The Velvet Hammer: Why Client Management Is Crucial to Content Marketing Services

Called the “unicorn” position, “cat herder,” and — my personal favorite — “the velvet hammer,” account managers were a trending topic at the Publishing & Media Lab at Content Marketing World two weeks ago. The account manager works with the client and publisher’s content and sales teams to define the goals of the project, manage client expectations, track execution, deliver on time, and monitor results and reporting.

As the term unicorn indicates, an account manager that can deftly balance client needs with the objectives of effective content marketing is a rare and increasingly sought after entity in the publishing world. And according to the publishers on the panel, “How Smart Publishers Are Cashing in on Content Marketing,” it’s a position that’s essential for media companies looking to develop content marketing services programs that function well and can be scaled up.

“One of the critical pieces of Penton’s marketing services program is our account manager,” said Kristin Letourneau, director of market research at Penton. Prior to hiring that position its marketing services were developed haphazardly, explained Letourneau, often leading to miscommunication between client and publisher.

One of the problems publishers can face when they begin creating and selling branded content is the lack of resources to both execute and manage the process. While existing editors and salespeople can dedicate some of their time and energy to marketing services, the publishers speaking at the Publishing & Media Lab urged attendees to make marketing services someone’s full-time job. “If it doesn’t have focus, it’s going to fail,” said eMedia Strategist president Eric Shanfelt. “You can’t do this on the side or with existing resources. Get one person who’s focused on it and has the account manager mentality.”

So what should publishers look for when hiring an account manager? The panelists had three takeaways for attendees:

  1. Account Managers need to be “worryingly organized.” According to Duncan Milne vice president of Rodale Grow, account managers need to be “worryingly organized,” because they are the deadline drivers who keep creative on task and ensure the client provides feedback in a timely manner. This is also where the term “velvet hammer,” comes in, which Shanfelt mentioned a few times during the panel. Account managers use a soft yet firm touch to keep the project on schedule, he explained.
  1. Account Managers are the voice of the client. According to Letourneau, prior to having an account manager Penton’s marketing services team and its clients were sometimes out of sync. “I remember doing a project that my team and I thought was great,” said Letourneau, “We were giving their audience really great, helpful research. But then when the client saw it, they said they wanted something more promotional. It wasn’t what they had expected at all.” Had an account manager been communicating the client’s expectations, the mix-up could have been avoided.
  1. Account Managers are generalists. Finally, said Shanfelt, account managers need to be versatile. “They can talk technology, they can talk with the editors and marketers, and they can talk with sales. They know how it works together and they can be the glue that holds everything together.” It’s difficult to find people who readily fit this mold, admitted the panelists, but they maintained that it’s worth the time and effort to fill the much-needed role.

Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.