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Become an Account Manager

From problem solving to presenting, learn what skills you need to master to land a job as an account manager from working agency account managers

Illustration by Inga Ziemele

You can think of an account manager as a liaison between an agency and their clients. Essentially, it’s the job of the account manager to keep the client happy, while enabling the rest of their agency colleagues, like creatives and strategists, to do their best work for the client in question. It’s a role that requires good people skills, since so much of it is about building sturdy relationships and keeping lines of communication open between all parties. But it’s also a role with a lot of hands-on responsibilities, like presenting new work to clients, problem solving, planning ahead to anticipate changing needs and providing feedback for creatives. A good head for the little details is essential for success in account management.

We spoke to five working account managers from Superunion, McCann, AMV BBDO and Publicis about their work. They told us what they’ve learned about how to get into this career path, and what you need to go the extra mile once you’re in the door.

A positive attitude is essential

Working in advertising is not always smooth sailing: production schedules can change last-minute, metaphorical fires may need to be put out and client management can require a delicate approach. But a positive outlook can help you deal with any bumps in the road, according to Isobel Munro, account director at Superunion, where she leads the Nespresso team.

“Be positive – one of the most important traits of someone in client management is to be the positive force on the team,” she says. “Keeping people motivated is crucial to running a project. This sometimes means putting your own feelings or opinions aside for the sake of a happy client and a happy team.”

Joely Buxton-Smith, senior account manager at McCann London, agrees. “[It’s important to] be a positive, driving force on whatever account you work on,” she says, drawing on experience working on Just Eat’s global business and Cereal Partners UK. “So much of our job is down to the relationships you build both internally and with clients. You need to instil confidence in your team and your clients that you are motivated, thinking ahead and committed to delivering what is required, however big or small.”

Learn to pivot quickly

If you’re looking for a fast-paced career where truly no two days are the same, account management might suit you very well, but you’ll need to be quick to adapt to changes both big and small.

That’s what Nicola Bennett-Cook, account director at Superunion, recommends, having spent six years working mostly with the agency’s gaming clients. “Be prepared to be agile and pivot,” she says. “Over the years I think it’s safe to say all projects have unexpected bumps in the road, or changes to scope, or late feedback just as you're about to deliver something. You need to be ready to find the solution and rally the team back up to keep delivery moving forward, and the team driving for the highest creative work possible.”

But it’s the variety and pace that makes the role appealing for many successful account managers. “I would say being an account manager is like being at Thorpe Park,” says Terrance Obeng, account manager at AMV BBDO. “Everything goes a million miles per hour; there is lots to see and learn. One minute I'm presenting and selling creative work to clients; the next, I'm working with finance to chase unpaid invoices, or I might just be WhatsApping my team the latest ad from a rival agency. For me, it’s the variety and pace of the role that makes it attractive and addictive.”

Treat your client like a part of your team

The best partnerships between client and agency come from forging a close relationship of equals, says Mirjana Slavkovic, Group Account Director at Publicis Italy. It’s a question of focusing on the shared goal at hand, building trust, and avoiding an oppositional mindset.

“You and the client can be a team,” says Slavkovic, who manages regional and global projects for international clients such as The Coca-Cola Company and Barilla. “Getting into the partnership mindset is not easy, especially when times get tough. But we need to remind ourselves that we ultimately have the same goal and we are in this together, and if we create a partnership-like relationship, trust comes easier.”

Work with as many people as possible – and learn from them

You can think of an account manager as being the funnel through which an agency’s creative work passes, meaning it’s your job to be across the entire breadth of a piece of work. For this reason, it’s a good idea for an account manager to keep up with all the little details of agency life, so that the project can run smoothly. “ Get super involved, work with as many people as you can, and listen, watch, and learn,” says Bennett-Cook. “Keeping up to date with resourcing, finance, and the list of actions is super important to keep things running smoothly. You are the go-to for the team and the client so knowing what stage you’re at in the process is key.”

Buxton-Smith agrees. “Be organised, keep a record of all key documents and ensure everything that you share internally and with clients is to a high standard. The people you work with need to trust that you are across all the details.”

And being detail-oriented isn’t helpful only for your agency teammates, either. Staying up to speed with the wider context can add value for your client, too, according to Munro. “Be an expert,” she advises. “Make yourself the go-to for all questions relating to your client. If you can answer the FTSE 250 Index position of your client before even they can – you’ll be a trusted partner.”

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