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Account Management Corporate Structure

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A large number of chief executive officers in advertising agencies have backgrounds in account management, as it provides an important perspective on the business as a whole, rather than one specialized area. The four positions management supervisor, account supervisor, account executive, and assistant account executive-form the core of account management. They are responsible for day-to-day managing of accounts and meeting clients' advertising needs.

As management supervisor you would oversee all work produced for a client. Like the research, media, or creative directors, the management supervisor often carries the title of senior vice president, especially if he or she handles a large or important client. It would be your responsibility to make a profit for the agency through efficient and skillful handling of each account as well as through growth in account billings. You would not be involved with the everyday execution of account business, but would supervise and approve strategy development. As management supervisor you would also review and approve all research, media, and creative work before it is shown to the client to ensure that it is strategically correct and consistent with agency standards. You would work closely with senior management, including division heads and advertising directors on the client's side.

As an account supervisor (AS), you would generally handle a number of products-the exact number depends on size, complexity, and importance-and report directly to the management supervisor. After working as an AS for two or three years, you might be given the title of vice president. You would be involved in the day-to-day details of account service, supervising the work of the account executives (AEs) and the assistants under the AEs, and reviewing all research and creative media work before it is shown to the management supervisor. You would also provide strategic direction to client staff. Thus, the AS must combine a thorough, detailed knowledge of advertising and the clients' business with marketing expertise. The AS typically deals with product managers, group product managers, and advertising directors on the client side.

The next rank downward is the account executive, the primary action role in account management. As an AE, you would carry out the day-today work involved in client service. Anyone who hopes to rise in the advertising corporate structure must master the skills of an AE. Assistant account executive is basically a training position below the account executive; it assists in most of the AE responsibilities.


The AE job function can be divided into three roles: client liaison, client contact, and agency manager. These activities together capture the essence of the advertising business-that is, making money by servicing the promotional needs of clients. As an AE, you would interact with the client, ascertain client advertising needs, and work with the various departments of your agency in the development of an advertising program to fulfill these needs. You will be successful if you produce a campaign with which the client is satisfied and on which the agency makes a profit.

Client Liaison: It is important for there to be continuity in agency-client relations, therefore one person-the AE-generally deals with the client. The client tells you what is desired and you work with the appropriate agency departments. You act as a focal point of information not only within the agency, but between the client and agency.

A second reason for the AE's liaison role is that an agency must be able to present a unified opinion-i.e., an agency recommendation. If a client talks directly to a research, media, or creative person, personal opinions can become confused with agency recommendations. Although differing personal opinions are to be expected within an agency, a recommendation must be made which the agency as a whole can stand behind. The AE serves as the agency's spokesperson.

A third reason for the importance of your role as liaison is your presumed business background and knowledge. This allows you to envision with the client how a recommended advertising campaign will fit into a marketing plan, and how sales will be affected. Other agency personnel are usually without general business backgrounds and thus less qualified to do so.

Client Contact: In addition to your role as a liaison person, you would serve as a contact to whom the client can turn for a variety of needs and services. Here you act as a marketing consultant specializing in advertising.

Knowledge of the client's business is essential to fulfilling this duty. Insufficient knowledge of the product can seem insulting to the client and reflect poorly on the entire agency. Therefore you are expected to be conversant with the product-what it does and how it does it, sales information, pricing. You add to this basic information your marketing knowledge-who buys it and for what purpose, consumer perceptions, advertising background, and so forth. The AE's ultimate achievement is to show the client product manager something new about the product.

Knowledge of the client's business requires knowledge of the competitive environment. No product is ever advertised in a vacuum; advertising must be designed with the competition in mind. This involves tracking and analyzing competitors' sales trends, marketing practices, and advertising. You would present such competitive analyses to the client with recommendations for future action.

Identifying special marketing opportunities for the client is a rewarding part of your job. Often your position in the industry offers exposure to promotional opportunities and media events outside the traditional media mix and unknown to the client. These opportunities are often just the thing to give a product a new push forward in a lagging market. Therefore, your recommendations to the client, if intelligently conceived and carefully put forth, will work to your benefit in several ways, among them these three: first, it shows you understand the product well enough to make suggestions to augment the effect of traditional media in marketing; second, it shows innovation and initiative; third, an accepted recommendation can increase agency billings.

