The Beauty of the Bespoke Playbook

One of the most alarming learnings to come from my discovery research is the struggle for some agency leaders to justify the value of the account group, both internally and externally. In addition to redundancy with the project management group, perceived contributions in the strategic and creative realms are precariously weak (among respondents from outside the account management discipline). This is precisely why it’s so critical to start the process of shifting mindsets and skill sets toward business, brand, and client leadership.

To that end, I invested months in the development and perfecting of a best practices curriculum. This 3-tiered system (fundamentals, essentials, and advanced practices) is based on an embrace of the classic, core craft disciplines, many of which have never been taught or assigned with real accountability to today’s account teams.

For example, let’s consider one of the staple deliverables of account groups, the competitive analysis. It’s one of the best ways that junior team members can cut their (strategic) teeth and develop shareable, highly valued knowledge that’s beneficial to both the internal teams and the clients. In my personal experience, doing that work and amassing that knowledge not only catapulted me into ‘client presenter’ status but also gave me the foundation for meaningful discussion and rousing, constructive debates with the creative teams. Respect, credibility, appreciation…there were so many benefits associated with that one accomplishment. Yet more recently, I’ve seen with my own eyes how the responsibility of building out a smart, strategic competitive analysis has been dished to the strategy team, and that’s just wrong. Not only does it rob the account group of important learning and skill-building, but it is also the relinquishing of a critical value driver, which the account group can ill afford to give up.

I was ‘fired up and ready’ as they say, to share everything I had learned through the years (both the right way and the hard way) and begin cultivating a more strategic and elevated brand of account and client leadership that would build confidence and drive real value. You can imagine, then, that it was fairly soul-crushing to realize mid-way through my first legit training engagement that I had disappeared, and in my place was Charlie Brown’s teacher. Let’s call it what it was: a rookie move.

I hit the books, read up on trends in learning and development, and quickly got onto the idea of co-creation. Way back in 2010, Harvard Business Review was talking about Building the Co-Creative Enterprise. In this particular story, the authors describe how “people are inherently creative and want to shape their own experiences.” They go on to explain that “the key to improving experiences is letting stakeholders play a central role in designing how they work with one another.”

What came out of that early-and-epic fail is the Bespoke Playbook for Client Leadership, which is a reverse-engineered approach that puts the agency teams in the driver’s seat. It starts with leadership alignment and understanding of the agency’s brand and values. Does the account group have a specific purpose or why statement that aligns with or falls out of the agency brand/purpose? If not, that’s a key deliverable of their custom, agency-branded playbook.

In a workshop format, we co-create a system of best practices that leverages the agency’s unique way of doing things (and vibe, if relevant). By putting the teams in charge of developing the processes (who is responsible for doing what, how, and when) in a collaborative, hands-on approach, it’s inherently more engaging, more fun, and more likely to stick and manifest as new skills and behaviors. (There’s tons of easy-to-find data about the benefits of hands-on, learning-by-doing)

Although longer, focused work sessions still work, the ideal approach is to spread things out over time, working through each individual practice in a series of micro-sessions. Not only is this a more convenient schedule for the teams but more importantly, people like the concept of micro-learning – which is a major plus in the context of learning and development. The singular-focused session can further enhance retention because it’s inherently more digestible, and the focus becomes about the immediate, real-life application, which is among the largest contributing factors to long-term embrace and utilization.

In the end, we’re able to publish an agency-branded playbook that starts with expressing the department’s unique mission/purpose and then lays out a system of best practices that are fully customized for the agency, by the agency. It’s a ‘stickier’ form of learning (and authorship) where the beauty is in the buy-in and long-term embrace.


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