We sat down in Berlin with Antoni Garage’s Client Services Director Jessica Valin to hear about the politics involved in her role, endless meetings and the difference between a good and bad client.
“To succeed in this role, you need to be skilled at navigating these situations like a politician.”
So what do people think you do for your job?
I think people have the impression that accounts sit most of their time in meeting rooms — which is also true…
Do you have a key question you ask every potential new client?
I always ask them what their vision is. It often gets forgotten about in these conversations because we tend to talk a lot about deliverables and short term goals. Knowing what their long term goals are and why they're doing what they're doing is key for a successful relationship.
How smart should people dress for clients?
It's important to strike the balance between smart and casual. However the overall goal is to include more tolerance regardless how you dress and it is our responsibility in the creative industry to reduce formal expectations a bit.
Have you done anything to make clients happy, even if it's not directly related to your job?
I think that in the past, we had a different style of handling clients. It was more about pleasing them than working in a partnership. I have heard stories about agencies babysitting client’s kids or taking care of errands etc. Nowadays it is a lot more about partnering and becoming friends with your clients.
What have you learned about yourself through your work?
Our job includes rather sensitive and complex topics with tight deadlines and lots of pressure. In those moments, you learn a lot about yourself, your own resilience, and how to keep yourself motivated and driven throughout the process.
Is there an area of your job that is wasted time?
Sometimes our processes require a lot of politics, which can dampen the creative spirit. There are many steps before we actually get to do what we're supposed to do or want to do. I wouldn't necessarily call it wasted time, but it's something that can be reduced. There's a lot of discussion about meeting culture and how we can reduce it, as it usually consumes significant amounts of time.
Tell us about your idea of an ideal client?
My idea of a perfect client is someone who's willing to work with you as a partner — partners work in a collaborative way towards the same goal.
Have you ever decided not to work with a client? Why?
In a few cases we have turned down clients, mostly because we have not been aligned in the ways of working or on the overall strategy. But these situations are rare — there’s always something cool about a brand and you can always create a value with the right mind-set.
When a relationship with a client comes to an end, is it like a breakup?
It definitely feels like a breakup. It's often an emotional connection that has been built up over a long time, with both parties going through various phases and growing in confidence and liking towards each other. Or not!
How do you deliver bad news to a client?
Always in person, if possible. In today's remote work environment, it can be challenging, but at least try to see your client when sharing the bad news. Another thing to consider is the time you deliver the bad news. No one wants to wake up or go into a weekend with bad news.
What is something people might not understand about working in client service?
People may not realise how much politics are involved in client service. It's about agreeing with the client, your internal team, and external partners. Often, we are occupied with solving internal problems or issues that require conversations, which can be time-consuming.
Which is why the ability to stay calm in any situation is crucial for an account manager and is one of their biggest assets. They need to maintain balance in every situation, whether it involves an upset client, teammate, or business partner. Mastering the situation and remaining composed is essential for effective account management and problem-solving.
To succeed in this role, you need to be skilled at navigating these situations like a politician. We have a lot of leeway with both clients and partners, but there's more politics involved in account management than one might expect.
How do you bring creativity into your role?
It is a good question and I believe everyone has their own take on it. I'm trying to continuously inform myself about the movements in our industry and keep myself inspired through arts, culture and nature. Regardless of your position or discipline you need to be creative and understand the process of creativity working in this business.
What do you look for when hiring people for your team?
I scan for skills and hire for culture. It's important to have a diverse team with members who possess different skill sets to complement each other. Something to not underestimate are people with good energy and a positive attitude. A strong team spirit can take the group a long way, while a negative presence or someone who is a downer can cause problems down the line.
How do you see the role of client service evolving in the future?
In the future, client service will likely become a closer partner to both creatives and clients, fostering more collaboration and unity. The traditional roles and boundaries between client service, creatives, and strategists may blur as it becomes important for each to adopt aspects of the others' thinking. This shift will lead to a more integrated and strategic approach to managing client relationships and delivering successful campaigns.