Bob Sanders is president of Sanders Consulting Group, whose focus is on agency growth.
Today’s account-management teams, or “zombie suits,” have to cope with the demands coming from a new breed of client: younger, smarter, more aggressive and more anxious than ever for results. These new clients aren’t tied to the traditions of the past, and they don’t want high-paid account management teams that just manage projects.
Clients quickly see the inefficiency of this and resent paying high-priced fees for low-level work. They are willing, and even anxious, to pay for smart people who can have an immediate and strategic impact on their business. Age and seniority don’t matter.
The more prepared you are now for the coming zombie-suit apocalypse, the better your chances are of not only surviving and becoming a new breed of marketer, but also of escaping the threat of becoming a zombie agency. The continuing loss of zombie-suit prestige impacts the way you should think about your business. Clients are thinking about marketing differently — you have to think differently, too.
To your clients, marketing is tactical, and it’s measured based on results, fast delivery and staying on budget. Anything that keeps you from delivering on their tactical-oriented measurements needs to go. Your zombie-suit apocalypse checklist should include examining inefficient operating structure, department thinking and department silos, slow response and low productivity. The zombie horde is coming, so leave behind anything that’s not necessary for survival.
Zombies will catch you off guard. The roaming undead are everywhere, and there’s only one of you. It’s time to move up, into the larger and faster growing market of consulting. You do this by launching a flanker brand, aimed at the client’s top executives, offering a variety of strategic services: serious work that’s more than just communication and more than just the branding work that agencies do to win an account. Every decision you make in advance of the zombie-suit apocalypse is an important one. Developing consulting skills now will help you become more agile and adaptive to the changes in the market down the road.
The coming zombie attack means you’d better be in peak shape. Shed any excess weight and dead wood, and be prepared to book it out of there when you see the first zombie suit. Always be faster than at least one person in your group. Everywhere you look, account management suffers from poor fitness, or what many call under-delegation. This is a systemic problem at most agencies. Under-delegation is when you have A people doing B work and your B people doing C work.
Top-performing account-management teams who do the exercise needed to outrun the zombie-suit apocalypse train by always bringing business-building ideas to clients (at least one per month), offering value-based initiatives (does your account-management team have the skills to offer VBIs on those things that trouble clients the most?) and doing client-retention planning (are your largest clients handled with a written 18-month retention plan in place?). Developing these skills, doing the drills and practicing now will help keep the zombie suits at bay.
The future for agencies will belong to those agencies that prepare themselves best, enter into new service areas such as branding and consulting at the right time, don’t compete where there are few home-field advantages, and avoid getting outrun by quicker, cheaper competitors on the tactical side and by consultants on the strategic side. In the future, agencies will discover that there will be no zombie survivors left standing in the middle.
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