Strategic Client Service

VP of Client Services, Sandra Marshall, explains how delivering strategic value to clients has positioned Bigeye among the region’s top advertising agencies.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Bigeye’s VP of Client Services, Sandra Marshall, reflects on her nine years with the agency. Sandra shares her secrets for developing and retaining successful client-agency relationships and offers advice for graduates and career-changers seeking their first agency AM position. Looking back at almost a decade with the agency, Sandra discusses the strategic approach to client development that has positioned Bigeye among the top advertising agencies in the Southeast.

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Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising. Produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. A few weeks ago, we talked with Sarah Ritchie, an internationally renowned author and account management expert. Sarah wrote, “How to Wrestle an Octopus: The Agency Account Manager’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything.” If you heard that episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS, you’ll know that Sarah generously shared many of the things she learned from interviewing over a thousand agency professionals around the world. Sarah also posted a link to the podcast from her social media, and as a result, we saw downloads and listens from New Zealand for the first time. So if you’re a new IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, welcome! As we discussed with Sarah, not only do agency account managers have to be the glue that holds the agency and their clients together, they also have to be technically proficient across many different channels. I originally learned about Sarah and her book from Bigeye’s VP of Client Services, Sandra Marshall. This month marks Sandra’s nine year work anniversary at Bigeye, and I’m very pleased that Sandra is also our guest today. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Sandra!

Sandra Marshall: Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: So Sandra, what’s your definition of client services – and is it the same as account management?

Sandra Marshall: It’s funny. I don’t think it’s the same. In fact, when I think of client service, I think much more focused on the relational aspect of the position. It is interesting because account management can mean different things in many different industries and many different, even in many different agencies. Our team specifically, we do strive to meet a certain level of client service through our account management and so the philosophies blend a little bit, but when I think of client service, it’s much more focused on less of the tactical part and the admin part of managing the account and much more on really getting to know and love your client.

Adrian Tennant: So what led you to a career in client services?

Sandra Marshall: Well, since I can remember from my first job, I’ve always been in a customer service field, whether that was in retail or in hospitality, and just found a knack for talking with people, helping to solve their problems, no matter what the scale of that problem might be. Found myself in media sales as my first kind of big girl job coming out of school and realized then, that I really enjoyed developing and helping people in their business.

Adrian Tennant: So Sandra, tell me about that first job right out of school.

Sandra Marshall: My first job out of school was a sales coordinator for the Orlando NBC affiliate, WESH2 News. I was supporting an account executive staff of about 10 to 12 people, all at varying career levels and all working with clients at various levels as well. It was really my first introduction into agencies in Orlando, not only Orlando, but nationally as well, and working with some really big and really interesting clients who were advertising on television.

Adrian Tennant: Is that how you first learned about Bigeye?

Sandra Marshall: In a way. So I first learned about Bigeye through an old coworker. So I wasn’t working with Bigeye as an agency directly in my first role, but an old coworker who had since left the station let me know that there was an opportunity at a place called Bigeye and that’s how I got connected.

Adrian Tennant: What was the first account you worked on when you arrived at Bigeye?

Sandra Marshall: The first account I worked on or one of the first accounts was a very well known entertainment entity in Orlando who was starting to venture into the sports vertical by creating a series of races. And we were charged with building customized websites for the post-race timeframe in which every individual who participated in this event would be able to log on and see all of their customized stats whether that was their runtime or picture that was taken of them during the event. And it was a really unique experience to be able to build this post- event opportunity for every individual.

Adrian Tennant: So that introduced you to everybody in the agency pretty quickly, I’m guessing…

Sandra Marshall: Very quickly. Yup. And having never had experience developing a website or manning a project of this caliber, it was a really quick on-ramp into agency life.

Adrian Tennant: Right. How big was the agency then?

Sandra Marshall: I want to say we were about seven people at that time. I can distinctly remember our staff meetings sitting around a very small table and almost feeling like you were out to lunch with a small group of people and not, you know, having staff meetings and your agency was very, very close knit.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, a little bit different than today.

