Will your future account manager be a smart computer?

The development of artificial intelligence has been fuelling a question that’s been lurking around creative agencies for a few years: will computers replace account managers? This potential technological disruption was echoed by the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) in a report on the future of account management published last year. It made for bleak reading: together with other reasons, the report warned that account management was at risk of losing its relevance and value. A top executive from a global FMCG group even declared that 75% of agencies staff should be creatives…

The role of account manager has its share of controversy. Some clients don’t understand what it is we do exactly, or why there are “so many” of us, with layers and hierarchy, overlapping roles and responsibilities (in big agencies). The value we bring to projects can be hard to define and may actually vary significantly depending on the client and their own (sometimes complex) team structure, the nature of the account, the kind of team required to deliver a project (or several parallel projects) and other variables.

So, are we just bean counters? Surely a computer can count beans faster. Calculating fees, booking creative resources, monitor time spent against fees, adhere to schedules and raise invoices. Artificial intelligence will grow as knowledge and experience are entered into the programme. Et voilà! Your account manager vanishes from the picture. Technology has disrupted many industries already, it’s only a matter of time before it shakes the creative industry even further...

The rise of technology isn’t a new topic though. Over the years, more and more of our tasks have been facilitated by software supposed to bring more rigour into the process, ensuring profitability and minimising financial risk. At MerchantCantos, we constantly strive to be more efficient, productive, and relevant to our clients. We haven’t found the magic formula of account management, perhaps it’s because there is no formula, or the formula needs constant tweaking to work because each job and each client is unique.

Any technology that would make admin tasks easier and faster should be welcome, and certainly not perceived as a threat. It should encourage us to focus on the aspects of our job that bring more value, such as becoming better advisers to our clients, developing our business skills and know-how, be more agile and commercially savvy. All tasks that computers can’t fulfil (yet).

Let’s not forget the soft skills either, as our role between the client and the internal team can prove essential for success. When done well, our contribution can enable every team member to give their best, setting the tone for the team and giving clients the confidence to buy into bold ideas and creative work thanks to a trusted relationship. A lot of our work is done in the background, it is not always visible to all, but it can make sure that the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

At the end of the day, accounts and projects are an iterative process with many hurdles, curveballs (by definition unexpected), moving goalposts and last-minute changes. Any help that technology can offer to respond to these challenges while we focus on growing the client relationship is received with open arms.

Pierre Vinsot, Account Director, MerchantCantos.

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