Account management finds itself at a crossroads – what are the expectations of the role today, and what is missed when it comes to maximising client value while balancing agency capabilities? 


In a recent Red & Yellow Webinar, Gillian joined Andrew in a conversation about the gaps in the role of account management that agencies and clients are currently experiencing, and discussed what steps we can take to fix them. 

In this blog, you can read a preview of some of the questions fielded to Gillian, and also catch up with her three steps to effective account leadership.

What does an account manager typically do?


I think one of the challenges of being an account manager is that it’s a multifunctional role. The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon says there are three areas to it: you’re responsible for the work, the relationship and managing conflict. I would add to that that you’re also responsible for managing the profit for the business. You have to be so many things and it’s both a left and right brained job. You’re in the middle between the agency and the client. Essentially the main job is that your clients needs are met, and that the business on both sides meet their objective.

What makes an excellent account manager? 

As much as it’s a difficult job, I think it’s an incredibly satisfying one. You need to have an understanding of marketing, and how it works. There has to be a knowledge set of the particular differentiator of your agency. You have to know what good PR is, and what good advertising is. 

There are good soft selling and good relationship skills, as well as good people management skills.

What’s changed and where do we find account management today?

Over the years, what’s happened is that it’s become watered down. Strategy has been taken over by a different person, and in some cases not all agencies even have a strategist. 

The role is a little bit lost, and it needs to regain its power rather than being something in the middle that’s focused just on processes.

What’s the typical career path or trajectory for the account management discipline?

You’ll come in and you may be a junior or assistant account manager, then you become an account manager. After that you’d become an account director, and then a business unit director where you have direct reports and a portfolio of clients. From there, you may move on to EXCO or a managing director role.

At director level you become far more responsible for the budgeting and the billing. You also meet the most senior clients at their level, as you’re delivering not only your profit but also the client’s growth. At a senior level, it’s managing staff, budgets, new business and new projects. The reason that people end up being managing directors is that you’re growing people and profits and maintaining existing clients and new business.

How do you manage that you continue to tread the line between the growth of the agency and the success of the client?

I imagine a bridge or a bow tie. At the centre of the bowtie is your client, and there are all those relationships that need to be managed on both sides of the bow tie. And there can be a lot of friction, but the key is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the work at hand. Sometimes account managers defend the client too much, and this conversation needs to be managed within your own team. It’s a difficult one. The whole point of the Account Leadership short course is that you’re thinking about the long term success of both parties, not just the client. If you’re simply an order taker from the client, the work won’t be right either. You need to learn to do what’s right for the job at hand.

What is Account Leadership and why is now a good time to bring a course like this to life?

The term account management is not a term I like. I like client service even less. Agencies across the world have gone back and forth on the terminology, but what clients want is an advisor. 

They’re looking for someone with a degree of expertise. The term account manager is too passive, and indicates that you’re just managing the process along the way. What’s needed, and what’s missing at all levels, is leadership.

On the subject of project management, where do you see the role of the project manager getting involved? What does the interface between the account manager and the project manager look like now, especially when it comes to communication with clients?


For me, project management is far more important for the production phase, but it’s not something the account manager can wash their hands of because they are responsible for delivering. I like to view the whole role of advertising as being like rugby, not relay. I’m not having the baton to you and letting you run. There is a lot more teamwork and back and forth.

Where do we go from here, and how do we take better ownership of this role?

One of the biggest things for me, and we deal with it in this Account Leadership short course, is to be really well armed with knowledge. I think there’s a degree of confidence that needs to come through in this leadership role, but you can’t become confident without being an expert.

In some instances there isn’t’ enough knowledge – what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creativity? How do we drive it and how do we sell it? Also understanding that there’s a big educational role in the job because you’re bringing clients into an area that’s not within their comfort zone at all.

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