TBWA Sydney group business director and AdSchool Account Management Core Skills presenter Marnie Darren shares how the key to being a good suit is to be a true business partner, learn how your team thinks and to never forget why you’re there.

TCC: Thinking back to when you were an account manager, what was the thing you found most daunting and how did you overcome it?

MD: Account management requires you to intimately understand a client’s business. Not just the advertising briefs but the core business. It is only then that you can be a true business partner.

When I was in my first year of advertising, the great John Singleton would hold Monday morning all-staff meetings. He would call on any one of us and ask for a sales update. I was a junior account manager working on KFC. Singo turned to me asked what the sales of Zinger burger were that week. I vividly recall my heart skipping a few thousand beats before I answered. I knew the answer and so did he. It was our job to know.

When I answered, he said, “Good to see you Marnie.” I didn’t think he he knew my name, let alone that I existed! It taught me the importance of being ingrained in a client’s business, of caring as much as they do. It was a great day.

TCC: Tell us about the best pitch you’ve ever done and why it went so well. And then your worst?!

MD: The best pitch I’ve ever done was winning at the Chemistry Check-In. We just clicked and the client decided not to go to pitch!

The worst pitch I’ve ever been in was in New York. A great leader once told me, “You’re only as good as the next meeting.” What he meant, was never assume you’ll be invited back. In this particular meeting, we got so caught up impressing the client with our own credentials, we forgot about their business. We weren’t invited back. Never forget why you’re there. It’s not about you.

TCC: You’ve been described as ‘a proven leader in running big, complex pieces of businesses’. What’s your advice to someone tasked with managing a complicated task – how they can make themselves and their work shine and use it to build their career? Can you use an anecdote from your own experience?

MD: I did a course a few years ago on the Herrmann Whole Brain Thinking System. Sounds complicated but a lot of agencies use this in their leadership development training. It is a tool which provides a lens for improved understanding. All people prefer different kinds of thinking. Creative people, for instance, physically see and process the world differently.

I’ve used the tool a lot over the years. Creatives tend to fall into the yellow and red quadrants. I’m red and green and frustrated yellow. Not many people operate across all four quadrants.

A young account manager once said to me, “I can’t seem to get the creatives to acknowledge me or my creative point of view.”

By taking this account manager out of his Green head space and having him approach the creatives with Yellow and Red, he broke through. Creatives don’t want to be given the list of what is wrong with their work, they want you to navigate the feedback and give them positive and proactive direction to move forward.

Once you understand you and your team’s thinking preferences, you can proactively work solutions around creativity, communication, conflict resolution, learning styles and work environment.

TCC: You’ve helped build businesses and brands around the world. What lessons have you learnt about cultural nuances when it comes to business, client relationships and style of working in general?

MD: I lived in Singapore for two and a half years, working in a regional role. It was a tremendous learning opportunity. Every country had its own cultural nuances. It is so important to never assume the majority’s way, is the right way. Seek to understand, listen.  Don’t make assumptions and most importantly take your time. No one thinks you need to solve the problems of a business in one meeting. Better to take a bit longer to get it right, than get it wrong and never gain the respect back.

TCC: You specialise in luxury brands – how does account management differ in this space?

MD: Luxury is inherently disruptive. Luxury brands lead customers; they don’t follow customers. I have always loved this space because luxury brands must imagine a future of their own creation; they cannot conform to one. Often they must break what is not broken; they cannot risk the complacency of simply protecting the status quo. There are subtleties and nuances in luxury brands that require you to be a bit more discerning. But like any brand, intimate understanding, appreciation and respect, is essential to great account management.