Sandra Marshall: Well, much different. It’s funny to think back at those times.

Adrian Tennant: So thinking about your first year at Bigeye and your role today, what’s changed the most?

Sandra Marshall: I feel what has changed the most is really understanding who we are as an agency. When I think back to my first year, not just the role that I served with the agency as a whole,it’s incredible how much we’ve grown and the confidence that we have now, the talent that we have collectively. And I think a lot of that really shines through in the sense of collaboration that we’ve fostered that I really feel is the biggest change. Not to say that we were not talented back in the beginning, when I started here but to see how we have realized that talent, fostered that talent, and grown that talent and the confidence that we are now exuding when we’re in front of clients, that is one of the most significant changes I’ve seen since the beginning of my time here.

Adrian Tennant: How many times have you moved office since you started?

Sandra Marshall: Let’s see. Well, we, when I started, we were right on Lake Eola and then we moved right next to where the Performing Arts Center was going up. And then we moved into the building we’re currently in, in Audubon Park. So three moves?

Adrian Tennant: Yeah.

Sandra Marshall: Hmm-hmm.

Adrian Tennant: So Sandra, what’s your personal philosophy for creating really great working relationships with clients?

Sandra Marshall: I think one of the most important things that you can do is from the very onset of acquiring the account is listen to your client, ask as many questions as you can, but make sure when you’re asking those questions, that you’re actually listening to what they’re saying and write it down. Really understanding who they are, not only as a business professional and what their goal is for their company, but understanding who they are as a person. You can learn a lot by listening to the way they speak, how they’re asking their questions of the agency. Really setting the expectation for them of how the project is going to be run, kind of taking all those responses and reading in between the lines of what they’re saying, I think is one of the key parts of listening is hearing what they’re not saying. Being able to translate that and disseminate that to all the departments who will now touch that project, I think is one of the most important things to really make sure that the client feels understood, loved, that the client feels that everybody is working to reach the goal that we’re setting. But also that the agency understands, “Okay, I trust Sandra because she truly knows this client. So whether the client’s coming back with a positive response, a negative response, or a questionable response, I trust that Sandra knows them so well that we’re going to figure it out.” And that is what I have found really helps to keep projects running smoothly in a variety of scenarios.

Adrian Tennant: So it sounds like a really strong setup is important at the beginning of the relationship. So now, like most relationships that develop over time, how do you keep that relationship fresh?

Sandra Marshall: So, we have a phrase that we use, “Watch. Love. Grow.” And the “Love” piece of that is essentially what you’re talking about is how do we continue to think of ways that the client knows that we’re constantly thinking about them, aside from the business relationship. What are the creative things that we can do to show them that we’re grateful for their trust, we’re grateful for their business, and that we genuinely want to know them as people? And it’s funny now in a virtual world, our team is getting very creative with what that means and whether that’s delivering their favorite meal to their doorstep, knowing that they’re working from home or understanding that, you know, they’re working remotely from a different place in the country and being mindful that they’re going to have an eight-hour drive ahead. And just those small conversations and treats, I guess, if you will, to let them know that, “Hey, we appreciate you as a person, not just as a client.”

Adrian Tennant: Today, you lead Bigeye’s account team made up of senior account managers, account managers, and account specialists. You also have interns each semester. That requires a lot of employee management in addition to leading agency accounts and relationships with clients. Based on your experience, what are some personal characteristics that make for a great account manager?

Sandra Marshall: This is a great question. So someone who makes an incredible account manager has to be comfortable in the gray area. I’ve seen many times people who have not been successful in this role because they’re too focused on this industry or this role being a black and white role and simply is not that. Someone who’s going to excel in this role, no matter what level they are in their career, needs to understand that there’s a flexibility and an agility that’s required in order to be successful. I think being an eternal optimist is also very important. One email can spiral a day into a whole mess of a day.

Adrian Tennant: So Sandra, I’m hearing glass half full and being comfortable with ambiguity.

Sandra Marshall: Hmm hmm.

Adrian Tennant: So how do you handle that ambiguity day to day?

