Should senior-level agency execs spend most of their time on client work?

Now, more than ever, having senior-level executives deeply involved in client work is vital.

Yes

Amy Binder, CEO, RF|Binder
Binder has nearly 30 years of experience in PR. Prior to RF|Binder, she was president of Ruder Finn Americas.

Now, more than ever, having senior-level executives deeply involved in client work is vital. The rapid changes of our industry through factors such as digital and social media have increased the need for the expertise of top executives.

An agency can only succeed if its clients succeed. The best way to accomplish this is by ensuring the best creative thinking goes to help clients solve their problems.

Too often, a consultancy will trot out its big guns for a client pitch, but then these senior executives mostly disappear - off to land the next important client. Clients deserve the experience, judgment, and relationships that senior executives bring.

And executives deserve to be able to do the work they love - the work that first brought them into PR. Senior-level executives who spend the majority of their time on activities like new business cultivation can lose their edge over time.

This approach has numerous benefits for the agency overall.

First, having a structure with senior-level client involvement helps an agency recruit and retain the best people. The promise of working primarily on new business, administration, and management doesn't truly attract top candidates.

Second, mentorship works more efficiently when your senior staff is closely involved with client work. The best way for junior staff to develop the skills to become better practitioners is watching and interacting with senior executives.

Third, having senior-level involvement helps an agency bolster its reputation for doing this kind of work, making it easier to expand client relationships and attract new clients.

There are limits, of course. An agency has to make sure its team is properly balanced with the right mix of experience. One that is overstaffed with senior people runs the risk of not allowing junior people to take on responsibilities that will allow them to grow.

In the end, we're an industry that succeeds with the quality of our people and our ideas. We must make sure the best people are helping an agency do the best possible job for clients.

No

Monty Hagler, CEO, RLF Communications
With over 20 years in PR, at agencies and in-house, Hagler is well known as a business relationship expert.

One of my favorite clients is fond of the saying, "It is hard to be a prophet in your own land." That's particularly true for senior agency executives.

Agencies provide value to clients on many different levels. Dedicated account teams with skilled professionals are a critical component of that value, but agency executives must have a different focus: creating an environment for team and agency success.

Rather than asking "How do I serve this client?", the leader of an agency should be engaged with questions for improving the quality of work, making the process more efficient for both the client and agency, strengthening the client relationship, evaluating the talent and resources needed by the team, and, perhaps most importantly, clearing obstacles for the team.

This is not to say that senior executives shouldn't be engaged in understanding a client's business, strategic plan, or competitive landscape. However, they have to approach it much differently than day-in, day-out account service.

For example, if clients and account teams are engaged in major industry trade shows, agency leaders should attend those events to listen, learn, engage in discussions, and gain perspectives that can then be channeled back to the team.

Clients depend on their agency for counsel, advice, strategy, and service. Account teams require the same resources, attributes, and focus from their senior leaders.

One of my favorite Harvard Business Review articles focused on the need for leaders to "create an environment where employees can have productive conversations rather than counterproductive ones, useful conversations rather than useless ones." That is not as easy as it sounds, but if we make that our role, the quality of work improves, successful outcomes are more likely to be consistently generated, and the overall quality of the agency rises.

Over the span of our careers, we have learned that clients come and go for a litany of reasons. The agency remains. That should drive where we spend our time and energy.

PRWeek's View
Senior executives should stay involved with clients, but they also need to spend time articulating and executing a firm's vision. This includes creating an environment that encourages great ideas and ensures top-flight work.

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