Brilliant Basics: The Anatomy of a Perfect Account Executive
I can’t count how many times colleagues have called or texted in frustration with the words, “When we were AEs, didn’t we know this stuff already?” Or, “Shouldn’t that just be obvious to them by now?” And inevitably my response is always “Yes, but maybe they didn’t have as good of mentors as we did in our early careers.” This inevitably shifts them to a place of empathy … and reminds me I need to write a blog entry about Brilliant Basics.
Talent is only as good as what they’ve been taught. And expectations are really hard to meet when not clearly defined. So in the spirit of paying it forward, here are five tips that although ridiculously basic, are infinitely brilliant. Seniors can use it to groom Juniors, Juniors can read it and get a step ahead of the game, and clients can perhaps understand why they need (and should pay for) a team of account stewards. Yep, that’s right, more than finger snapping goes into making great work.
Mouse over the tip you want to learn more about by selecting it on the infographic.
1. Write It Down
For Heaven’s sake, take notes. Even if you don’t think you’ll forget, take notes. Even if you have one of those special minds that remembers everything word for word, write it down. And here’s why:
A. It shows you’re engaged and following along in the meeting. Your boss doesn’t have to look over at you and wonder if you’re really listening and absorbing, or just day-dreaming about where you’re going to eat lunch.
B. It makes clients feel confident you care and are taking everything they’re saying to heart.
C. You inevitably won’t remember everything and will be grateful you have something to reference back to when writing your recap.
2. Recap EVERYTHING
Paper trail, paper trail, paper trail. Because:
A. Clients always change their minds too late and never want to pay for it.
B. It keeps the rest of your team accountable for what they agreed to take ownership of in the meeting.
C. It will help you structure your own thoughts from the meeting and make sense of all the next steps.
Here’s an example of how you might structure your recaps:
- Present from Agency
- Present from Client
- Meeting Subject
- Next Steps (with dates due and who owns it)
And remember less is more. No need to get all wordy, we’re talking bullet form.
3. Ask Questions
Write down the unfamiliar words and acronyms (that always sound more like Chinese than English to a newbie) and ask your boss for clarification after the meeting. No one ever in history thought that a question to better understand the subject matter was a bad idea. And when they see you write down the answer, the only thought that will cross their mind, I promise, is “Sweet, I finally got a good one! One that actually wants to learn, grow and do a good job.” That’s a little something known as job security, my friends.
4. Set an Agenda
The AE’s role isn’t to simply coordinate the meeting, it’s to own it. Control the discussion and keep everyone in the room on task. No one wants their time wasted, yet everyone in the room will think what they have to say is more important than the next. Make sure before the meeting starts you let the room know why they are there, what the objective of the meeting is, and the desired outcome … all up front so there are no surprises. And don’t be afraid to snap people back on task if the conversation starts to derail. Whatever you do, do NOT let anyone walk away asking themselves, “What did we just achieve in that meeting?”
For whatever reason, sometime long ago a myth got started that has permeated Agency culture. That myth is that Account people aren’t creative and shouldn’t have to be, that they don’t need to be deep thinkers, analytical or great at storytelling. That they are nothing more than Yes-Sayers and Task Masters. That couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the best account folks I’ve had the privilege of knowing grew more into a planner/account hybrid. They see their personal value to the team as more than just project management, recaps and timelines. And instead, can’t keep themselves from asking “why”. “Why are we doing this?” “Why is the client asking for this and what do they really need?” They pull themselves out of the client’s trees and are able to see the bird’s-eye view of the customer forest.
So when you find yourself feeling like you’re just taking orders and crossing off a to-do list, ask yourself what it all adds up to; how does each piece you have ownership of fit into the collective body of work your team is doing for the client. First things first, make sure you can clearly articulate what the clients goals and challenges are; that will assure you know why you’re recommending what you’re recommending, and ultimately do a better job of selling that story to the client.
When building your presentation, start with an outline so you know the main points you want to get across in what order. Then start thinking through each slide’s transition so you know you’ve got a fluid story and you aren’t coming out of nowhere from one slide to the next. That will keep the client engaged in what you have to say. And lastly, no bullets on a page. You aren’t presenting so the room can read off the screen. Go with an interesting image that fits with your key point for that slide, then command their attention with your presence and storytelling.
BRILLIANT BASICS BONUS TIP: Bring Copies
The rest of your team is running from meeting to meeting. Make sure you have all the documents for discussion/review ready before the meeting starts. It makes you look on top of your stuff and while no one will thank you, it is appreciated by all. And for those in a strictly Green Zone, bring your laptop and plan to project (or wirelessly mirror) vs. printing multiple copies. Just make sure you’re set up five minutes before the meeting starts. Nothing’s more annoying than waiting on an AE who’s waiting on technology.
Think I’ve missed some important AE Brilliant Basics? Let’s start a dialogue of what you think is most important that might not be captured above in the comments section below…