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The Agency Account Department: What you Don’t Know

Kristin Heinig
Junior Account Manager

“All the World’s a Stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…”

On the stage of the creative marketing agency, account managers play a variety of roles, much like Shakespeare’s famous metaphor. But what, specifically, do account managers do?
Account managers hold the least defined positions in a marketing agency and wear the most hats of any agency discipline. Most people, both inside and outside the industry, don’t have a clear understanding of what and how account managers do what they do. And with how much the marketing industry has changed in the last 20-30 years with rapid technology innovation, account managers are more important now than ever. Move over Pete Campbell, the stage is ever evolving.
Account managers cultivate a unique skillset that is both varied and broad. They serve as the go-between with the client and agency, deftly managing relationships on either side of that line. They possess a strong understanding of business strategy and process, maintaining a 10,000 foot view of a client’s business while knowing it inside and out.
Account people need to be able to fill a variety of roles within the drama of agency life. If I were casting a play using Jungian archetypes, the perfect account manager would be a masterful blend of the hero, caregiver, sage, magician, and everyman/everywoman.

The Hero

The hero/warrior archetype is a rescuer, always fighting for a cause. In this case, the cause is your client’s business. To that end, our hero strives to prove his or her worth, slaying the dragons of client problems.
The hero account manager saves the day by digging deep to find all possible solutions to every challenge. John Newall in AdAge describes account management as a hero’s journey, following a path to leadership. Every business, every client, every project needs a hero, and you don’t have to look any further than your account manager.

The Caregiver

The nurturing nature of the caregiver archetype is embodied in every good account management in many ways.They understand the various personalities involved in each project, as well as the business and creative strategy behind the presented work.
Like parents—the O.G. caregivers—they are proficient at problem and people solving. With their desire to protect and care for others, they keep a keen eye on the big picture while being on the lookout for competing dependencies. They call on their knowledge and past experiences to proactively resolve potential conflict and avoid confusion, thereby clearing the path for their team to uncover a successful solution. Like any skilled and selfless caregiver, the account manager doesn’t seek credit or glory for that solution. Their reward is when the whole team shines.

The Sage/Magician

Account managers make things happen, just like the magician who is the visionary and catalyst archetype. Simultaneously, they embody the sage archetype using intelligence and analysis to uncover the truth of the situation. With an spellbinding ability to juggle ever-changing priorities, while herding cats, an account manager uses the problem solving abilities of the caregiver to find win-win situations, bringing people together to develop strategy and creative that exceeds client expectations.
A seemingly magical library of knowledge and experience, they have fundamental business learnings and perspectives that they bring to each client account. This allows the account manager to strategically and analytically position the client’s business for long-term planning and success. After a little abracadabra and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo—poof!—the project is presented, and the client is blind to the hours of struggle, strife, and rehearsal the agency endures to arrive at the proffered solutions to business challenges. If this happens seamlessly, the account person has managed the magic with wisdom and intelligence.

The Everyman/Everywoman

Even though the above archetypes seem extraordinary or self-important, the account manager is by no means in the starring role. Nor would they want to be. Being down-to-earth and ordinarily virtuous, this is where the everyman/everywoman archetype comes into play.
Even though the account manager is at times the hero, caretaker, sage, and magician, in the end, they strive to do what is needed in any exceptional situation. A shepherding sidekick to the creative, strategist, analyst, or developer, the account manager is a regular person facing extraordinary circumstances, like project and relationship challenges and competitive obstacles.
With all of these roles and responsibilities, an account manager is a resilient actor, as flexible as he or she is knowledgeable. Agency work has become more varied and more informed as marketing channels have evidently increased in the last few decades due to technology innovation.

As the curtain falls and the theater calms, the account manager’s job is not done. For an agency to be successful, the account manager must perform as if it is always opening night.

Kristin Heinig
Kristin Heinig, Junior Account Manager at eROI.