We Are Stronger Than Me: Richard Henderson, Account Director at David&Goliath

by Dasha Ovsyannikova

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? 

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El Segundo, United States
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Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?

I’m an Account Director at David&Goliath in Los Angeles, currently operating on the agency’s Frito-Lay North America business. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that my craft has taken me from London to Chicago, and now to L.A. At each stop, my mission has remained the same: gain the requisite understanding of the client business and brand, and then determine how branded communications can make an impact.

How do you define the role of an Account Director? Has the role evolved much over the years?

It’s an incredibly multi-faceted role, but the primary functions are to be the trusted face of the agency in the client’s mind, and the knowledge base at the agency as it pertains to your client business. Achieving this is solely reliant on forging an excellent partnership with your clients. 

Within the four walls of the agency, you need to be comfortable with the weight of the account you lead on your shoulders, as the buck often stops with you. And you need to be able to switch gears quickly; one minute you’ll be discussing profitability of the account with the agency leads, the next you’ll be partnering with the strategists to define a brand’s 4 C’s positioning, before swiftly being asked to review the suitability of a proposed campaign idea. 

I believe this has always been the case. As we progress from the junior ranks we must evolve from the doer to also the thinker. Easier said than done.

What sort of qualifications and experience do you need today?

More so than ever, team leaders at agencies are looking for individuals who have a finger on the pulse of culture. As today’s audiences have more power over what ads they see, it’s never been more important for the advertising we create to reflect their lives and aspirations. 

In addition, some of the best advertising minds that I’ve come across have an academic background in psychology and/or social sciences. Arguably, the most impactful advertising is a persuasive dialogue with the right person on a very human level. If you have a deep understanding of the science behind cognitive process, and how that can influence decision-making, you’ll be in a good position to create that persuasive dialogue.

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

As in any walk of life, if you can add value to what the group is trying to achieve you’ll be welcomed, but if you’re just a passenger, or only bring problems, you won’t. At D&G, we say that great work is everyone’s agenda. As business leaders (I despise the term “suits”) our role in that is to forage for opportunity, and provide the thought leadership and clarity that sets the creative department up for success.

What I love about David&Goliath is that it’s a collection of like-minded people, people who come to work because they enjoy the creative process. The divides separating the traditional departments are pretty blurred here – I like to think of myself as a strategist and a junior creative wrapped up in an account handler’s body, and I get the opportunity to act on that here. (I can hear my colleagues laughing as I write this.)

Since your time at D&G, what professional achievement are you most proud of?

Last year, we created a campaign called “Fuel House” to leverage Jack in the Box’s sponsorship of Dallas Fuel, a professional esports team. Through research we learned that what esports fans want most from brands entering their space is for them to heighten their esports experience, ideally by providing behind-the-scenes access. So, with Dallas Fuel, we created a six-part animated web series where the Jack Box character becomes roomies with the Fuel players, all in the name of giving fans intimate access to their heroes, the pro players. More so, the personality behind the pro exterior. The series was supported by a smorgasbord of activations such as Reddit AMAs, a real-life version of the house at pro tournaments, as well as fan engagement competitions living across social.

Our Founder, David Angelo, has a saying, “we are stronger than me.” My interpretation of that is that across our agency, and then extending out to our partner network, there is a myriad of unique skill sets, that if brought together in the right way can make anything happen. Quite frankly, at the start of this project we had absolutely no idea where we should take it, nor the subject matter, but we got the right group together and grew it into something really cool that all involved are proud of. I’m at my happiest when I’m learning, finding clarity among ambiguity for the team and this campaign was all of that in abundance!

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

Extreme and/or endurance athletes, people who are redefining the perception of what the human body is capable of. People like Alex Honnold who climbed up the 3,000-foot sheer face of El Capitan, without ropes, or Tadej Pogačar who recently won the Tour de France at just 21 years of age, blitzing seasoned pros on individual Time Trial. These people refuse to be told what is possible and dedicate themselves 100% to what inspires them. There’s a life lesson for all of us in that.

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

It has obviously had a huge impact on the industry and our clients. Our focus initially switched to simply doing whatever we could to help our clients through it. That meant being extremely informed, resourceful and nimble. I’m proud of how our team and our client came together to help navigate their business through the early part of the crisis. That said, I’m not too surprised as we all live our Brave culture inside and outside of our office. In fact, we’ve developed new practices and processes that will serve us well upon returning to the new normal, whatever that looks like. 

In terms of keeping up with my clients, I’ve always preferred picking up the phone when wanting to speak with them, so nothing has needed to change in that regard.