Every year since 1990, the analytics company Gallup has conducted an Honesty and Ethics poll to determine what Americans believe are the most (and least) trusted professions in our country. The 2023 poll results were released in January, and for the 21st year in a row, nurses have been named the most trusted profession, with 79% of respondents saying they have “high” or “very high” honesty and ethical standards. Two other medical professions, medical doctors (62%) and pharmacists (58%), ranked next-highest among the 18 professions included in the polling.

Strangely enough, advertising practitioners did not appear at the top of this list. But even more concerning, our profession was named fifth-worst. The American public sees us only slightly better than car salespeople, Members of Congress, and telemarketers. Ouch.

Perhaps this lack of trust is what served as the inspiration behind the 1990 movie Crazy People. An ad exec played by Dudley Moore has a nervous breakdown and begins crafting a series of “truthful” advertisements. These included: “Buy Volvos. They’re boxy but they’re good.” And “Metamucil. It helps you go to the toilet.” When the other ad execs at his firm were asked to come up with other truthful ads, they simply couldn’t do it. Another black eye for our industry. Luckily Ghost, Dances with Wolves, and Goodfellas came out the same year, so Crazy People was only the #92 movie for box office sales.

But today, just 8% of consumers state that they believe what they see in advertising to be true, according to the recent Edelman Trust Barometer. Even an industry study commissioned by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) years ago found that just 4% of respondents believed advertisers and marketers practice integrity.

It’s no secret that many consumers are skeptical of advertisers. Years of pop-up ads, out-of-touch publicity stunts, exaggerated claims, photo retouching, and shady business practices understandably have made people grow suspicious of ads and the people who make them.

As hard as it is for me to say, those of us in account service are probably seen as the most untrustworthy of the untrustworthy. And perhaps it’s warranted. At many agencies, the account exec historically functions as the middleman between clients and creatives, and agencies and production partners. They say there are two sides to every story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

But creatives, clients, and production partners can’t help but wonder—oftentimes or occasionally—if they are getting the complete and accurate story from account service. Did the client really say that? Is there really no more information? Did we really just get this assignment? Is this really the budget? Does it really need to be done this quickly?

At more than a few agencies I’ve been with, I’ve heard the phrase, “The client doesn’t want to pay for account service.” That phrase, and hearing it on multiple occasions, really bugged me, especially as I entered management. Why on earth would a client not want to pay for me, and why don’t they value what I bring to the account?

After further reflection, I realized that most reduce account service to the people who deliver half-baked briefs, unreasonable timelines, inflated estimates, “devil’s advocate” opinions, flimsy client feedback, and bad news from production partners, yet are johnny-on-the-spot with invoicing. So, what is perceived as the product that account service produces? Many would say it’s talk. And therein lies the problem; after all, talk is cheap.

When I began to lead a team of my own and then managed a department, I wanted to articulate an account service approach that defied those stereotypes and made account service one of the strongest, if not the strongest, offering of the agency. I wanted my coworkers to know my expectations and goals to work toward. I wanted clients to understand the value of a department that would be known for far more than talk. And I wanted the creative department to realize we had as much skin in the game as they did.

So, Stopper, what exactly is your approach? More on that in a moment.

On the account side, we hear a lot about ROI—Return on Investment. CFOs talk about it constantly, and good CMOs should always have it in the back of their minds. The concept of ROI is straightforward: If a company wants to invest money in something, then it should generate income or reduce costs that will benefit the company over time.

F. Donaldson Brown is known as the father of ROI. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1902 at age 17 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and joined DuPont in 1908 as a sales rep in the Explosives Department. By 1914, he authored a report on the performance and accomplishments of several DuPont departments that deeply impressed company president Coleman DuPont, who continued to elevate him in the company.

As the Assistant Treasurer in 1914, Brown developed a formula for monitoring business performance that combined earnings, working capital, and investments in plants and property into a single measure that he termed “return on investment.” It later became known in academic and financial circles as the DuPont Method (or Model) for Return on Investment. The measure was widely taught in business schools and adopted by many companies as a means of benchmarking the financial health of their products and businesses.

Ultimately, my philosophy on account service is a creative spin on Brown’s creation but using different wording for the “ROI” acronym that is less about talking and more about taking action.


Account people tend to be outgoing and personable, which are fantastic traits because of the amount of people we interact with. And those interactions can be positive or negative, due to the nature or sensitivity of the conversation. To have open and honest dialog, it is imperative to be guided and driven by personal and professional relationships.

These relationships should be forged internally with creative teams and agency coworkers, and externally with clients, vendor partners, industry colleagues, and the larger community. Collaborate, have lunch, get drinks, lend a hand, learn their interests, talk about non-work items, and don’t just rely on email and texts to communicate. The more you seek a relationship, the more trust is built that ultimately produces better work and a more enjoyable workplace culture.

And as you grow in this industry, after a time, you’ll realize those decades of relationships remain strong even as coworkers move on to other places in their careers, and you in yours.


Output is the physical work someone in account service compiles, creates, and completes. Again, not just talk, but tangible efforts. The output can be in the form of insights, competitive analytics, inspiring briefs, presentations, concepts, recap reports, planning culture events, or even emptying the agency dishwasher.

It is important to create an atmosphere in account service where talented people feel extremely comfortable proposing unique strategies and unconventional ideas. But those strategies and ideas should be well founded, not just thoughts. And that comes by being a student of the industry, through customers, and your clients’ corporate sector. It’s far easier to sell an idea when you have all the facts, so do the homework.

It’s important that people don’t just see you work, but actually see the work. And the output needs to be bigger and smarter than just opening jobs and compiling estimates and timelines. Use your mind and your voice, but also use your hands and legs in the process to produce as much output as possible.


Impact is the measure of your output. It’s not enough to just do the work, but it also must be incredibly effective. You never want to just check a box or cross it off your list. Instead, ensure your work is best in class and drives enviable results.

Did the work exceed goal or even create record sales? Did it get your client promoted? Was it newsworthy? Did it win an award? How much more work did it bring into the agency?

Again, it should never be about just getting the job done because that’s a short-sighted goal. It should be about delivering substantial results with the work, because that’s how companies grow, get talked about, and hire more employees, which helps the economy. Now that’s impact.

When the account team lives up to our ROI—Relationships, Output, Impact—it inevitably results in the traditional Return On Investment for our clients and the agency. And it makes account service an indispensable part of the process, as well as a profitable one that clients value.

Unlike other agencies, Spire’s account team consists of talented individuals who are equal parts left- and right-brained, which provides complete perspective on projects. The “Marketer of the Year” awards from the DFW chapter of the American Marketing Association are judged on whether insights, strategy, and creative align to truly drive results. Over the last seven years, Spire has been among the most-awarded agencies in North Texas, and this show was even named Overall Marketer of the Year in 2022. It’s proof that an active account team can help make measurable impact and deliver ROI for all.

Mike Stopper is Principal/EVP of Client Service and Planning at Spire. He is AAF Dallas’ most-awarded account lead over the last eight years, and both the 2022 and 2020 Overall Marketer of the Year by the D/FW chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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