You might think that as a psychologist running an advertising agency, when I speak of empathy, I mean empathy for the target audience – the consumer of our advertising. In this instance, I am actually talking about empathy for our clients.
Recently, I had lunch with a former client who paid us one of the highest compliments. He said that as he reflects on his career, he’s identified the strongest account people he has ever worked with, and that one of our people – Ilene Prince, SVP & Director of Client Services – is at the top of that list. When I asked him why, he said, “Because she understood my job and my pressures.” In other words, and as usual, she was seriously empathetic.
That means paying attention to his deadlines, his budget, the pressures on him, the number of emails he receives, the fact that he was in meetings all day, et cetera, et cetera.
As good account people, we build in a cushion and develop an understanding of the character, psychology and stresses on our clients. This level of empathy means that we are able to serve them in better ways and get the best results possible as part of our partnership.
This is especially important today when the “empathy gap” has been cited as a growing epidemic in college graduates. According to Sarah Rothbard, Editor and Associate Publisher at Zócalo Public Square, “Researchers have found a forty percent decline in empathy in college students over the past thirty years, with the majority of the change taking place in the past ten years.”
With technology as the catalyst behind the aforementioned epidemic, it’s important to understand why empathy is so crucial. When you’re empathetic towards your clients by understanding the pressures they face and what they value, you’re able to build campaigns, schedules, and budgets that truly reflect their needs.
Everybody knows that great creative comes from great partnerships, and partnerships don’t develop from just a one-time collaboration when cultivating ideas or brainstorming strategies. Partnerships take years to build. That’s why we’ve had most of our clients for nearly a decade. For example, if you have a client who always needs to get their boss to approve work and they’re very difficult to pin down, then a good account manager will anticipate this and build in extra time to allow flexibility. In this scenario, if a last-minute change comes in, instead of panicking, you simply say to the client, “Let’s make this happen!”
In this day of constant changes, fast feedback and flat organizations, it’s even more important that we be seriously empathetic with our clients’ positions and their needs. Sometimes this means reading the signs, and instead of being told what to do watching the behavior of the client and acting accordingly. For example, if someone may take over a day to respond to an email or can’t find the email at all, rather than complain, we all accept this and are empathetic. We recognize the pressures our clients are under and we do what we can to make their job easier.
Account people really are the orchestra conductors and need to be in tune with all facets of the team, inside and outside the agency. And, just like a conductor, if the tempo is off it is hard to get everyone on the same page to ensure your absolute best performance.