Agency Manager: In the role of agency manager, your third function as an AE, you coordinate the actions of other agency departments. You must be a planner as well as a coordinator. Since you are the primary source of client information to the agency, you must pass information on to the departments concerned so they can produce what is required. Careful planning and coordination must be done by you to avoid duplication of effort and time wasted. Since advertising agencies are not generally paid an hourly fee, but rather a commission on media placements or a flat project fee, the most expeditious and efficient approach to the work is likely to be the most profitable for the agency.

As an AE, you are likely to be a scheduler and record-keeper for the account. You must be aware of key dates and events pertaining to the product, the client, and the advertising planned to support the product. For instance, you have to know when key brand promotions are taking place so that heavy advertising activity can be scheduled, if that accords with the nature of the promotion.

Your role as planner is also important with respect to the production of advertisements. You devise a production timetable when an ad is in the production phase and see that it is followed. Timetables are usually developed backward-from the due date (first air date for a television or radio commercial, material-due date for print) back to the start date-to permit enough time for each stage of production, including time for client and network review and approval at key points. Technical details on time requirements are supplied by production personnel. You must be sensitive to the details that other staff people would not generally know but that could affect meeting schedules. Often these seem to be small details, such as the times when a client will be unavailable to approve work in process; nevertheless, they can delay production. You need to look ahead to see where problems may arise, and have solutions or alternative courses of action at hand.

Your job will involve administrative work as well as planning. Meetings are the most common administrative acts; sometimes your entire work day will be spent in them. An administrative task that stems from these meetings is memo writing. Written records must be kept for documentation and referral. Sometimes it seems that memos are being written for the most trivial matters. The amount of paper which passes across your desk can be astounding, but this control function is a critical one.

Following a meeting with the client, you would write objective or goal statements to accompany the assignments given to the various departments. For instance, before the media planner can develop a plan, he or she needs to know certain key details, such as whom the client is trying to reach, in what regional areas, with what legal restrictions, etc. Your objective statements serve as formal documents to which the media planner, account team, and client can refer.

Another important part of your work as administrator would be account financial control. This involves working on financial matters pertaining to the client and agency. Generally, the advertising budget for the fiscal year is assigned for a product by the client in the final months of the preceding year. In essence, this budget is a lump sum with which the agency is to make a successful advertising campaign. The budget is broken into two parts: media and non-media. Media includes all funds for television, radio, print, or other media. Non-media supports research, creative production, traffic, talent and residuals, and so forth. One rule of thumb used in the industry is that for large package-goods accounts that use television and radio media, at least 5 percent of the total budget should support non-media. Hence, an ad budget of $7 million would have $350,000 for non-media expenses.

When total budget figures are assigned, you must prepare a budget showing where funds are likely to be spent for every month of the year. You would work with the media department to get monthly media cost estimates and with business affairs to get estimates for talent, traffic, shipping, etc. During the course of the year, you would check each month that no area involves overspending; if so, you would arrange common to each department: account management, research, media, business affairs, and the creative area. The skills needed in research and creative, suggested by the educational background required, differ substantially from typical business skills. As such, they will not be discussed further here.

Account management and media departments tend to require similar managerial skills but different technical skills. Since the AE skills required are the most general, we will focus on this position.

People in account management are generalists within a specialty field; they must be conversant in all areas of both advertising and the client's business. Many skills required of an AE are learned through on-the-job experience. Because of the need for general ability, the educational or professional background of AEs is broad. There is no one professional degree or specific, preparatory type of job experience required. Many advertising professionals feel that the best educational background is one that combines the liberal arts and social sciences with a knowledge of business. While advanced degrees, such as an MBA, are increasingly common, many people do extremely well with a bachelor's degree.

The broad, varied background that is an asset in account management should involve experience in and out of the advertising profession. Many top executives in the field have had experience advertising a number of different products. It is unwise for a new AE to work only on overly specialized accounts or ones that do not teach marketing skills applicable to other accounts. "Packaged goods" accounts (such as soap, personal hygiene products, prepared foods, etc.) make good early job experiences because of their typical use of several media, large ad budgets (especially in larger agencies), and application of general marketing principles. With a background in packaged goods, you will have reasonable job mobility within the industry. Someone who has had experience only in, for instance, retail advertising (such as department store and travel accounts) or non-consumer, technical product advertising may find it difficult to move out of these specialized fields.