Sandra Marshall: Having incredible relationships internally is very helpful. I think just as it is just as important as it is to foster great relationships with your clients. It’s also incredibly important to foster that internally as well. Being able to sit down and discuss and problem solve with your colleagues, um, in a trusting open environment helps to work through all of those ambiguous and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. It’s not easy to go to your designer or your creative director and say, “I don’t like this. I know the client’s not going to like this and I know we’re out of revisions, but we need to make sure that we’re abiding by what we’ve set from a scope of work standpoint. But also that we’re serving the client well. So let’s think through together how we can get to a place that’s a win-win for both.” And sometimes that’s a difficult conversation to have and I think being comfortable being uncomfortable in a lot of those conversations is very helpful to navigate some of that uncertainty and ambiguity in the process.

Adrian Tennant: What kind of background or job experiences do you typically look for in potential agency employees?

Sandra Marshall: Well, depending on the level of position, you know, as we get into some of our higher level positions, I really liked to see roles where leadership and agency or relatable experience has been involved to some capacity. But I also love to see those high-stress multitasking types of roles as well. I mean, being a server in a restaurant, anybody who’s been a server in a restaurant before knows that that’s incredibly high stress, very customer service focused having to problem solve quite a bit on the fly. So I never discount those types of positions either. I was in retail for quite a bit of time through college and even to a management level. And I mean there too to be working retail during the holiday season is no easy task. So all of that experience, I find relatable to what we do.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Erik McGrew: I’m Erik McGrew, Designer at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising and design professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused, creative-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Bigeye’s VP of Client Services, Sandra Marshall. If anyone listening is thinking of going into account management, either as a recent graduate or perhaps considering a career change, what’s your advice for securing their first position with an agency?

Sandra Marshall: I think networking is key. I think, especially with a platform like LinkedIn, connecting with people who are in the positions that you want to be in and reaching out to them, asking for opportunities to shadow, asking for internships, whether it’s through school or even if it’s unpaid. You know, I think many agencies are thirsty for that help and really enjoy being able to share what they do with people who express an extreme interest. That’s one thing I love about Bigeye is that we have hired really incredible interns in the past. So we’re fostering that growth from school into our agency and from there. But I also think too, you know, really self-educating on the industry, the agencies that you want to be in the people who hold those kinds of decision making roles within those agencies too is very important.

Adrian Tennant: One of the challenges of digital advertising is the speed and regularity with which many platforms, ad formats, and technical specifications change. What do you recommend to your team to help them keep their skills current?

Sandra Marshall: Continued self-education I think is of the most important. Making sure that you are signed up for newsletters from those resources. It’s so easy to have those dumped into your inbox every morning and to allocate some time in the morning, I mean, 15, 30 minutes, you know, just to read through some of these articles can really help you stay up to date. Before we were in a much more virtual world we did a lot of lunch and learns with not only our own team and our own digital marketing department and other departments, but also with some of our fantastic partners and all of those we’ve really helped to create opportunities for learning for our employees additionally to webinars. It’s really fantastic when you’re signed up for these newsletters. A lot of them are offering webinars as well. So it’s really easy to sign up for those and even, you know, close your door or go into a conference room, listen to a webinar while you, you know, kind of multitask. It’s all of that constant exposure I just think really helps to keep people in the know.

Adrian Tennant: Now you consider a lot of candidates for roles and account management at Bigeye. What are some of the basic “do’s” and “don’ts” for anyone who’s shortlisted for an interview here?

Sandra Marshall: Absolutely knowing the agency or company that you are applying for. I think it’s really compelling when someone has clearly done their homework and will potentially even ask about some work that they sell on our site or they’ve done their due diligence to, to see that someone in our agency was a part of some other you know, either spoke at a classroom or attended event in the digital space or something similar. I always think that’s very compelling when someone has clearly done their research. I also think that in the world that we are now, it’s just as important to maintain that level of professionalism in your virtual interview, as it is in your typical in person interview: dressing the part, coming prepared, sending your resume beforehand. All of those small little touches following up with a thank, you know, or email, I think are just as important to solidifying the role and, and keeping your name at the top of the pile as before.

