

At the same time, leaving a creative agency shouldn’t mean leaving time-honored client management lessons behind as well. With all the exciting possibilities of the media world come existential threats from consultants and others trying to get a piece of the pie. It’s time for media agencies to “suit” up and act more like their creative counterparts. They have the chance to become the guide their clients so desperately need, or brands will simply learn to navigate today’s fractured and complex media world without them.

Hallie Johnston is chief client officer, U.S., Initiative.

This article is published in collaboration with Adage.com. Opinions expressed in this piece belongs to the author.

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