The Art of Client Service

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If it wasn’t for a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, my career in direct marketing may have taken a different turn a long time ago.

The year was 1984, and I had a great job as a copywriter at RCA Direct Marketing. But when a friend told me about another job as an account executive at Grey Direct, my youth and ambition got the best of me. I applied for it. The interview went well, but word got back to me afterwards that I hadn’t dressed the part. Sure, I was wearing the requisite Brooks Brothers blue pinstripe suit, but my feet were covered in Dingo boots instead of classic wing tip shoes. My bad!

Today, of course, I would like to believe the fact that I didn’t land this new job was a blessing in disguise. After all, I stayed the course as a copywriter and eventually “happily” grew into my present role as a creative director. However, ever since that bad, fateful interview two decades ago, not only have I always worn oxfords to the office, but I have also had an affinity with those on the client services side of the house. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the axiom, “one of the best ways to understand someone is to walk a mile in his or her shoes.”

Given that spirit, I have always made a point of understanding what it takes to be a good AE, going so far as to read recently “The Art of Client Service, 54 Things Every Advertising & Marketing Professional Should Know.” Written by Robert Solomon, President and CEO of the New York office of Rapp Collins Worldwide, this 168-page book is really the definitive guide to everything anyone would need to know about client service and then some.

Broken down into three parts (The Work, Relationships, Style and Substance), Solomon uses both successes and failures to make his points about looking at creative (“When you are in front of the client, never throw the work, or your colleagues, under the bus.”), to running a meeting (“Once a meeting is underway, the goal should be to make it as short as possible. Get it done so everyone can get out and do the work.”), to communication (“A commitment without consultation ignores the collaborative nature of making advertising. It pays no respect to the people you work with. Besides, you might not be able to deliver on your commitment.”), to “apropos of this post” style and substance (Looking good is just one more detail in a business that is all about details. So why not get this one right?).

Okay, so that’s one detail I got wrong back in the day. I wore boots when I should have worn shoes. At the time, I felt bad about making such a foolish mistake. But today, I can’t help but feel good about such a momentous quirk of fate. After all, I think life on the creative side “so far” has suited me just fine.

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