In your busy life as an agency account handler you are often immersed in the latest client project(s) and juggling multiple tasks with multiple deadlines.
During particular busy periods you may find yourself staying late in the office just to get through the workload and/or taking work home with you to try to stay ahead.
It’s rare to have the luxury of time to contemplate whether your career in account management is progressing as fast as you’d like and whether there are other things you should be doing to move it forward.
If you’re keen to get on but are not sure where to start, here are 7 steps to help ensure you’re headed in the right direction and keep your eyes on where you’re going as well as where you are now:
1. Understand the bigger picture
Imagine you were going to a job interview for your next (more senior) account handling job. The interviewer asks you something like “So tell me about your last project”.
Now often the problem with this question is that for your projects you may have been assigned lots of different tasks from more senior team members and may not have been fully involved in the original client project briefing. Therefore you are missing the background and context to the project.
But the interviewer is not just asking to hear about the task you performed on the project e.g.’coordinating models for a photo shoot’, they want to hear how what you did fit into the ‘bigger picture’.
So for example ‘coordinating models for a photo shoot’ should sound more like; ‘One of our largest client’s new product launch, worth potentially $10m, required that the agency develop a new concept for the ad campaign to go live in three months. Timings were tight so I developed a timing plan ensuring the photo shoot was turned around quickly. My job was to coordinate the models which involved liaising with the model agency, coordinating travel, hosting them and constant communication with the art director and photographer’.
This second example gives a lot more context to your role.
So if you’re ever unsure of how what you’re doing fits into the bigger picture read the original brief, ask the person who liaised with the client to tell you more detail and then write a paragraph which succinctly explains how what you did on the project fits with the bigger picture.
This paragraph you can keep with your CV. Once the project is over, include any quantifiable results of the project e.g. sales increase/return on investment, numbers reached, uptake of the product, how the campaign tested etc.
For all projects, the agency should systematically produce short case studies (which can be used in future new business presentations or on the agency’s website).
2. Know your client, client’s brand, business and competition
One of the most important jobs for you as an account manager is to know your client. Not only them as people and what’s important to them but also their brand, the brand’s competitors and their industry.
Absorb as much information as possible and ‘walk in the client’s shoes’ so that you understand your client’s position. It may be that they are under pressure from senior management to perform/get results. How can you help them?
Sign up for daily Google alerts to track your client’s company name, brand name, competitor names and any specific industry terms.
When you receive the news, read it, if it’s appropriate send it on to your client and add some value by including a relevant comment e.g. ‘I saw this piece about our competitor X and how their customer service team is using Twitter extensively to communicate with their target audience, I wondered if we should include social media activity on our forthcoming meeting agenda?
You’ve just added value by bringing some competitor news as well as created a potential piece of work for the agency!
Get a copy of your client’s annual report & accounts, their brand plan, operational plan and ask the client to explain about their sales targets sales performance.
Subscribe to industry magazines or news sites via RSS. Scan the news as often as you can for any interesting articles or news that you can bring to the attention of your client.
3. Know your agency, industry and competition
Increasing your knowledge of the industry you’ve chosen to work in will increase your credibility and demonstrate that you’re interested in furthering your career.
You should be getting to know not only your agency and what it offers but the industry as a whole as well as the competing agencies in your space. This can be good for a competitor analysis but also serve as useful information for if and when you decide to move on.
Take time to learn your agency capabilities presentation so that when you are anywhere representing your agency you can talk knowledgeably about your company, it’s history, specialisms and any notable case studies/awards received.
Find out if there is an association or society that focuses on your sector e.g. for advertising, in the UK the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising or in the US, the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies).
Sign up to receive regular updates and look for news that could be relevant; pitches in your area of expertise, new technologies or campaign tactics, interesting case studies etc.
Look at the industry press or directory to see what your competitors are doing. Are they winning awards? What kind of projects are they working on? Who’s in charge? Are they part of a network or independent? How big are they?
You can also use social media to follow these companies and their news e.g. Twitter and Facebook.
4. Get to know people in the sector through networking
Sign up to Linked-in groups that are relevant to your sector. You’ll receive regular updates via email and will be able to see the hot topics your counterparts are discussing.
Are there any local events, talks, breakfast meetings that might expand your knowledge?
5. Keep your Linked-in profile current
Linked-in has become a recruiters paradise and increasingly a place where business professionals find jobs.
It’s one of the first places people will look if they want to find out some background on you before you meet.
Use it wisely. Have a professional, good quality photo and keep your profile up to date.
Always link in with people after you meet them. Send a personal note with the invitation.
Linked-in allows you to request references from people you’ve worked closely with who can give some positive feedback. These testimonials are visible for future colleagues, managers and clients so are great ‘social proof’ for you as a professional
6. Find a mentor
Getting a mentor could be one of the quickest ways to progress in your industry. Particularly if its someone well connected who could introduce you to other senior people.
So if you come across someone you respect, can communicate well with and who has already trodden the professional path you intend to tread then ask them if they can spend some time with you so that you can pick their brains about their career path and what advice they could give you to help you with yours.
Invite them for a coffee. Tell them how much you admire them for what they’ve achieved. They’ll be flattered. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind meeting up or receiving a phone call from you once every three months so that you can ask their opinion or for advice about matters relating to your job and career.
7. Get some training
Ensure you ask for relevant training that will help you progress. Account management training and presentation skills training are the basics. There are other professional courses such as negotiation skills, selling skills, time management, leadership etc.
Find a course yourself independently or ask your agency to provide some training.
Many of the above steps are helping you become ‘externally focussed’ as well as continuing to focus on your internal role. By following these steps you can keep your career moving.
Do you use any other ways to help you move your career forward?