Wrestling an Octopus

February 13th, 2019

Wrestling an Octopus

Earlier this year I signed up for a Design Assembly workshop run by Sarah Ritchie, account management queen and author of How to Wrestle an Octopus.

Naturally, I was curious where the term ‘Wrestle an Octopus’ came from. I Googled it, as you do. Turns out octopus wrestling really is a thing. Or was. A now extinct sport, once popular in the 1960s, where crowds of people would watch divers wrestle the tentacled sea life. The crowned winner would be he who wrestled the most octopus by weight.

However, the purpose of the workshop wasn’t on how to throw myself in the deep end literally, but figuratively. Into the depths of account management, and wrestling with the world of agency life which can seem much like wrestling an octopus at times.

“You manage to get five tentacles under control, and then the other three start whacking you around the head” - Richard Goodrich, Aprais Australia.

While it can sometimes feel like I could do with a few more hands (or tentacles?) to juggle clients, developers, projects, budgets, reports, emails and so on, turns out Sarah has some golden nuggets of advice on how to navigate account management:

Become a trusted business partner to your clients

Acquisition and retention of clients are critical to the success of an agency. However, competing on price alone is not sustainable. High quality work often demands a higher price, and we’re not interested in a race to the bottom. Where you win with your clients is by becoming a trusted business partner to them. You become invaluable through non-financial advantages or USP (unique selling proposition) such as superior ideas, strategic insights, honest and fluid working relationships, excellent communication, innovative thinking, and the best efficiency your agency can offer. Clients start to see you as part of their team and you see them as part of yours, jointly working on projects, rooting for one another’s success. Through these improvements, the relationship between client and agency naturally becomes ‘sticky’. It’s that bit harder to separate from one another, but in a good way.

Clients will value what they pay for

A project doesn’t magically come to fruition, it requires coordination and a fair amount of management to make sure all the puzzle pieces fit together nicely. And that those puzzle pieces are getting their work done on time and within budget. This management is crucial for the success of projects, resulting in the best outcome possible for both client and agency. Just as developers and designers come at an hourly cost, account managers should also be charged out as part of the project equation. When the client incurs this cost, they are more likely to respect your position as an account manager and see where you can add value to the outcome. Sarah explains that clients don't care as much about the costs as they do about the value that they receive for that expenditure.

Communication and transparency

The ability to communicate in a concise and transparent manner throughout all aspects of account management is a big part of what makes a great account manager. Key traits to bring to the party are being able to effectively and unambiguously express information and ideas, proficiency in written and verbal communications, fostering mutual trust and respect through honest conversations, and always having an opinion and not being afraid to express it (this isn’t the job for a people-pleaser). These abilities result in, among many other things, clear and complete scope of works documents, genuine and honest relationships with clients, improvements sought wherever possible, and mitigation of risks or problems by discussing issues as soon as they arise.

This is only a really small portion of the fascinating insight Sarah has gained over her many years in the industry. For the complete rundown, you can find Sarah's book and a bunch more resources here.