Tap Into Tension: Tess McBride, Group Account Director, Laundry Service

If you’re afraid of tension, you’re afraid to fight for what you believe in.

Tess McBride
Group Account Director Laundry Service

Laundry Service
Full Service
Brooklyn, United States
See Profile

One of the most demanding positions in advertising requires a blend of attention to detail, authority, business flair, people skills, flexibility and – yes – a love of creativity. Wining and dining, champagne, swanky business trips. That’s how Mad Men portrayed the daily life of account people. But what does it really mean to be the interface between the agency and the client, making sure everyone’s needs are met? And how do you get good at it?


Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?

Professionally, I’m a Group Account Director at Laundry Service in Portland, Oregon. I work with an array of clients and teams that touch everything from sports to footwear to animals to technology to lifestyle brands. 

Beyond work, I’m a new mom with a love of being outdoors, appreciation for good food and beverages, obsession with travel, and a need for daily exercise – be it running, spinning or walking.


How do you define the role of an account director/manager? Has the role evolved much over the years?

My philosophy regarding my role is to understand my client’s needs and then empower a team of experts to come together and deliver back what the client wanted, and then some. These needs and deliverables will evolve throughout the course of a project. It’s my responsibility to allow them to evolve when necessary, provide guardrails when needed, and respectfully challenge along the way – while endlessly supporting both my team and client. 

In my opinion, this role has evolved over time to being more collaborative, both with clients and within the agency. We don’t just say yes, but we also ask why. We don’t push for what’s easiest or most profitable, but we fight for what will make the most impact. This is how I’ve been encouraged to work at Laundry Service, which I greatly value.


What sort of qualifications and experience do you need today? 

To respect the vision of my client while valuing the experts on my team, I need to know where they’re both coming from, and how to facilitate the best work between them.

Leading the way means understanding my clients’ business needs and being obsessed with marketing and advertising. The job means knowing how to listen, problem-solve, cheerlead, think critically, be empathetic and occasionally mediate.

Beyond what my job as an account lead entails, I need to know at least a little bit about everything (e.g., strategy, creative, paid media, influencer marketing, analytics, social media management) while also respecting the experts I work with who know the most about all of these crafts.


Does the historic tension between the creative department and the “suits” still exist? Or was it always a myth?

Healthy tension will always exist in some essence across departments (account, creative and beyond) when you have a team made of individuals who are really smart and authentically care about what we’re trying to do together. If you’re afraid of tension, you’re afraid to fight for what you believe in.

As an account lead, it’s my responsibility to encourage my team to tap into this tension by pushing strategy to advocate for their reasoning, or nudging creative to fight for their ideas. When done respectfully, this is what makes us better at our jobs and the work better for our clients, which is what we all show up for.


How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry and what professional achievement are you most proud of?

My first marketing job was “live-Tweeting” a salmon’s journey to the ocean for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In the nine years since then, I’ve worked at agencies in strategy, creative and client services departments with time also spent working in influencer management and paid media. I think my experience touching all of these departments has fostered my appreciation for the hard work I remember firsthand that goes into each of these roles. Empathy is never an undervalued trait, whatever field you’re working in.

One of my proudest career moments was launching an Instagram account for a client, which included a social launch video that ended up being so well received that we turned around a weekend re-edit for it to air as a TV spot during the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest. For me, this project exhibited the perfect circumstance of having a trusting client paired with a super smart team who all worked incredibly hard on something. And it really showed.


Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?

When I think about those who inspire me the most, my immediate reaction is to think of all of the smart, thoughtful and supportive women I work with at Laundry Service and have worked with in the past. While I look up to leaders in my industry and beyond, my true inspiration stems from those whom I’ve watched walk the walk and listened to talk the talk. 

As an industry we’re fighting to get more women into these deserved positions, so working with these success cases is proof to me we’re doing better — while acknowledging we still have a long way to go.


How has the pandemic impacted your work? Do you have any tips on how to maintain connectivity with clients?

I was back in the office for two weeks — after being out on 4.5 months of maternity leave — before we started to work remotely. I did not imagine my return from leave being in my home office with a partner also working from home, and us balancing life with a new baby. But we’re doing the best we can like everybody else. 

I’ve prided myself as an open and honest client services partner with a desire to connect with my clients on real levels. Having your baby join video calls is a great way to be very real. This is my reality and I’m here to work hard and support my clients and my team. But that now means it occasionally comes with a guest appearance on my lap.