Inside the world of account management
Account management. Client services. Account handling. The department may be known by different names but typically you are the link between the agency and clients; the voice of the client to colleagues and representing the agency externally.
Acting as that link between agency and client, at the heart of any account management role is the building and maintaining of relationships.
At the more junior level, your role is to manage work through your agency, making sure that everything happens when and how it should. With more seniority comes more ownership of campaigns or projects. In the most senior positions, you will typically take overall responsibility for the commerciality of the account.
In addition to taught abilities, account managers require softer, almost instinctive, skills, such as:
Relationship building: Most prominent is the need to build trust quickly; whether it be with clients, colleagues or partners.
Client management: You will need to develop an understanding of your client’s business, their objectives and how the agency can best help to achieve those goals.
Commercial acumen: Is it viable to create this work at this price? Will it give the agency funds, fame or fun?
Diplomacy: You may be telling a client that their budget needs to be doubled to achieve the results they need. Or letting your colleagues know that the client has had to change the brief, and you now have to complete eight months’ work in eight weeks.
Some of the industry’s senior people have kindly let us know what skills they look for in account handlers.
Zoe Crowther, managing partner, Red Brick Road, says:
I believe great account people are and always have been great problem solvers. Of course, the types of problems vary with experience; from keeping a small production project running smoothly to building new operating models and ways of working that are fit for changing client needs. Tenacity, positivity, empathy and an entrepreneurial spirit are vital for that ‘problem solving’ mindset.
While Nilesha Chauvet, managing director of GOOD Agency, goes further:
Account management is about building strong client relationships, and it’s about getting the very best work out of the door. To make this happen, the qualities I look for in a great account person are still the same now as they always were.
The qualities include:
Communication skills need to be clear, on point, succinct and well-honed.
A spark of passion and an infectious personality clients and colleagues will want to spend time with.
Intelligence and evidence of diverse and solution-based thinking.
Creative and commercial nous, signs of entrepreneurship – the hunger to make things happen and to keep things moving.
Broad arms to heavy-lift and to juggle complex projects - good account people get off on all of it.
Those softer, more refined skills involving collaboration with others. Because everyone knows that this is not an industry for solo artists. It takes a team to make things work.
“And now of course, everyone wants to change the world”,Chauvet adds. “So inevitably, I look for those who authentically care over and above those who just say they do. Those who really want to make a positive difference.”
As a great deal of the account management role is acting as a hub between colleagues and clients, we also wanted to hear from other departments.
Dean Lanzman is head of data at MullenLowe Profero.He suggests that a good account handler should be:
Challenging my work. Applying their increasing knowledge of the account, the client, the vision, the results and the customer to objectively challenge my work to make it better.
A calculated risk taker. Recognising the core strength of an idea and fully getting behind it both emotionally and practically.
Operationally on it. Unperturbed by constantly staying close to the detail.
Lottie Tonks, senior account manager, Iris Worldwide
An account manager’s perspective
Lottie Tonks is a senior account manager at Iris Worldwide. From pulling together creative toolkits and briefs to client shoots and presentations, her working day is always varied. Here she tells us about what she loves most about her role:
Creative presentations are a really exciting part of the job as you start to see the ideas coming to life. Another really great part of the job is shoots and having the opportunity to work on those. Typically, on set you’ll be responsible for getting the client to sign off on wardrobe, set-ups and shots. It’s key to keep track of the shot list and ensure the client is reviewing and is happy with everything. Shoots are one of the best chances to continue to build client relationships.
Her top tips for success in the role include:
Throughout the day it’s important to keep on top of your inbox.
Be flexible to jump on anything that might pop up, such as pulling together work for clients to share with markets and agencies, so all parties are always up to date with creative work and production.
It’s important to be organised and making sure calls with clients and internal briefings are booked in.
Read Lottie's full 'Day in the Life of Account Management' here.
