Adfactors PR celebrates the Year of the AE
They are the ‘last mile’ upon which all the strategic counsel and creativity depends; they are also the first port of call in the event of an incoming enquiry – is it relevant, is it a risk or an opportunity? All hail the Account Executive (AE)!
I started my career as an AE 25 years ago this year; so here’s my take on what it takes to succeed. I confess that I didn’t scrupulously adhere to each and every one of these principles, but they still represent a pretty decent aspiration for those beginning their careers:
- Read, read and read again
And I mean everything – not just your client’s press clippings; books, magazines, feature stories, novels, biographies, instruction manuals (I’m not kidding). How arguments are formed, how instructions are conveyed, how debates are presented, how nuance is handled… I’ve often lamented about the death of ‘media grazing’ and I urge this generation to renew this habit.
- Write, write (as above)
And I don’t mean What’s Up. I mean writing; it’s a discipline; the more you practice it, the better you’ll become. Write regularly and don’t restrict yourself to work-related content; express your thoughts, ideas, arguments on paper — regularly. This practice will enhance your ability to convey ideas and arguments effectively; it will help you to marshal and order your thoughts, and become a vital tool in your professional armoury. If you are a native English, count yourself fortunate; in this profession, there will always be roles for people who can express themselves adequately in English, wherever they work in the world.
- Get up early
In public relations terms, 9am (or 8am) is more valuable than 5pm (or, even, 10am). What I mean is that in our profession time really is a currency; the longer a piece of information remains unaddressed, the less valuable it becomes. If it remains untouched long enough it actually becomes a liability, for the client and certainly for the agency! There are many reasons why it is good to start the day early; being ahead of the client, avoiding rush-hour traffic, and being able to exploit or mitigate the day’s news are a few of them. It’s a practice I would recommend to all AEs.
- Stay out late
No, this is not a contradiction of the previous point. I mean that – figuratively – PR agencies are paid to interpret the outside world on behalf of their clients. The organisation and structure of client-side life, makes it increasingly difficult for most clients to assess the word objectively. And this is not a criticism, it’s a reality – client-side roles assume and depend on their brands being at the centre of everything. From the ubiquity of branding in offices to the proprietary ‘vernacular’ client-side interactions, in-house representatives are unlikely to believe that the outside world is not actually defined by their particular product or service. The reality is invariably different. So if PR firms are to help clients to navigate the outside world, we must actually live in it; go to restaurants, see movies, go on vacations and, yes, stay out late. It’s more practical as an AE though!
- Look beyond your home market
The Web, time differences between countries, together with mastery of the English language are the secret weapons of any ambitious AE. There are so many ideas, trends, techniques, stories that can be adopted and adapted for your home market. There are so many free resources – www.guardian.co.uk, www.economist.com, trendhunter.com, trendreports.com – from which to draw. Some of the ideas will work directly in your home market, some will require adapting, some will not fit — all will add to your awareness and understanding of the profession.
- Remember the ‘intersection’
Clients’ agendas are focused around generating visibility and protecting the reputation of their brands – for many, the ideal scenario would often resemble a company brochure with a newspaper masthead on the first page! This is logical; it’s how they are measured. Journalists are focused on readership, increasingly on click-throughs, and genuinely exclusive content to boost their publications’ (and their) profiles.PR firms are dependent on both, but also subject to other agenda – growth, profitability, industry recognition, client/employee retention, brand differentiation etc. Account executives have to try and find that intersection corresponding to all parties’ objectives; at least as far as possible. This understanding is crucial – PR firms will not become successful by simply adhering to client or media requests; the key is to steer the careful path between multiple objectives.
- Ideas and opinions welcome
Always go in with an idea. When communicating with the client (whether in person or via phone/email), teams should always go in with a point of view, and ensure that the latter is based on evidence. Is the work completed to date good? If so, on what basis (agreed metrics, competitive performance, other…)? Is the strategy working? If not, how should it be adjusted? Does the new market entrant represent a genuine threat or an opportunity to highlight the brand’s credentials? Either way, where’s the evidence and how should this inform our next steps? Never go into a meeting in ‘neutral’ or ‘passive’ mode; clients expect to be challenged and stimulated. In my experience, a client would rather work with an agency that it could disagree with – provided that the discussion is evidence-based and well argued – than one which offered no opinion and simply waited to be given direction.
- ‘Nuance’ — get used to it
Public relations is a profession based on opinions and prejudices; some of them are quantitative, some not. It is also based on ‘shades’ of opinion, ‘interpretations’ of facts and multiple ‘perspectives’ of the same. This is particularly the case when working in global environments; assumed logic for one market, may prove contradictory in another.Product managers will be focused on the latter and expect all conversations and coverage to centre around the same; communications managers are all about the brand — sometimes these objectives are mutually exclusive. AEs who understand and appreciate these contradictions and who are prepared to navigate them using intelligence, relationships and logic will be those best placed to succeed.
- Stress and celebrate with the client
Despite – or, perhaps because of – the increasing automation of our profession, the concept of ‘empathy’ is becoming critical. In short, the ability to see the world from multiple perspectives and be capable of relating to them. In client terms, this is about caring about what the client cares about; in effect stressing and celebrating with the client. When the client is under pressure – irrespective of his significance with the real world (see point 3) – remain alongside them and support them. When the client achieves something – again, even if such milestones mean nothing to the outside word – celebrate with them. The art of empathy is probably the single most import character requirement for today’s AEs.
- Never stop learning
The single biggest barrier facing your career is an attitude that is closed towards new ideas, fresh thinking and alternative ways of doing things. Beware, success (particularly, early success) can make such an attitude permissive. What worked yesterday shouldn’t necessarily define your plans for today.
Let me take this opportunity to wish all Account Executives all the best for their careers. You are entering a wonderful profession full of opportunity; and one which you’ll be able to define and keep redefining throughout your careers.