Media Types / Lunch? I was proactively interfacing: The account handler

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The Independent Online
ACCOUNT handlers are the public face of an advertising agency, often known as 'suits' because they exist to look smart and sell the agency's work - advertising campaigns - to clients, writes Rhys Williams. Most suits balk at the idea that they are merely well-dressed salesmen and hate the title. They will have you believe that 'as the interface between client and agency' they 'contribute significantly to the overall strategic development of a brand'.

It's not surprising that their chief likes, after themselves, are jargon and long words, particularly made-up ones such as 'impactful', 'prioritise' or 'proactive'. Suits believe an ad contains not a message, but 'a single-minded proposition, brought alive in a compelling way'.

Suits get a lot of stick, some of it deserved: from the client (never Dickie from Mars or Jenny from CPC, always 'the client') because the work is late or over budget; and from the creative department, which actually dreams up the slogans, for not giving them enough time or securing a big enough budget.

Despite a proliferation of designer labels - anything less than Paul Smith, Joseph, Nicole Farhi or Armani will not do - most suits say the business is no longer the glitzy joyride of the past decade. Don't believe it. The only phrase heard more often than 'It's nothing like it was in the Eighties' is 'I've got a window on the 21st, let's do lunch'. They gravitate toward eateries such as The Ivy, Dell'Ugo, Quaglinos and Tante Claire.

Proof that adfolk can still charge like a wounded rhino came with an industry furore last year over Edward Booth- Clibborn, former chairman of the Design and Art Directors' Association. One expense-account lunch at Le Gavroche cost pounds 448 for two, including a half bottle of wine at pounds 126. The bill was put through against 'PR', which in this case appeared to stand for 'profligate romp'.

Many suits retain an alarming affection for the material trappings of the Eighties: Filofaxes ('they're so useful, you understand'), mobile phones (ditto), black-and-chrome offices filled with yucca plants, and softball in summer in Regent's Park. Many are not the least bit embarrassed to admit they pick up fashion and interior design tips from Elle, GQ and Esquire - though it's still deemed naff to be seen reading Hello].

A healthy proportion of suits are frustrated creatives. One of the few outlets for their invention is an expense-claim form. One ploy, reputedly practised by one chairman of a leading London agency, was to buy shirts at Herbie Frogg, a men's clothing chain, and charge it to 'lunch with client', certain that the clerk in accounts would think it the name of a restaurant.

The only other demands on their creativity come when dealing with impatient clients - 'Haven't you received it yet? I put it on a bike an hour ago' (translates as: 'God, I'd completely forgotten about that') - or with the creative department - 'Marvellous idea, though we may have problems from the client with the picture and the slogan' ('That's crap').

To say they are what they portray is not too unkind. The following would slot seamlessly into any London agency: the man in the Audi who rushes to see the birth of his baby, any character from a Gillette commercial, the Gold Blend woman.

Probably the most famous advertising person outside advertising is Peter Mayle - enough said, really.