Learning to be the Account Executive who says "no"

Tracy Marlowe  |  July 28, 2009

When my career first evolved so that I was providing marketing services for a variety of clients rather than working directly for one (from the seat of a small San Antonio advertising agency), I was like most Account Executives.  Eager to please.  Striving to give the answers that the client is looking for.  I was always smiling and pretty much always said "yes" or "okay, we can do that!" to a client when they made a suggestion.

I, oh-so-often, would return to the agency with the client's list of requests and sit down with the creative team.  At that point in my career, I had the stereotypical creative-to-AE agency relationship.  In other words, I existed much to the disdain of the creative team.  I would parlay my client's feedback on their creative designs amidst many groans and much complaining.

"Why do they want to do THAT? Why didn't you tell them that that would ruin the entire concept? Why didn't you just say NO?"

I would sometimes have to crawl back to the client and relay some of the creative's concerns, usually finding a happy medium.  At least for the client (I've learned that not all creative teams care to ever find a happy medium).

It didn't take me long at all to learn when the client was walking on sacred ground as far as a concept was concerned.  I began to raise these concerns BEFORE going back to the team.  I also became fairly adept at "selling the concept."  Or basically, truly explaining up front the who, what, why, when, where behind how it would better sell their product.

All I'll be darned if it didn't translate into better results for our clients...and happier creative teams.

Almost fifteen years later, I find myself with quite a bit more experience under my belt and an arsenal of marketing know-how gleaned over the years.  I can guide a creative team and give them the strategy up-front that they need to put together a campaign that will be successful.  But better yet, I can comfortably tell a client "no" when they make a request that I know won't be in their best interest.  And, you know, I believe firmly that it is a large reason why I have such great relationships with my clients. Not to mention, why they consider us a marketing partner and not just the folks who design stuff.

The truth is, we don't hire professionals in any field who will just tell us what we want to hear (okay, at least most of us don't).  We hire them because of their expertise and because we trust that they will guide us in the right direction.

My advice to other AE's out there is, if you find yourself saying "yes" when in your heart you know that the better answer is "no," do yourself and your client a big favor and speak your mind.  Trust me when I tell you that your entire agency will thank you and you may find yourself up for a promotion.  Because your client will begin to like and trust you more than they ever did as the smiling, people pleaser, order taking AE.  We respect people so much more when they have a backbone!  Especially when it means that they take a firm stance every once in a while.  Believe me, you will develop a long-term marketing partnership with your client that will be so much richer than your current relationship.

Take it from someone who has been there and knows the difference!

by Tracy Marlowe

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