Curiosity at the heart of Account Management

19 May 2022

We recently ran a great workshop on Zoom, hosted by Paul Burns, for 60 delegates from over 20 different agencies. Mainly Account Directors, Managing Partners and Group Account Directors.

They were all ‘Curious’ enough to spend the morning gaining a perspective and understanding more about the research carried out by AAR into client expectations of Account Management in today’s ever complex world of communication.

Here, Paul summarises key learnings from the session. 


Having spent 24 years as an Account Handler at Saatchi’s in London and the last 12 years running The Burns Unit tlc, a specialist training business for Agencies and Marketing teams, I offer a unique perspective on the issues facing Account Management. 

What astounds me is how things are so different, yet so similar to when I started in my first agency, a million years ago.

During the workshop, we talked about what we love and hate about the job. The frustrations are common; lack of time, crazy deadlines, no thinking time, everything wanted quicker, cheaper and better! But still we love the people, the creativity and the achievement of helping solve clients business challenges.

The workshop explained how clients feel the role of poor Account Handling is making the role redundant but also, in contrast, how brilliant Account Handlers becoming Account Leaders brimming with curiosity about their clients brands, businesses and reputations are now needed more than ever.

We explored a number of areas that can help bridge that transition from Account Management to Account Leadership.

We concluded that mutual trust and respect for each other, in the agency, with other agencies and, of course, with clients is what we need to aim for. But it was clear that ‘trust’ has to be earned.

The session then looked at some key areas where greater curiosity can build this mutual trust:

  1. Be more curious and make time to understand the client’s business, more than anyone else in the agency. How they work, what they do and, critically, how they make money. Lose sight of this and everything else collapses.

  2. Be more curious about how to make projects more efficient. We looked at the RASCI model for allocating roles and responsibilities. Who is Responsible, Approves (only one person, which can be very challenging in agencies and for clients), Support, Consult and Inform.

  3. Finally, we looked at people and teams and the relevance of the famous quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We concluded that for clients to develop greater trust, respect and appreciation for their Account Leaders they must:

  • Really understand their client’s business and understand how comms can help build brands, businesses and reputations
  • Do this in an efficient way with everyone having clearly defined roles
  • And focus on people over process so that the agency team will feel better, be more motivated and be more curious


Paul launched The Burns Unit tlc in 2009 and works with many of the industry trade bodies: IPA, EACA, Clearcast and ISBA; over 60 leading agencies of all types and sizes, as well as a number of blue-chip client organisations including Google, Discovery Network, AIA, General Mills, Revlon and Petronas.

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