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Agency Career Timeline Part 4: Moving from account manager to director

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There are many reasons why your career in an agency might plateau. One of the most common is getting stuck at account management level, especially as some agencies have multiple AM roles, from junior AM to AM, through to senior AM.   

Admittedly, the transition from account manager to senior account manager is no mean feat. The difference between the two roles can be an additional two to four years of experience, a step up to managing the agency’s prestigious accounts, a greater hand in business development and more direct reports.

This move to senior account manager might be enough responsibility for some, but for those hungry for more, the next step is to become an account director. Part 4 of our Agency Career Timeline series examines the responsibilities of account directors and the essential skills you need to ensure you’re earmarked for progression.

First of all, what are account directors typically responsible for?

Primarily, account directors are responsible for growing the revenue of their client base. This is a seismic shift from account management which is typically delivery focussed. This emphasis on increasing agency revenues means account directors have to demonstrate acute commercial knowledge and acumen in order to identify and convert new business opportunities with both existing and new clients.

An account director will typically manage a team and be hands-on with creative briefs, tenders and the strategic development of any work or projects. It’s up to them to galvanise the team, from organising and leading pitches for new business all of the way through to stepping in to handle difficult situations that require a senior influence.

Is it the right role for you?

Account directing is significantly different from senior account management, so, therefore, isn’t a natural step for everyone. To be successful, you have to be able to:

- Lead and inspire clients and colleagues

- Apply both commercial and creative thinking to everything the agency produces

- Prepare proposals and present pitches that convert new business leads

- Negotiate, both with your colleagues and external partners, to ensure work is delivered on time and within budget

- Conduct regular client and agency strategy meetings

- Step up to the plate when necessary - even in tricky situations

- Delegate and provide constructive feedback to colleagues

- Immerse yourself in the businesses of the clients.

What are the most important areas to focus on?

There are many ways you can demonstrate you have all of the right skills to make the upwards move, including:

Business acumen

Forget the granular items produced for clients and instead focus on what they’re actually buying from your agency: Business outcomes. Whether they’re looking to increase sales, boost customer engagement or improve their employer brand, you need to stay in tune with the bigger picture to make sure everything produced is always in line with these goals.

Something as simple as changing the focus of your conversations with clients to their business outcomes and how you’re going to impact on their business positively will assure them (and your superiors) that you’re speaking the right language and approaching work from a commercial perspective.

Be proactive

One of the most common complaints clients have about their agencies is a perceived lack of proactivity. Clients want you to care about their business and to know you’re in control. This can start with something as simple as signing up for Google Alerts for a client’s competitors and sending appropriate snippets with ideas of what you can do to respond. It might not feel like much, but the client knows you have an understanding and an interest in their market and their position within it.

It’s also about staying in the loop when it comes to changes within the client’s business. They want you to be able to adapt and provide fresh insights and solutions to help them remain relevant in the market. The important part? You’ve got to go to them with these insights and ideas rather than wait to be asked.

Build real relationships

It’s a given that you have to build solid relationships with your clients, but what about your colleagues? Competitiveness in agency can lead to account teams working in silos, failing to share ideas and trying to deal with issues alone. However, if you want to become a successful account director, strong relationships with everyone are a must to effectively delegate and gain their support.

If you’ve got some bridges to build, then it’s time to get busy! Get talking to your colleagues, offer to help if they need it and (respectfully) provide constructive comments and feedback on their work. Also, asking them for feedback on your work and being willing to take it on-board and make improvements will go a long way in gaining the respect you’ll need to succeed as an account director.

While all of this may sound overwhelming remember that an account management position provides the most natural progression to account director in the eyes of agency bosses, so you’re already on your way! If you’re ready for a fresh agency challenge, get in touch with the team at Henry Nicholas to find out more about the latest exciting roles on offer.​