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The Art of Account Management: Naturally Curious with Karen Morris


Client services director at TMW Unlimited on doing the right thing to solve a challenge versus what the client perhaps needs to do

The Art of Account Management: Naturally Curious with Karen Morris

Karen has over 15 years’ experience, having worked at a range of independent agencies and holding groups including WPP and Publicis Groupe. Over her career, Karen has partnered with a range of brands and organisations including Microsoft, HSBC, Bottega Veneta, L’Oréal, The International Olympic Committee, Visit London and ABBA Voyage. She heads up the account management team of over 40 people.  

LBB> How did you first get involved in account management and what appealed to you about it? 

Karen> I originally studied History and Politics at university, but realised in my last year I had no desire to get involved in a directly related career, so I made the decision to continue my studies and complete a Master’s in marketing. Following university, I enrolled on a grad programme at a web design agency in my hometown of Glasgow, where I did a hybrid role of new business and project management. 15 years, a move to London and numerous agencies later, I’ve ended up as head of department at the brilliant TMW Unlimited.


LBB> What is it about your personality, skills and experience that has made account management such a great fit? 

Karen> My friends and family have always told me I’m great listener and problem solver. I’m naturally curious about people, so I think that has really helped me build strong relationships with clients and my team over the years. I’ve always been quite goal driven, so having that fire in my belly has been an asset when it comes to inspiring and galvanising a team around a challenge.

LBB> What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting their career in account management? 

Karen> Imagine you are starting two jobs, a role with the agency and a role with the client. To succeed and drive a true partnership you need to know both businesses inside out. Every interaction you have will be so much more valuable the more effort you put into this. 

LBB> Thinking back to some of your most challenging experiences you’ve had in your career, what do you think tends to lie at the heart of the more tense or difficult client-agency relationships? 

Karen> I’m quite principled, so the balance of doing the right thing to solve a challenge versus what the client perhaps needs to do, has caught out me on occasion. I think folks that work at agencies often forget we are such a small part of our clients’ days – they have many other priorities and stakeholders to manage. Sometimes you might not have the full picture of the pressures that drive a decision that you believe is at odds with ‘the right thing to do’. It’s important agency teams are able to read between the lines and understand and adapt to the unsaid.  

LBB> And what are the keys to building a productive and healthy relationship? 

Karen> Firstly, knowing your clients’ business as well as you know your own. It makes it a lot easier to have valuable conversations if you are on the same level. Secondly, there’s been a lot of talk recently about ‘Radical Candour’ following the NYT Bestseller by Kim Scott. It’s where you strike that perfect balance of being able to challenge, but in a way that shows you care and that feels authentic to you. On the first point, you build respect; on the second, openness, empathy and trust. These feel like a pretty good basis for any relationship – professional or personal.  

LBB> What’s your view on disagreement and emotion - is there a place for it and if not, why not? If so, why - and what does productive disagreement look like? 

Karen> I one hundred percent agree that there is a place for disagreement and emotion in a strong client/agency partnership. It’s how you temper these that is key. Disagreement – or challenge, as I’d prefer to think of it – demonstrates the value that you bring. We need different points of view to get to a better place. As long as you can manage that debate in a healthy and respectful way. I’d argue that if emotion is absent, then so is investment and engagement. We’re lucky to have a unique research capability at TMW Unlimited, called Human Understanding Lab. We use this to inform insights and test ideas to ensure we have a real understanding of our target audiences’ opinions, which allows us to make decisions based on objective data, rather than client or agency opinions.


LBB> What recent projects are you proudest of and why? What was challenging about these projects from an account management perspective and how did you address those challenges? What was so satisfying about working on these projects? 

Karen> As we all know, the last couple of years has been fraught with unexpected challenges. We’ve observed a lot more stop-start on projects, as well as the increasing squeeze on timelines, as media plans are booked late and budgets signed off overnight. 

A great example of this was the work we did with London & Partners on the post-pandemic Let’s Do London recovery campaign. Due to the timings around the re-appointment of the Major of London, we were unable to start any work on the summer recovery project before the 10th of May. With out of home booked later that month and TV and social following shortly after, we had a huge challenge on our hands. Combine this with a list of stakeholders as long as your arm and the task felt almost insurmountable. 

It may seem cliched, but the thing that pulled us through and, in the end, delivered London’s most successful tourism campaign ever – returning over £70million in revenue to the capital –was strong relationships. An ambitious, yet pragmatic set of clients and partners that we already knew really well, and a tight agency team that spurred each other on through the highs and lows.

I think it helped everyone to know we were working on something that would drive the recovery of the city we all call home and seeing our work all over the country was a nice sweetener too! 

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TMW Unlimited, Fri, 24 Mar 2023 15:01:00 GMT