How Business Leaders Create Meaning for Clients

It’s a responsibility and mindset that influences and motivates

Agencies are forced to reinvent the way they function due to an increased influence from digital. Getty Images
Headshot of Nannette LaFond-Dufour

The marketing world is undergoing a major transformation, with technology reshaping the communication landscape. Today there are more channels, formats, creators, data, targeting methods and technology to reach consumers. Clients are inundated with information and are feeling the pressure to react quickly and drive sales. While consumers now expect brands to better their communities and be transparent in everything they do, our clients leading these brands are facing tremendous financial pressures. The impact of this ever-changing marketing world is requiring agencies to reinvent how we work. That’s why more than ever our client partners count on a knowledgeable and nimble agency leader who’s responsible for guiding them in developing the most creative and effective communication solutions for their brands.

As the leader of our account management community within McCann Worldgroup, it is my job to ignite change in the discipline by continuously raising the value it brings to the agency and our clients. This transformative journey began by examining our role, responsibilities and even the title. The word “account” itself seems outdated, as it doesn’t convey the comprehensive scope of the role that’s required in today’s multiplatform marketing world. Too often, account managers are merely gatekeepers as opposed to business leaders opening doors for great work and helping clients take calculated risks. While industries and categories themselves are being disrupted and redefined, agencies need real business leaders to bring more value to their client’s marketing team. Redefining the agency role with a purposeful shift to business leadership is a critical step needed to meet the expectations of our clients.

While industries and categories themselves are being disrupted and redefined, agencies need real business leaders to bring more value to their client’s marketing team.

The mindset of the agency business leader requires a strategic understanding of our clients’ businesses to relentlessly pursue creativity that drives growth for their brands. Successful business leaders must go beyond managing the process and instead bring value to the client in the form of intellectual knowledge, cultural trends, data, technology and new media ideas. Business leaders, along with their creative and strategy partners, must fix business problems, not just answer briefs. To achieve this, they of course need great insight into all aspects of a client’s business, but they also require overall business acumen and an open-minded curiosity about how to convert the challenges of a constantly changing consumer and channel environment into ongoing growth opportunities.

As such, business leaders need to embrace change and build a resilience that recognizes change as a necessary condition for progress and success. Achieving this necessity leads to different types of working relationships, both with the client and within the agency’s own teams. These new kinds of business leaders embrace experimentation and are able to work in a more integrated partnership with clients. It also requires new levels of tenacity and courage in their working relationship with clients. It’s one thing to envision daring new solutions, but business leaders must also possess the ability to help clients understand the value of taking those risks.

Regarding internal agency relationships, today’s business leaders need to be able to influence and motivate. It’s about leading the business, not about organizing the account. Thus, it means re-engineering teams and processes to perform most effectively and efficiently for the needs of the client’s business. The business leader understands the need to hire differently and nourish talent. They should bring out the very best in individuals by showcasing their strengths and making them invaluable to the team and the client. Alternatively, if they do identify weaknesses, they either need to provide training to improve the talent or provide replacements with new, more relevant skill sets for the client’s business. They also need to think about reassigning people to areas where their skillsets will allow them to flourish.

The business leader sets the values and standards of the team and then practices them every day, leading by example. They must be able to bring everyone together across all marketing communications disciplines. The analogy I use is to an orchestra conductor. Like a conductor, who is not expected to be able to play every instrument but needs to possess a foundational understanding about all of them, the business leader needs to know how the overall composition will benefit by identifying talent and bringing experts together as part of anticipating what the client and their business really need and want.

And again, like a conductor, the business leader’s job is to create a team of people, all with different backgrounds and skillsets but united by the same goals, values and, importantly, a shared vision for driving the client’s business forward.

That’s how real business leaders create meaning for our clients.


Nannette LaFond-Dufour is president, global clients and business leadership of McCann Worldgroup and a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.
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