The Art Direction Masterclass, with acclaimed art director Alexandra Taylor, excited me in many ways. I was excited to hear all of her ad stories and advice, but mainly I was looking forward to sitting in a room with my art director colleagues and putting my feet in their shoes for once. I didn’t realize that Alex had actually planned on asking the art directors to put themselves in the account handler’s shoes too!
Alexandra began her course by explaining to the account handlers in the room the daily torture it is to be an art director, the out of place stone in your friend’s patio that you can’t help but scrutinize at a summer BBQ. Fair enough, but what about us?
As account handlers we are torn, day in and day out. The client… to be or not to be? Working in client service is a funny role, you feel as attached to the client as you do the agency you work for. The lines get blurred. We genuinely care about the client’s brand perception, customer retention and sales. We often spend as many hours in a week liaising with, attending meetings with and talking with our clients as we do our actual colleagues.
Yet somewhere deep down inside we have a little spark of creativity nestled away that ignites at the ideas our creative colleagues present to us. Then our account handler hat slides back into place and we begin to ask questions.
What if the client is expecting more? Why would you do it that way? That’s not something the client has ever approved before…Will it make the phones ring? They need sales…
Alexandra told us later that as account handlers we should ask as many questions as we need to, no matter how silly they may seem. The problem was you see, we were asking the wrong questions. Alexandra turned the tables on us with an eye opening experiment. Account handlers were asked to sell a piece of work to the art director. Work they had done themselves. We failed, and guess what – it was both the art directors and account handlers fault. Account handlers didn’t ask the right questions and art directors didn’t prompt us to do so. It was an injustice to the work.
Alexandra explained that every art director is desperate for us to sell their ads. In our industry we so often have such short timelines it is easy to forget to just sit with the work for a moment. Take the time for both parties to discuss the idea.
Good advertising makes difficult things happen – and almost everything that’s going to be suggested, at least in its initial expression, will be patently flawed.
If we take Jeremy Bullmore’s words and what Alexandra was trying to show us, then we should accept that at idea stage we’re not there to question, we’re there to listen, to be the student. We need to give our creatives time to breathe and expand upon their ideas rather than second guessing and questioning because of our account handler hat.
What was a pleasant surprise for me though was the little light blub that went off when the art directors were shown just how hard it was for us to sell their ideas without sharing the justification for every single element of the work locked up inside their heads. They’re not just throwing paint at a page and hoping it looks good.
Our right to exist as an agency in this industry should be based on the value we bring to our clients, right? So where does the balancing act happen between creating value for our clients and selling great ideas of our creatives? Trust, I think that’s the answer. If we trust our creatives to do great work and they can trust us to sell it (by arming us with the justification we need) then our clients can trust that we, as a team, are working effectively and with greater understanding towards the one goal of creating the best advertising for our clients needs.
When we first began the course Alexandra asked us to tell the group what we would like to happen after the course was complete. I said that I would like for the divide between account handlers and creatives to be broken down. A creative colleague said he would like those walls kept firmly in place. It seemed that we were a divided team and on completely different pages. That wasn’t the case at all.
When I said that I wanted the divide between disciplines broken down, it was misunderstood as wanting to blur the lines between our roles. In fact I wanted what my colleague wanted, for both account handlers and creatives to better understand our individual tasks and indeed respect each other’s dependence on others to make great advertising work for everyone, involved both agency and client.
We are a team with very different roles to play albeit with the exact same goal.
Emily Lyons is Account Director
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