Interview with Account Director Cath Foster, a Client Services superstar

We caught up with Fresh Egg Account Director (and baker supreme) Cath Foster about her role at the agency, maintaining client relationships throughout the pandemic, and all things account management in our busy Client Services team.

I work hard to understand our clients, not just to get under the skin of their business, but the individuals too. I want to know how I can help support them in their personal goals and also how we can collaborate to achieve the best out of the partnership.

Cath Foster, Account Director

First of all, what does it mean to be an Account Director?

I like to think of myself as the client guardian within the agency, strategically governing the accounts and facilitating our internal expertise. Ensuring all work meets our high standards ahead of delivery, aligns with the client's strategy and meets, if not exceeds, their expectations, providing consistency. At the same time, proactivity identifying mutually beneficial opportunities to drive success and value while nurturing and developing our partnership.

What did your path into this career look like?

I originally worked across Paid media, mainly PPC, managing teams of Account executives and managers across a broad client base. I really enjoyed the training and mentoring aspect of the job while working closely with the client services team to align our Search activity with the ATL plans.

Over time I grew to really enjoy understanding the broader marketing picture, creating the strategy, planning the tactical activity and results directly with clients. Hence transitioning into a Client Services role, I haven’t looked back over the past eight years.  

How important is it to get regular feedback from your clients?

I don’t just think feedback is important; I think it is essential to a great partnership. 

Without feedback, you cannot refine and improve the way you work together. No one is perfect, and no one model suits all clients. Positive feedback helps to reinforce the behaviour and strengthen the relationship.

It is important to know if there are issues to address them together early in the relationship. This helps avoid challenging situations further down the line that become tricky to resolve.

Two-way feedback is also instrumental. Clients need to understand what works for the agency to ensure we are mutually benefiting from the relationship. Shared feedback encourages open communication between both parties, creating trust, allowing for collaboration, and tackling the bigger challenges together as a partnership.

I feel it is so important I am in the process of writing a blog on it!

What is your ethos for putting the customer first?

The customer is at the centre of all the work we carry out at Fresh Egg. We work hard to understand our client’s audience in discovery, from empathy mapping to discovering extract triggers, challenges and frustrations. At the other end, we perform user research to discover how customers are interacting with client assets.

Following the same methodology, I work hard to understand our clients, not just to get under the skin of their business, but the individuals too. I want to know how I can help support them in their personal goals and also how we can collaborate to achieve the best out of the partnership.

How to get the most from a client-agency relationship

Watch our video on 'How to get the most from a client-agency relationship'.

This informative discussion brought together senior marketers from MarshallsJohn Lewis Finance and Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward to understand how the agency-client model has changed due to the pandemic.

What makes a perfect client-agency relationship?

I think the answer to this is a combination of the previous questions.

Firstly, you want to establish a partnership approach to the relationship. One that allows the freedom for honest and open communication, including the ability to challenge and interrogate. This open approach provides the space for creative thinking, productive conversations and creates the foundation of mutual respect.

Understanding the client’s business and empathising with an individual’s position as much as you can. By relating all requests to their objectives, challenges and requirements, you will be providing the correct solutions and ensuring high-quality work is consistently delivered.

It all centres around communication, respect and understanding.

You’ve been a top Account Director for a long time Cath, what do you think has changed over the years?

Thanks for saying so!

One of the biggest challenges is shifting perception of the Account Management function, from one of administration and organisation to a fundamental strategic direction role. A governing body that ties all strands of an account together into a central thread on behalf of a client.

How important is it to immerse yourself in your clients organisation?

It is essential, and it is one of the main themes of this interview and the way we approach our activity with clients regarding their customers. We need to practice what we preach! If you don’t fully immerse yourself, you cannot find solutions or spot opportunities to improve performance.

What would you say to someone looking to get into world of account management?

Are you interested in people, a confident communicator, resilient? Can you juggle and adapt easily?! It can be a rewarding role, particularly for me, when you build those longer-term relationships and establish a wealth of client business knowledge to draw from.

How much of a challenge were the early stages of remote working when the pandemic started?

I actually found remote working helped support the challenges client’s businesses were facing. Some of our charity clients needed to react extremely fast. Being able to meet up quickly on video calls helped to ensure rapid support and turnaround. We weren’t hampered by travel time or meeting room availability. We did have to rethink a few of our fundamentals… how to run a workshop remotely, for example. I feel like we collectively rose to the challenge.

However, some of those positives then created challenges; screen time increased, back-to-back meetings without breaks, work bleeding into home life (I was sat at my dining room table for over a year!). Now, 12 months on, I can see the whole industry and beyond are attempting to address these challenges. There is a big positive shift towards remote meeting etiquette, adding boundaries and far more consideration for individual wellbeing. 

How do you think remote working has changed the dynamic of maintaining and building a healthy client relationship?

The remote working situation is blurred with the backdrop of a pandemic, so I can’t strictly say the following is purely due to remote working. However, I have found that my client relationships have strengthened.

You get an insight into people’s homes and lives; children joining calls, partners in the background, dogs and cats being introduced. I even had one mum bring in a cuppa while we were on a call. Those moments break down walls and build rapport. It unlocks the ability to speak freely and fully collaborate. It was great to see many colleagues and clients checking in on one another and providing support, which leads to very genuine relationships.

On a personal note, I have been provided with the opportunity to move closer to family and continue to work remotely, all due to this situation. When informing client contacts of this change, my move was met with a fantastic level of interest, understanding and support. If anything, it strengthens relationships on a more personal level.

While I don’t miss the meeting room Jenga, it will, of course, be lovely to meet up in person, particularly for workshops, key meetings and of course, the socializing side of things (gin)!

What do your friends and family think you do for a job?

To answer this question, I actually WhatsApp’d quite few friendship and family groups. I found it an amusing thing to ask (until the shoe was on the other foot!) … also, it seemed to make quite a few people feel anxious that they didn’t really know! It ranged from ‘making sure people get to the top of Google’ (which was really more of my job from 10 years ago!) to creative campaigns and wooing clients!

What is your favourite way to eat an egg?

Poached or beaten into a cake 😊

The Open University

Audience-focused website optimisation for the Open University Business Development Unit

Read our case study from one of Cath's accounts where we completed an in-depth discovery process, incorporating quantitative conversion analysis, content analysis, search intent analysis and user testing to identify areas for opportunity for improvement.

Cath Foster

Cath Foster

1 Jul 2019

Nate Wood

Nate Wood

12 Mar 2021

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