The Impossible Job of the Account Executive and What to do About It

By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

Many if not most account people in agencies were brought up in a model where the “account executive” was expected to handle an incredibly ambitious list of responsibilities ranging from the up-front strategy work to the post-production billing.

But increasingly agencies are realizing that the roles of strategic development, engagement management, and project management are three very different and important jobs.  As the list below demonstrates, not only is there too much work for one person, but the nature of the work itself calls for very different skill sets.

The strategy job must be done by someone that understands – and likes – marketing research, audience segmentation, ethnography, trends analysis, consumer insight development, and marketing planning.

The engagement management job requires an individual with good people skills, strong internal networks, the ability to orchestrate and integrate multiple agency resources, a proactive personality, and good presentation and communication skills.

The project management job is best suited for people who are highly organized, excellent planners, good with follow-up and follow-through, skilled at task management, with the focus and steadiness of an air traffic controller.

Now ask yourself if you know any one person who is excellent in all three of the above areas. In today’s complex, fast-paced, multi-channel world, expecting an agency account executive to be good at all three jobs isn’t fair to the person, the client, or the agency.

Glance down the following list and mark each item with an S, E, or P to indicate who – in your opinion — should have primary responsibility for each activity.

S = Strategic Planner

E = Engagement Manager

P = Project Manager

Related to Discovery

Conducting brand audit
Identifying brand touch points
Monitoring competitive activity
Identifying scope of value (Key Performance Indicators, measures of succss)
Developing scope of work
Conducting secondary research
Supervising and analyzing primary research

Related to Strategy Development

Developing consumer insights
Developing market segmentation recommendations
Monitoring consumer trends
Developing strategic recommendations
Developing creative and media briefs
Setting up briefings
Briefing teams about strategy

Related to Content and Channel Development

Initiating new assignments
Opening jobs in the system
Informing, inspiring creative/media development
Presenting major work and recommendations
Developing project schedules
Developing production schedules
Prioritizing client work
Creating and maintaining physical or digital job jackets

Related to Execution and Distribution

Identifying needed assets and resources
Compiling job specifications
Reviewing work for accuracy and compliance
Approving strategic direction of work
Obtaining necessary legal and network clearances
Obtaining necessary internal approvals
Obtaining necessary client approvals
Updating job progress in software system
Proofing and quality control
Insuring integrated, cross-functional solutions
Tracking and monitoring client deliverables
Matching production jobs with ordered media
Monitoring media placements and schedules

Related to Reporting and Measurement

Issuing and updating status reports
Organizing and conducting internal status meetings
Develop client-facing conference reports
Updating client extranet
Ensuring measurement and analytics
Reviewing marketing metrics with client

Related to Information and Asset Management

Closing jobs
Cataloging digital assets
Archiving work
Maintaining production history of individual jobs
Producing, distributing completed work samples
Managing usage and IP rights for creative assets

Related to Budgeting and Billing

Developing spending recommendations
Developing cost estimates
Pricing assignments
Presenting pricing to client
Approving vendor invoices
Maintaining and managing client budgets
Reviewing and approving client invoices
Monitoring past-due invoices
Analyzing and addressing client profitability
Developing change orders for when projects are out of scope
Negotiating with client about changes in scope

Related to Client Relations

Keeping client informed of agency activities and progress
Responding to client requests
Developing client business and growth opportunities
Handling client disputes and negotiating resolutions

This is actually only a partial list, but certainly enough to demonstrate that the job formerly known as “account executive” in agencies is no longer realistic or valid.

Does this mean you will need to go out and hire a lot of new people?  Not usually.  If your firm has a particular weakness in strategic planning, then you may need to hire in this area (but you would have had to do that anyway).  If you don’t have anyone in your organization that has a firm grasp of managing complex digital projects, then you may need to recruit such a person or two from a digital agency.

But in Ignition’s experience, most successful agencies already have the people they need to make this work.  It’s just a matter of thinking carefully about whom in your organization is best suited to serve in each of these the three roles, and then resolving to make it happen.