AdLand Suit is Dan Shute, a Board Account Director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren, a top ten London Advertising Agency. This is where I write about the life of a Suit - which can include pretty much anything. Delaney's didn't know I was doing this, but they do now. They still don't agree with everything I say though. They'd also probably rather I swore less.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Give Me A Female Account Man Any Day

Prompted by the quite wonderful AdContrarian, I've decided that it's time to touch on a subject that's been on my mind for a while, but which I've steered clear of posting for fear of being taken the wrong way - it is now time. So, dear readers, answer me this - why are female account managers so much better than their male counterparts?

I'm not referring to senior Suits here. Advertising, for all its faults, does tend to be very good at sorting the wheat from the chaff: if you can't cut it, you don't tend to last, so seniority is, as a general rule (with some dishonourable exceptions), a fairly good guide for quality in both men and women.

No, I'm talking about Account Managers and Account Executives - an area in which women excell and men flounder. For every male Suit who's walked into an Agency on his first day convinced that he's ready to run the place, that status reports are somebody else's problem, that his AD/AM doesn't know what he/she is talking about, that leaving early twice a week for football training won't be a problem, and that life's too short to proof-read emails, competitive reviews or ads before they go out, I'll show you three female Suits who will work all the hours God sends, who believe that if a job's worth doing, it's worth checking (twice), and who understand instinctively how important (and defining) the detail is in any given project.

When I was in that position (and if we're talking about the position of 'Thinking You Know Everything When You Don't', then I'll tell you now, I owned that position), then I had a very simple excuse - I didn't really know what I was doing. Making ads seemed fairly straightforward, but the world of job numbers, P6s and status reports seemed utterly alien. I wasn't prepared for the job I was being asked to do, and my line managers didn't really help with that. Now, don't get me wrong - I was still a bit of a tool. But it wasn't entirely my fault - I had no real way of knowing what was expected of me.

Even if that was still the case (which, to be clear, it isn't - whether it's the IPA, the AdGrads chaps or some tired old hack, there's no shortage of information on what the role of a junior suit will entail), then it wouldn't hold any water as a defence, because it only seems to be a problem for men - women just get it. They get that you have to learn the basics before you can do the big stuff - that without the basics, the big stuff doesn't happen, something that seems to have bypassed the majority of Junior Male Suits. 

There is a school of thought that says these guys should be indulged - that they're hardwired to be ADs and higher, and that the lower ranks are some kind of holding pen in which all must sit until we are released to do the 'proper' job. To that, I'd say that anyone who doesn't understand how important an Account Manager's job is will never make a decent Account Director. And then I'd be sorely tempted to give them a slap.

The take-out from this post shouldn't be, incidentally, 'women for detail, men for ideas' - that's palpable nonsense. As I've said elsewhere, some of the best and brightest Suits I've ever worked with have been women. The point is that women seem to get what matters most at the more junior levels, and that doing it well will prepare them for their later career - most men don't seem to have picked up on that.

I should say here that this isn't just my view. I've had many conversations with many colleagues and contemporaries about this phenomenon, and its reason for being. And as I look around my Account Management department, I see roughly twice as many women as men, and it's a scene that's replicated across the industry - and for a reason. Put simply, there aren't enough Junior Account Men out there that are any good, while the sisters are doin' it for themselves. (Sorry.)

There are of course exceptions to the rule, a couple of which I'm lucky enough to work with, but by and large, it's true. The role of a Junior Suit is enormously important, and that's something that, for the most part, only the girls seem to get.

So am I wrong? Is this just a UK phenomenon, or is it happening across the world? Are you a Junior Male Suit who doesn't just think that you're bloody good at your job, but can actually prove that you are? All these questions and more should be argued about in the comments.


George said...

The main reason (in my opinion,) is female account managers are great at running an account, they are effective, informative (internally and externally) as well as coming across as working harder.

Male account managers, are trying to do all the above.

Essentially men try, women, do.

That is just from my experience of male and female account managers, this is not an attempt to start a stereotype! or offend any account managers that read blogs (are there any?)

Anonymous said...

To me (male account man) a key point being overlooked is who gets recruited as account managers. If Ad land suit's agency is anything like mine, the majority of these junior suits will have been with the company from the start (that is to say ex-grad schemers).

The reason for the skewed ratio of men/women is not therefore ability at the job, but rather ability at the strange and mysterious art of graduate recruitment.

haze said...

The competency of Junior Suits I've worked with so far in my career doesn't seem to have any correlation with their sex, rather their passion for the job.

That being said, I suppose there's a higher chance girls have worked in reception/admin type roles prior to entering adland so they might be a little more prepared for high levels of detail than guys.

