I hugged a client yesterday.

I wasn't expecting to do it—it just happened. And, frankly, it surprised the SWOT out of me.

Not because I'm not an affectionate person, but because it conflicted with the 21st century roles that account service types have evolved into. Strategy. Professionalism. Leadership. Believe me, as an account-service type, I wish I didn't have this new responsibility.

Unfortunately, the old stereotype of the account executive (AE) was not favorable from a strategic standpoint. The role was often defined by over-solicitous individuals who presented a few ideas, cut out early and once in a pink moon invited the client out for drinks and darts. Tens of thousands of AEs rode the wave of endless expense accounts and big budget nights on the town, contributing little to the client's business.

I guess it would have been OK to hug a client in those days.

Obviously, times have changed for the account service department. Our role as account executives is to lend expertise and insight as we hack the path for our clients through a post 9-11 marketing jungle.

Clients are anxious. They are uncertain. They are looking to us for leadership and guidance. This is a serious task with serious consequences.

Our clients are facing a marketplace wrought with competition and communication mediums that need constant monitoring. Our clients don't want to see mediocre creative that may or may not have results.

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Eric Thiegs is the account manager for client relationships and new business development with the Barry Group, Inc. (www.barrygroup.com) in York, PA.