'There's a disconnect between junior account handlers and senior clients' - comms chiefs

In-house comms bosses in APAC discussed how the high turnover and age of account handlers can affect client-agency relationships.


At a recent panel by PRCA Southeast Asia in Singapore - reported in PRWeek Asia - three brand heads and one agency chief discussed how the rate of account handlers entering and leaving their positions is high, and how often this means the account handler is fairly junior.

'Agencies should ask more questions', say in-house comms chiefs

"I’ve seen unsuccessful agency relationships where the main account handler is one or two generations younger in terms of experience than the client. As a client leader or as an operations leader, that’s a recipe for disaster," said Derrick Koh, head of internal communications, East Asia & Japan at Schneider Electric.

"At some point, we have to recognise that there’s a disconnect between them and the senior clients. Senior clients are still mostly 40 and above, and if you have an account director who’s never had that type of boardroom discussion and is trying to present a million-dollar concept that executes across paid, earned and owned at a very troubling economic time…"

On the plus side, Koh added that some bigger agency networks have started rectifying this problem by bringing back senior account handlers where necessary.

Young account handlers may have creative prowess, but may sometimes overstep into the "radical" zone, he added.

"Sometimes the client doesn’t ‘get it’ for various reasons, whether [the idea] is too advanced for the type of industry, or for the management, or the type of customers that the client has. So there should be some patience [on the agency side] when pitching an idea where the client doesn’t get it immediately," said Koh.

Geraldine Kan, head of communications, Asia Pacific & Japan at HP said that it’s not just about age, but where to fit in different talent in different circumstances.

"In one circumstance, I might want to bring in somebody who’s 20-something and really creative to pitch an idea. And in times of a crisis or dealing with something reputational, I’d better have somebody in there who has gone through a few hard knocks," she said.

Kan described how stakeholder management is key. "It’s my job to help my team, as well as the agency’s team understand what the stakeholders think. How we want them to feel. Ultimately, we’re people. We cannot forget that we’re working with different human beings with different skills and preferences."

Read the rest of what was said in PRWeek Asia's in-depth on how to fix the communication problem in communications.

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