In advertising, it's often the creatives who receive much of the well-deserved glory. It only makes sense. Creatives are the rock stars of our industry. They wow and inspire clients and create loyal followings.
But behind every successful creative, there is usually a well-oiled machine behind the scenes—the account management team, making sure there is a process in place to actually get things done, among many other responsibilities. We read a lot about what it takes to be an inspired creative, but less ink is devoted to what it takes be a stellar account manager.
If you think you have what it takes be an account manager, here are a few tips on how to survive and thrive and what agency management looks for in a great account manager.
No matter how rock solid your to-do list for the day is, advertising is known for its curveballs and fire drills. In my 10-plus years, I've learned to expect the unexpected—the wrench in the project plan. That's why account teams must be proactive and invest time upfront. When the phone rings and the client asks to push the project's timeline up a week because the CEO said so, you'll be able to stay focused on a solution and not the problem, revise the plan and course correct the team in a mutually beneficial way—If you work ahead of schedule.
As an account manager, I often joke that I want to change my title to therapist. Not because I always give the best advice (though that doesn't hurt), but because I often find myself in situations where I'm providing thoughts, direction or feedback—and subjectivity just doesn't get the job done. Account managers serve as air traffic control, with information, opinions and direction coming from all angles—clients, management, creative and media. That's why it's imperative to understand and separate personal preference and opinion from what is right for the business, and use that as a filter for managing your work. It will go a long way in effectively evaluating creative, media plans, client feedback and maintaining healthy dialogue in all your internal and external relationships.
This is particularly important for account managers at smaller agencies who wear many hats. We are strategists and brand planners, production assistants, analysts and client relationships managers. We provide research, write briefs and decks that go on to inform work that may change the course of a client's business. We submit change orders that could result in a number of outcomes if not written clearly and correctly. We manage timelines and budgets that often don't include the luxury of an off day or missing the mark. All of these roles require clear communication to get the job done. It's an underrated but vital skill to a highly functional account team.
In my tenure, I've seen strong account managers who are doers and strong managers who are thinkers. Both can be successful, but the thinkers are the ones I want on my team (especially if they can also do). The thinkers are the ones who can thrive in any organization, and they are the future of advertising.
You can often spot the account person in the room because they love a good notebook and pen (or in my case, one very specific type of mechanical pencil), have stacks of papers or decks in front of them, and a folder of backup information "just in case." Being organized can look different for different people, but is an absolute must in account management.
Calm and collected
Just as in life, in advertising things change. A lot. Effective account managers don't become frazzled and send the entire agency into a tailspin when plans change, complaining about how unrealistic a client's demands are. Instead, they pause to figure out the best way to solve the problem.
Time is money in advertising, so it's important for account managers to get direction and figure out what happens next on their own. A great account manager will leave no stone unturned when asked to look into something, knows what resources she or he has available, and effectively uses them. A great motto to live by: "I'm here to make my supervisor's life easier."
Ability to prioritize/understand urgency
This is often the biggest challenge when starting out, especially at a small agency where you're likely working on multiple pieces of business and they become hot at the exact same time. The good news is, it usually gets easier with time and experience. Being able to manage a lot of moving parts, switch gears from one thing to the next and understanding urgency and the importance of responsiveness will go a long way.
The account team is the owner of client relationships. We kick off calls, lead meetings, take and make difficult calls, so investing in relationships, getting to know clients' businesses, personalities, likes and dislikes goes a long way in creating healthy agency/client relationships. In order to become a true client partner, and not just an order-taker, you must engage in small talk beyond the weather and figure out how to relate on a personal level with internal and external constituents.
Must love dogs
OK, this one's not totally necessary. But aside from the fact that most agencies are animal friendly, if you don't love animals, are you really even human? Understanding human nature is, of course, the ultimate tool in the account manager's toolbox. Understanding the behaviors, thought processes, motivations, triggers—or at the very least having a relentless curiosity for figuring them out—is an absolute must in today's ever-changing consumer landscape.