Technology may be changing the knowledge needed to be an account manager; but I think that the qualities needed to do the job are pretty timeless.
Of course, the perfect account manager doesn’t exist but if they did they might look something like this:
Needless to say, if you’re the sort of person who likes to put the headphones on and concentrate on the same task all day, account management isn’t for you! The kind of account manager (AM) I would want to employ is not only good at keeping lots of plates spinning at the same time, but genuinely enjoys the buzz of it. A line from Rudyard Kipling comes to mind…
A sense of anticipation
The best account managers are – almost instinctively – one step ahead of the game. If there’s a problem in the pipeline, the AM has made the call and managed expectations before the client even knew anything might be wrong.
It’s so tempting to hide behind email isn’t it? Great AM’s know that email is fine for the admin side of running an account, but it doesn’t build relationships (which is what the job is all about). When there’s bad news, deliver it in person (or at least on the ‘phone). Great AMs use every opportunity to build personal contact and trust with their clients.
Value not costs
Most AMs would balk at being called a salesperson. But in the majority of agencies AMs are at the pointy end of the commercial side of the business and it’s their job to bring in the fees. In a tough and highly competitive climate the best AMs can articulate the value of work and get paid accordingly.
Being an AM does not take the kind of bravery required to fight in Helmand Province, but on their own terms, the best AMs are gutsy. As the lightning conductor when things go wrong (which they inevitably do from time to time) an AM needs to have a rhino’s skin and not be afraid to be honest – especially when the client isn’t going to like what they’re about to hear. The truth will always come out, and the best AMs aren’t afraid to take it on the chin early (see anticipation above).
This charming man (woman)
Hurrah…I’ve managed to sneak a Morrissey lyric into a blog! You cannot underestimate how far likeability and charm will get you as an AM. It’s not something you can teach. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.
Leading by example
Hey, working in a creative agency isn’t a bad way to earn a crust is it? But it can be a pretty stressful and demoralising line of work at times. The mercurial creative team can get easily distracted and – if not handled with care – easily demotivated. The best AM is even of temperament, always positive and upbeat. When things are a little flat, they galvanise the team and keep them motivated.
The bigger picture
AMs are in charge of the overall profitability of an account. They know that you don’t make money on every job. It’s just the nature of the game. On the flip side, AMs know that so long as the net effect is a decent margin, eroding the relationship with the client arguing over a disputed £500 amend is probably counter-productive. Lose the odd battle, win the war.
For most people networking is a contender for a Room 101 experience. But not the great AM. They thrive on meeting new people and they know that their network is one of the greatest assets they can bring to an agency. If you are recruiting for an AM, check out how many connections they have on LinkedIn…it will tell you a lot.
Facilitator not dictator
AMs knows that they need to build a great relationship with the ‘talent’ almost as much as they need to build a relationship with the client. Creatives hate being managed and don’t work in straight lines. They hate deadlines. For the ordered, process driven AM they are the source of endless sleepless nights. But there’s no point trying to swim upstream. The best AMs get to know how each of their creative team works and uses that other crucial quality – charm – to get what’s needed done.
Clients can often have very emotional reactions to creative work. They’re not sure why they don’t like it, they just don’t. Or they are underwhelmed and were expecting more "wow" factor. "Can we add some animation?"
The best AM doesn’t relay back to the creative teams client feedback in literal terms. Instead they can translate a subjective reaction into a brief that a designer or creative can work with. More often than not the client is simply saying "I think you can do better". And after much grumbling the creatives have another crack and indeed do produce better work (and then feel happy that they were pushed).
Finally, I think that the best AMs are excellent listeners. In fact, I’d say that when dealing with clients they should spend 80% of their time listening and 20% talking (mainly asking questions). Clients need AMs to be their pressure valve. There’s a temptation upon hearing a client talk about something they need to go straight into sales mode. Great AMs leave the meeting without the client feeling they’ve been sold at.
Missed when not there
I’d venture to suggest that the most common question AMs get asked by their colleagues is: "what do you actually do?"
And I suspect many of them struggle to come up with a decent answer.
But just as with the best design, the best account management is only noticed and missed in its absence.