Within advertising, people sometimes move from the media or research departments into account management. It is less common for people to move from the creative or business affairs department to account management. These moves can occur to another department within the same agency, to another agency, or from a support company within the profession (such as a media buying-selling company) to an agency. However, such moves are hard to accomplish, and may require a lateral or even lower-level move. For instance, a senior media planner may have to "start over" as an assistant AE. However, he or she may be able to progress more rapidly than others owing to the knowledge provided by the previous specialized experience.

People can also come into account management after working in non-advertising fields. The difficulties here are similar to those mentioned above-in particular, it is hard to get started as an AE coming from a different business background. However, previous experience can be an asset in account work, especially if it relates to the specific account for which the person is hired. This is often true when someone has worked in a sales-related area. Other fields which account management personnel have commonly worked in are communications (television, radio, print), journalism, public relations, and product management. Product management work is a good entree into account management-probably the best type of non-advertising work experience because of the similarities between the two jobs and the valuable insights provided by experience on the client side. There is frequent movement between these two jobs, and many high-level account managers have worked as product managers. People who move from product management into account work are more likely to move into higher management positions than those entering from other professions.

One of the most important characteristics of a successful account manager is the ability to lead others. Leadership is critical in two areas: within the agency and with the client. You must be able to coordinate effectively all of the departments of the agency on your accounts, and be able to influence colleagues so that the best work will be provided for your clients. You cannot take a retiring attitude when disagreements arise among staff departments. You must be willing to take the leadership role required of agency manager.

This quality of leadership extends to dealings with the client. It means being able to persuade the client that the agency is providing the kind of work desired and to stand firmly for your opinions and recommendations. As with the staff departments, disagreements occur between agency and client, and it is your job to influence the client effectively without harming the business relationship.

This often can be a difficult task, so another personal characteristic is needed for success in account management: tolerance. The advertising business is not famous for its calm, peaceful nature, but rather its volatility, fast pace, and, sometimes, chaos. What you as an AE can count on is problems, big and small. Most problems will eventually come to you, and it will be your responsibility to keep the system functioning productively.

There is also a need for practicality. The volatile nature of advertising creates business situations that are far from smooth and orderly. You must be able to make quick, sensible, and effective changes in plans. Advertising requires tremendous cooperation from the parties involved; sometimes they are unwilling to cooperate. Rarely do ideas make it to production without alteration, and you must be the practical intermediary between the client's and the creative person's idea of a solution. You must have a realistic and practical approach to the agency-client relationship; no single idea is so good that it should be pushed to the point where this relationship is endangered.


In addition to the educational or business background generally required for entrance into and success in account management, there are specific skills which are crucial. One of these is organizational ability. One of your central roles as an AE would be as an organizer of people, data, time, and production elements. The enormous volume of detail involved in advertising management makes organizational ability essential. The AE who is caught in a meeting without needed information is regarded with little favor by both client and agency management.

Skillful use of information is part of this organizational ability. You must be able to organize a large assortment of data into usable, helpful tools. One example would be the preparation of "fact books," summaries of important facts and information relating to a product or industry. These generally include information about the product category and the product's place in it; product formulation; sales history; seasonality, advertising, creative, and spending history; pricing; competitive information; etc. You must be able to gather and organize these various aspects into a coherent, cogent document.

You must also be able to prepare and make oral presentations. AEs are salespeople: you must be able to sell the agency's work effectively to existing and prospective clients. This ability is partly learned through experience. With practice you should soon get a feel for what kind of information is important and what style of presentation works best.

To be a successful account manager you must work well with people. Most of your day is spent in meetings, group preparations for meetings, creative discussions, and work supervision. You must earn the respect of clients, and forge a relationship whereby the client feels comfortable coming to you for help and advice on a daily basis. Depending on the personalities and situations involved, your friendship with the client can be very valuable and rewarding. Entertaining can be a large part of this relationship, and much business can take place over lunch, cocktails, or dinner.
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