@anon That's a really good point. The majority of Senior Suits are still male, and they'll tell you at the pub quite honestly what their hiring policies are for Junior Suits.

Cleaver said...

From my perspective as a creative, it seems you're right about female suits being better at getting shit done/ making sure the i's are dotted/ running the account.

But in defence of male suits, I find they often have more passion for the ideas.

They think harder about the briefs, champion the more creative concepts, and they're more ready to push back against client demands.

Then they screw up a JCR (or whatever you people have) and get fired.

Sometimes, even with the administratively impeccable ones, I'm not sure female suits care that much about the quality of the work.

One (otherwise excellent) female suit once told me, without a glimmer of irony, that "the client is always right".

Another (quite senior - an AD I think) said she was "essentially just a project manager" and that she could just as easily be making pies or computer chips as ads.

Obviously this is just a broad trend. There are loads of exceptions to either stereotype.

But, generally speaking, if my life is smooth and fuck-up-free, I'm probably working with a female suit. And if I'm making ads I'm proud of, I'm working with a male.

Anonymous said...

AdLand Suit, you should send this to WACL and see what happens.

Not sure there's really a difference between the genders. Diplomatically, it may be that women in advertising have to work harder to get the same attention that a man does.

I *think* that advertising/marketing has a higher proportion of women than most other corporate jobs (someone should do the research). Not sure why. Is it because we're *less* discriminatory than other suited jobs? (solicitors, bankers, etc?) Or is the world more capable of handling a female marketer than a female trader?

Discuss. Your midterm will be half your grade for this class. Please remember to double-space and spellcheck your work. And don't fuck with the margin sizes.

Cat said...

I reckon at a junior level a lot of it’s about observation, which in turn allows you to improve your anticipation, both of which us girlies just seem generally better at. If you are observant of market conditions, competitor activity, your clients’ taste and behaviour patterns, and on a more micro level, things like common artwork errors, who’s good at keeping to deadlines and who needs a regular kick up the arse to get the job done, you won’t go far wrong.

Being attuned does not, however, help with selling ‘out there’ creative, rocking the boat when necessary or other less comfortable aspects of life as a senior suit – which perhaps helps explain the more even playing field further up the career ladder.

Liking the blog by the way – power to the suits!

AdLand Suit said...

Hmm. I'm not entirely convinced by the grad recruitment argument. Speaking as someone who's been interviewing people for a fair few years now, in my experience, the reason more women are being hired is because there are a higher number of good female candidates. And Haze, I have absolutely no idea what you're implying, and I'm sure it doesn't happen even if I did. Ahem.

As far as the other comments go, I think I'm generally in agreement. The dream is a Suit who's buttoned down and instinctively passionate about the work - at that point, gender doesn't matter one jot. All the best Suits, be they male, female, junior or senior, are passionate about ideas and about the work - however you cut it, and whatever else you may love about your job, we're all here to make stuff that is as good as humanly possible, and if that doesn't get you excited, then you're really in the wrong place, and it's not doing anyone any good whatsoever.

My point is that, whether they like it or not, and however passionate they may be, process and organisation are more important elements of a Junior Suit's role than selling a ground-breaking piece of work. That's just the way it is.

The converse (or, if you like, complementary) issue arises, of course, when you have a female Suit who has risen to the top on the basis of running a damn tight ship, but who wouldn't recognise a great idea if it walked up and gave her a Chinese burn - and who wouldn't be that bothered if it did. Cleaver, your stories make me sad. But not necessarily surprised.

AdLand Suit said...

Oh, and Cat - lovely to have you here! Glad you're enjoying it.

Will said...

Missed this post.

But the point I was going to make has already been made:

"I reckon at a junior level a lot of it’s about observation, which in turn allows you to improve your anticipation, both of which us girlies just seem generally better at."


I was crap at this.

ALS - to what extent do you think men are in it for the title? I bet if you told a male account manager they'd make account director in two years if there weren't any fuck ups on their account/s, there'd be obsessive detail monitoring.

AdLand Suit said...

To be honest, I think the title is only as important to men as it is to women - rampant ambition is a badge to be worn with honour nowadays. And it's very hard to draw a line between the genders when it comes to impatience, as it varies wildly from individual to individual. There does seem to be an innate belief in male Suits that they can do all that stuff that you're talking about just as soon as you're done talking about it, so can we just get on with it, please? Female Suits, on the other hand, listen, respond, do, and do well.

So in answer to your question, Will, if I told a male Account Manager that he'd be an AD in 2 years if he got obsessive about his attention to detail, nine times out of ten he'd only hear the first half of the sentence.

Maria said...


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From my perspective as a creative,Its better to have a female account than male.

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