Whilst a degree was previously seen as the norm for account handlers, more recently the expectations have changed considerably. For entry-level roles, hiring managers lean much more towards personality traits and softer skills than education.
Certainly, there is generally very little expectation that account handlers hold any formal marketing qualification. Over the years, we have represented candidates who have studied law, politics, chemistry, sports science, and geography (to name a few subjects).
- David Love, founding partner, The Great & The Good
Some agencies will offer sponsorship of formal qualifications from trade bodies such as a CIM or IDM qualification. This training (and the network of contacts you can form) is certainly useful to have but it is rare for agencies to stipulate these qualifications as a prerequisite.
Over the years, we have spoken with account managers who have come from a variety of backgrounds. Some experience of overseeing a group of people to make a project a success is always useful but overall, for entry-level roles, personality will go a long way.
Rebecca Dennis, client partner, WBA Partnership, VMLY&R, has had great success hiring junior candidates who have experience of working in busy bars. Typically, these roles require a combination of positivity, resilience and teamwork – all ideal traits for an account manager.
As roles become more senior, most hiring managers are typically looking for account handlers who have experience of the role. Most of the account directors we work with have made their way up from account executive through account manager roles to AD.
However, it is not unheard of for marketing executives, managers and directors to make the switch into comparable roles in agencies’ client services teams.
Account handling salaries can fall into pretty broad brackets based on the location, type of work and accounts.
Most London-based account executive roles in generalist, integrated agencies will come with a starting salary of around £20-£25,000 per annum. Annual salaries then rise to roughly £30-£40,000 for account managers, £50,000-£60,000 for account directors and £80,000+ for business directors.
Depending on the agency, the standard benefits may include private health insurance, gym membership, cycle to work schemes and season ticket loans. Agencies are often very generous with their softer benefits – breakfast is typically provided, lots of company socials, summer and/or Christmas parties, a mentoring culture and so on.
Looking for a role in Account Management? Check out our current vacancies
Most agencies work roughly 9:30am-5:30pm. However, the nature of an agency is such that long hours are sometimes necessary – when a pitch is on or a campaign deadline is fast approaching. At these times, working late into the night and over weekends can be required.
On the flip side, as agencies are generally less corporate than other businesses, they are often a little more relaxed about office hours being a hard and fast rule every day.
Many agencies will also have reduced hours in summer, will completely shut down for the Christmas period and will offer extra days off for birthdays, moving house and other similar events. It is not unusual to see paid sabbaticals offered to recognise long service too.
Over the past few years, we have also seen more flexibility around the needs of returning mothers and, increasingly, fathers.
The structure of a classic account management team reflects the natural progression and greater responsibility you will take on as you progress.
Account executives are largely focused on campaign administration and support, while learning the ropes of agency life.
Account managers take more of a leadership role on specific campaigns or projects, are the day-to-day contact for everyone involved (clients, creatives, strategists, suppliers, partners) and make sure that the planned timings and budget are met.
Account directors have more responsibility for account leadership, strategy and commercials. As AD, you will own the day-to-day relationship with the client and therefore be responsible not just for specific campaigns but for the overall account. This may be a standalone client or a division of a larger piece of business.
Business directors look after either a large piece of business or a collection of accounts. BDs typically work with the client’s board and most senior marketers.
The next step within an account management career will depend on you and your passions: adopt a more pastoral role as head of department or focus on the client leadership aspects of the job and become a managing partner who runs a significant piece of business. In most agencies, the managing director and CEO have also typically come through the account handling route.
Over the years, we have seen account handlers move into new business teams, strategy roles, data and production/project management. Others choose to take their knowledge to brands’ own teams or else to leave the marketing industry completely and draw on some of their skills to become teachers, entrepreneurs or even recruiters!
- David Love, founding partner, The Great & The Good
One advantage of a career in account management is that the role naturally leads to you interacting with pretty much every other department. Plus, you cover a broad remit of responsibilities, so get the chance to understand a wide variety of roles.
Originally published on Campaign