Adrian Tennant: Sandra, how do you juggle being a senior executive at Bigeye with also being mom to a young child?

Sandra Marshall: I think it’s very important to set your boundaries early on and have those solid conversations with your employer about what that looks like. I think it’s really important to understand your priorities too. And, you know, there are going to be points in the day where you have to turn off work and you have to focus on being a mom. And, you know, I think setting that expectation and having that conversation with your team at the onset helps to prevent any misunderstandings maybe later on down the road. You know, it’s important to turn off, it’s important to completely shift your focus to your family, and really make sure that you’re getting the brain break from work and so that you don’t start to have any regrets about being in the office.

Adrian Tennant: Sandra, how has the COVID-19 situation impacted your work and home life?

Sandra Marshall: Like many people to a great degree. I think a challenge even that came unexpected was it wasn’t just having to navigate working with a toddler at home, but also a spouse who is on the phone quite a bit as well. So there was much juggling in the house of who was going to watch the kid or whose call was more important. And probably about two weeks in when we realized this was going to be a longer-term event. And we really had to sit down on Sunday night and map out our weeks of who would take calls when, what calls needed to be video and when we could make sure that we got our daughter down for a nap. I’ve found it funny because my daughter has joined us on multiple calls, internal calls now where sometimes it feels like she’s part of the crew. And sometimes as vocal about her opinions in meetings as well.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I think it’s nice, we get to meet your daughter in a different context. I know also random pets have shown up on Zoom calls.

Sandra Marshall: That’s right!

Adrian Tennant: That’s okay, too, right?

Sandra Marshall: Absolutely.

Adrian Tennant: Okay. Sarah Richie said that you don’t go into nursing if you have an issue with night shifts and you shouldn’t go into account management if you can’t handle stress. Do you agree?

Sandra Marshall: I could not agree more. I think that’s incredibly well said. And in fact, it’s, it’s a great metaphor to use. I believe it is a stressful career and if it’s not stress that’s driven by a hard client deadline then it’s stress of maybe something that was not received well by a client or it’s internal stress of, you know, you as the advocate for the client are not seeing what you want out of a certain department and navigating that. There’s a variety of stressors that will bubble up, but a great account manager knows how to handle that stress very well.

Adrian Tennant: So outside of the agency, how do you unwind?

Sandra Marshall: I like to work out quite a bit. Both my husband and I are very much into fitness and going to the gym, which was incredibly difficult for us to help manage our stress when gyms shut down during quarantine. We actually got a Peloton bike and through the quarantine, both of us have gotten really into cycling or state stationary bike. But that’s been a big stress reliever through quarantine and, and has definitely helped to keep our fitness and activity level up through everything.

Adrian Tennant: Now I’m curious, do you think you’ll go back to the gym or is Peloton it now?

Sandra Marshall: I will say for certain that I will go back to the gym. There’s the community aspect of it. We’re both into lifting weights quite a bit. And the cardio aspect I will probably stick with at home with Peloton, but for some of the strength-building exercises, we’ll definitely go back into the gym.

Adrian Tennant: So Sandra, what have been some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had over the past nine years at Bigeye?

Sandra Marshall: Wow. I have a lot of great experiences that I could share – maybe some not appropriate for our podcast. No, the team is an incredible team and here’s definitely a “work hard, play hard” mentality which I love. And it’s so amazing to think back and celebrate the successes of going into one of our largest pitches ever knowing that we nailed it. But then celebrating afterwards together. And this team really enjoys those opportunities to celebrate outside of the walls of this office and genuinely enjoy our time together. So I think back to those experiences, and I think back to some of the incredible work that we’ve been able to produce together and roll out and to see it live in the wild. There’s a number of experiences that I can think back on with positive thoughts.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Sandra, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Sandra Marshall: Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services here at Bigeye. You can find a transcript of this episode along with links on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” You’ll also find a link to our listener survey. Please take a moment to submit your thoughts about the podcast and the kind of content you’d like to hear more of in future episodes. And if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, goodbye.

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