Let’s dig in and compete for top account talent

Re: Bob Jeffrey’s article about putting the prestige back in account management [“Revival of the AE,” Oct. 3]. What a disappointing “story.” The answer is, quite simply:

1. Hire the best.

2. Train them.

3. Do great work.

This piece seemed like a lame plea for creative people to please go lightly on lightweight “suits,” so account executives can garner some pride and confidence. Is this the way to deal with “internal factors”? I would expect a lot more from the leader of WPP’s flagship operation, the quintessential brand name in brand-name building, J. Walter Thompson (now JWT).

I, too, started in this business about 25 years ago, at J. Walter Thompson on the Lever account in the Graybar Building in New York City. At that time, Don Johnson, a strong leader, hired the best and trained them, and we did great work. Back then, top agencies went to the top business schools to find the best people to be account executives at prestigious agencies. J. Walter Thompson was No. 1 in the world.

The agency business of building businesses for clients with uniquely powerful communications is pretty much the same today, with new challenges, of course. Accounting firms, consulting firms and certainly Wall Street know how to go after, nurture and take advantage of top talent with MBAs. The clients do, too. What happened to those great agency programs?

My MBA graduating class at Columbia scored 24 spots in top agency account-executive training programs in 1978. The agencies we saw inspired and led us to wonderfully exciting careers in marketing communications. About 10 percent of our class was drawn to this field. Today, it’s hard to get anyone at business school to even think of looking into a career with an advertising agency. It’s time to dig in, change back, lead and compete for top talent.

The only way creative people and clients will appreciate the contributions of account executives is to have the right people earn it.

Robert Gibralter


New York and Minneapolis

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