Out with the old roles, and in with a fresh approach to streamlined service
Significant changes to internal team structures have improved business, delivering greater value to clients, and a richer and more fulfilling work experience for our team across digital marketing services and public relations. Judith Middleton tells the story of how internal change has borne external results.
The shift came about as a result of two insights. The first was that some of the roles we need to play as PR and digital marketing professionals are contradictory. Sometimes it’s all about commercials or industry depth of knowledge, media expertise and risk mitigation, and sometimes it’s about metrics, spreadsheets and deep attention to detail.
Secondly, the conventional account executive, account manager or account director roles were just not serving us or our people and our culture demanded that we support our employees’ strengths rather than correct their weaknesses.
Our breakthrough came when we recognised we’d been confusing the jobs that needed to be done, with the people who needed to do them. We took a step back to reconsider what our clients needed from us, and settled on four roles: the connector, the holder of accountability, the implementer, and the administrator. These roles are sometimes straddled for optimum learning, exposure to new opportunities and for knowledge sharing with new team members, but they always drive key requirements by the person best at the specific role.
The connector is responsible for tending relationships, not only with clients, but also with external stakeholders such as media and suppliers. When there’s a tough conversation to be had, that’s a connector task. This role is a buffer between client and the implementation role; it needs commercial acumen, emotional intelligence, strong boundaries and maturity to handle successfully.
This would typically be an account director role but would sometimes need the input of the CEO or managing director, and there’s no reason a good account manager couldn’t take some of it on. Pragmatism, experience and rich consultation is required to find the best solutions for the business, the clients and the team.
The holder of accountability is the role we step into when we’re being the client’s champion or advocate. It involves asking questions such as: ‘Are we delivering what we promised?’ ‘How do we achieve exceptional results?’
‘Is this still what the client actually needs?’ ‘Are we providing the best solution for the client’s business objective?’ ‘Are our team and suppliers working effectively and achieving excellence?’
This is a management and strategic role that requires experience, foresight and an ability to step back from the daily grind and see the larger picture. It can be played at the account director or senior account manager level and tends to suit A-types who, even if they’re not connectors themselves, need to work closely with connectors. This role requires excellent project management skills and a strong sense of what is required to drive and motivate teams to deliver irrefutable return on investment for clients.
In the implementer role, we are delivering the work we promise: producing quality content, arranging interviews, establishing relationships with media and suppliers, creating briefs, managing online campaigns, monitoring the competitors and analysing the overall success. This is the role where we need high energy and tight focus, typically carried out at the account manager level, but very often supported by an eager intern or graduate who has shown a passion for certain elements of delivery.
This role is the cornerstone of success and cannot be done without the guidance and support of the accountability or connector role, and in most instances without the administrative role either.
The administrator is the role in which one holds the admin, reporting and project management tightly together, prepares WIPS and submits reports, creates schedules, manages deadlines, checks Service-Level-Agreements and makes sure all is accurate and up to date. It takes patience and careful attention to detail, which isn’t always the strength of the implementer or accountability roles. It is optimally suited to a strong personality who is highly dependable and can mobilise the team to get what needs to be done completed, on time and per the client’s requirements.
The challenge comes when we confuse a hierarchy of experience with personal skills and characteristics. It won’t be a surprise to anyone if we point out that people who are fantastic in administration roles are often less brilliant at connection, and that enthusiastic connectors procrastinate to avoid administration tasks. This should not be the reason an account manager is not promoted or encouraged to deliver excellence to their client base. Our challenge is to drive a strengths-based methodology and remove the shackles of old school layering with limiting potential.
We’ve reorganised our teams to redistribute these roles to the people who are best suited to them and we’ve arranged the work differently to better match peoples’ skills and personalities.
On the whole, each staff member is working with more clients, but doing a smaller range of tasks for each of them, spending more time on what they love and are good at, and less time on what they’re weakest at. And with the implementation and administration happening more efficiently, senior staff are freed up to do more connecting. Top management should never be too busy to spend time with even the smallest client, not only because they deserve it, but also because it’s during those gatherings that we get the feedback that helps develop new products, keeps strategies on course and works towards global best practice.
The result? Truly multifunctional teams that consistently deliver the collective best we’re capable of offering, on every front, are serving our clients. We’re communicating better with each other despite our people being in three different cities; the business is less siloed; meeting times have halved and our work is bringing us more delight than ever before.