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The Art of Account Management: Justin Bulley on Evolving with Your Client


Justin Bulley, client services director at big group on what makes a great account manager

The Art of Account Management: Justin Bulley on Evolving with Your Client

Appointed to the board of big group in 2012, Justin Bulley builds client and partner relationships at big group with 15 years’ experience in advertising and marketing, including experience of media planning and buying, direct marketing, integrated marketing, sponsorship, events and promotions. He runs and develops various key agency accounts to include MasterCard and has previously worked at International agencies with clients to include Tesco and RBS at Initiative Media and AVIVA and RAC at OMD UK.  

In addition Justin has developed bespoke partnerships and sponsorships on behalf of his clients with the likes of The Mercury Prize, The Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Society of London Theatre including the Olivier Awards, Merlin Entertainment, The BRIT Awards, Southbank Centre and Westminster City Council. 

Q> How has managing client relationships in the marketing industry changed since you started?

Justin> Account managers are expected to know a lot about too much. With new products constantly emerging and the industry changing every day, it's unrealistic for account-facing teams to be up-to-date on everything, given the pace of change and the sheer volume of specialist subject areas. 

Q> So, how do big group approach account management?

Justin> At big group, we believe that account management teams should have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of multiple marketing functions. We believe account management is all about identifying when and what is required for each unique client and that takes continual education, and communication in-house. We invest in marketing specialists and give them the time and bandwidth to explore new tools and strategies, enabling us to deliver truly exceptional knowledge.

Q> What’s the difference between a good account manager and a great account manager?

Justin> Good account managers know when to introduce a discipline specialist and know when to stop talking about a subject matter that they only know through limited exposure! A great account manager goes a step further, they work closely with the specialist/discipline expert to communicate the best solution to the client, factoring in their understanding of the account, the client's goals and vision, ultimately introducing new possibilities that can deliver tangible results. Why wouldn’t you have a creative present their creative work or an SEO specialist present their solution?

Q> Speaking of greatness, what was the best piece of advice you got early on?

Justin> Record, record, record. We attend meetings, have conversations, and then what? Too often, we move on to the next task without documenting the outcomes and next steps. Without clear and effective minutes, actions, or even a quick email follow-up, you could be missing out on game-changing opportunities. Worse yet, you risk losing the trust of your clients - and that's the last thing we want as a supplier. Don't let a lack of organization and communication stand in the way of success. People tend to remember the big picture but forget the details, that's why it's crucial to record all actions, no matter how small, and use them to kick off your next status update.

The second-best bit of advice that I reiterated the other week was to ‘not fear a client’; they are people, just the same as us, with their own goals and challenges. As an account manager, it's important to treat clients with respect while also recognizing that being friendly alone isn't enough. To build a strong and long-lasting relationship, you need to take the time to understand their business, objectives, and unique challenges, you can then be proactive and offer support tailored to their specific needs.

Q> What’s a piece of advice that’s much-touted but you disagree with?

Justin> A phrase that I disagree with is "You don't need to entertain". I firmly believe that building long-term relationships is based on trust and familiarity. It is essential for a successful, long-term, and trusted partnership. Building trust takes time, and it's not just about producing high-quality work. It's also about being able to speak candidly and connect on a personal level. This connection is best built over lunch, coffee, drinks, or an event. Tricky conversations will be easier, and the work will invariably be better!

Look at your closest friends; you have shared experiences, you will have laughed and cried together. It is the same the world over.

So, yes, entertaining clients will always be one of the perks tasks of an account manager.

Q> Can anyone be taught the art of Account Management, or does it take the building blocks of the same type of person to excel in that type of role?

Justin> Not everyone is an account manager like not everyone is analytical, strategic, mathematical or creative. Like everything it is a skill that you continue to learn and improve upon as you progress and as you are presented with other challenges. I’ve seen so many account management styles and matching the right style, with the right industry knowledge and sector experience to the right client is rewarding for everyone.

Q> Part of your role can include hearing pushbacks and having to pivot– what is the art of staying motivated after this?

Justin> This is all part of account management. Clients’ pushback because something isn't right or communicated correctly – take that opportunity to learn and build. My very best relationships have been with those clients that like to be challenged. Knowing when to push and when to concede is where you’ll reap the reward. Clients use an agency for their expertise and advice in multiple marketing functions, so embrace that. You win some debates and lose some and more than often you learn; the motivating side is the debate, so embrace that.

A well-structured conversation will help with the tricky pushbacks on budget or resources. Picking up the phone and then following up in an e-mail will always be a better way to communicate harder conversations.

Q> What advice would you give to someone starting out in account management?

Justin> Evolve with your client, and give them advice, insight and knowledge. Ask for feedback from every level and really, really understand their business. Stay ahead of the game by being proactive, rotating teams when necessary, addressing issues or concerns early on and having difficult conversations, as sitting on any of these will end with you kicking yourself for not reacting sooner. Trust your instincts and always talk!

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big group, Wed, 31 May 2023 14:31:00 GMT