This post is a part of a customer success blog series examining partner relations to reinforce our commitment to our partners.
I used to think that the terms “account management” and “project management” were synonymous. That the role of Account Manager simply consisted of managing projects, juggling task deadlines, and ensuring the client was happy and informed. Easy, right? But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the description of the modern Account Manager, and it certainly doesn’t express how vital the role is to maintaining a successful agency workflow and a positive relationship with the client.
The Account Manager role has evolved into a jack-of-all-trades, many-hat-wearing, well… octopus. Yes, that’s right, an octopus. In the words of Tony Stanol, president of Global Recruiters, an Account Manager “is an octopus, juggling many functions and departments, at the heart of the agency touching every department.”
As an Account Manager myself, I never really knew how to describe my role until recently, but I think that was because I didn’t know how the role became to be.
In this post, we’ll take a trip through time to discover how the Account Manager role developed into what it is today. We’ll view it through the lens of a traditional advertising agency and follow how the field of account management grew and changed as it made its way into the world of digital marketing.
When advertising was in its heyday, ad teams were generally made up of five roles: the Creative Director, the Art Director, the Copywriter, the Graphic Designer, and — the star of the show — the Account Executive. Account Executives were a mix between salespeople and day-to-day account managers. They advised clients on next steps, kept them abreast of new developments and laid out the best paths for growth. Their job was to guide the client through strategy, project management and sales tactics and, on top of that, build strong client relationships to ensure that the client would stick around.
Account Executives’ most vital role was working with the copywriters and graphic designers to ensure that their creative concepts stayed in line with client expectations. Think about Pete Campbell from “Mad Men,” wining and dining clients, keeping them updated about the creative process and advocating for the client in day-to-day operations. However, as new technologies developed, it also fell upon the Account Executives to pitch clients on new services and tactics. This made the Account Exec’s role more challenging, as he or she became responsible for bringing in new business, maintaining those relationships after the contract was signed and bridging the gap between agency and client.
Since that time, emerging technologies have completely reshaped the responsibilities of Account Executives (as they have for all jobs and industries). Starting in 1980, Account Executives were required to immerse themselves in new technologies in order to stay on top of industry trends. New information and strategies for reaching target audiences became more accessible to clients due to the rise of the internet throughout the 1990s, challenging Account Execs to stay one step ahead in order to stay ahead of the curve and service their clients on a deeper level.
This abundance of information and the explosion of new digital marketing technologies made it increasingly difficult for Account Executives to stay on top of the latest industry advancements in addition to their other duties. Something had to change, and the Account Executive role needed to change with it.
During the ‘90s, the various responsibilities of an Account Executive became segmented into distinct and separate Specialist roles. Specialists are the people who truly excel in a particular channel or tactic and are able to continually stay on top of the advancements within that realm. Today, there are Specialists in PPC, Display, Paid Social, Social Media, Content, SEO, Brand Management — the list goes on.
Because these specialized responsibilities were no longer on Account Executives’ plates, they were free to better service their clients. The modern Account Executive became solely focused on developing new business, building sales strategy, and finding new ways to grow client and agency revenue.
As specialists began to own their unique portions of the advertising cycle, targeting users at different levels of the conversion funnel, technical jargon became widely used. New acronyms for daily measurements such as CTR, CPA and MCC became increasingly difficult for clients to follow. Clients started to tune out during these technical sessions and became concerned that they weren’t in the know about their marketing strategy.
Thus, the Account Manager was born — a resource dedicated to keeping the client happy, helping them understand complex digital marketing concepts, and addressing their questions and concerns.
In recent years, Account Managers have been forced to adapt to the rapid proliferation of ever-more complex technologies in the field of digital marketing. Not only are they expected to be knowledgeable about all the tactics in use at their agency as well as current industry trends and business operations, but they must also stay engaged with new marketing technologies that might help increase ROI for their clients. (This is why I say time and time again that the best account managers are the ones who are the most curious and ask the most questions.)
Account Managers have also become the bridge between Specialists and clients, allowing the Specialists to excel in their niche, the client to learn and understand the benefits of the latest integrations, and the account manager to control which new products will be introduced based on the client’s goals.
Cross-channel collaboration has become the heart of a healthy client relationship. Account Executives — now focused on sales and strategy — collaborate with Account Managers on new products to sell and develop based on industry trends and client goals. Social media, PPC, Display, Media Buyer and Programmatic specialists connect with the Account Manager on new strategic implementations to meet the client’s objectives. This cross-team collaboration allows digital agencies to function like a well-oiled machine, helping the client recognize they have someone on the inside advocating for them and their goals at all times.
Today, the modern Account Manager bridges the gap between client and agency, wearing many hats to educate themselves on the technologies and strategies currently in use for their clients while monitoring ever-evolving industry trends.
Because Account Managers touch each department that plays a role in their clients’ marketing strategies, they must essentially become mini-specialists in each service and technology the agency offers. They take technical jargon and break it down into concepts that their clients can understand and use to plan their next business moves. But more importantly, they advocate on behalf of internal stakeholders to maintain the strategic integrity of the campaign while also taking the client’s feedback into account.
At Belo + Company, we’ve built a culture that embraces teamwork, empowering Specialists, Account Managers and Account Executives to work together to help our clients succeed. Our Account Managers excel in breaking down technical digital marketing concepts for our clients, allowing them to see a clear path to success and ROI. They pull the team together to advocate on behalf of the client’s needs while also keeping a tight grasp on project deadlines to ensure that campaigns are executed in a timely and effective way.
Our account management team isn’t just dedicated to ensuring you get your message out using the right technologies at the right time to target the right audience. We also work to ensure that the overall customer experience we deliver goes above and beyond that of standard agencies, tailoring services to your unique needs and offering top-quality support.
I’m not sure how the world of account management will continue to evolve, but I can guarantee that the next age of account managers will have to be more strategic, more curious and have a good balance of wit and smarts to evolve along with the various industries and verticals they serve.