Agency Life: How to Be a Ring Leader

Being an account manger is like being a circus ring leader. All day, you’re handling a cast of hyper-skilled individuals, playing producer, trying to keep people feeling motivated, and making sure projects go live on time. The client rarely ever sees this side, and your job is to create a sense of calm to the external world while managing the chaos of the internal. You are almost certain to be handling dozens of people and projects and, it can feel impossible at times to maintain any sense of order. For anyone considering a career agency side, or currently in a position as one, here are five resounding things I’ve learned about what it takes to be an account manager.

  1. Be Specific. As an account manager, you will have dozens of conversations throughout the day with your creative team, your clients, contractors, media partners and colleagues. The media planner does not need to know the brand standards are blue and green. The designer does not need to know the budget allocated to paid media. You will need to tailor the information to the person based on what you need to get from them. The more specific you can be, the better result you will get.
  2. Don’t Lose Site of the Big Picture. One of the first projects I ever worked on was a summer menu for a resort called the Ivey Deck Bistro. I was obsessed with every minute detail to a fault. I spent so much time focusing on consistency between spacing of commas and letters that I missed the objective of the client: To get this menu launched on time. I learned an important lesson from that project – it’s important to see the big picture. The difference between an account coordinator and an account director is that an AD can quickly ask the right questions to identify highest priorities to the client. Yes, details are always important but don’t let it overshadow the bigger goals.
  3. Learn How to Multi-Task. In any given day you will be writing briefs, taking in new project requests, and sitting in on various meetings. While you are doing that, the client will call, your inbox will overflow and your boss will need that report right away. In your head, you’ll need to mentally prepare before each day and find more efficient ways to save yourself time. For example, bring your laptop to internal reviews so you can record feedback in real time and send off immediately after the meeting.
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  4. Make Sure Your Boss Knows What You’re Up To. If you’re getting swamped it will affect your performance and your team (including your boss) will notice. Schedule weekly check-ins. It’s just as important as having weekly updates with your client. Knowing you can’t take everything on is one part, making sure your boss is aware of your workload is another. Your manager is the one person on your team who should be helping you contribute the best possible value you can to the agency. If you don’t speak up, he or she won’t know the difference between you pulling an 8 hour day or a 15 hour day. Plus, taking everything on will make you burn out, fast.
  5. Be a Know-It-All. This is not the same as knowing everything at all times. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned to date is that it’s OK to say “I’ll have to get back to you on that”. What it does mean is that you should be 100% confident and clear about any content you ever present, write in a brief or receive from a team member. This might seem obvious, but with the amount of information given to you within a day, it’s easy to just play the messenger. As the person who is responsible to hold a project together, questions will come back to you. Make sure you ask the right ones before someone else does.

The great thing about being an account manager at an ad agency is that many of the skills are transferrable. The things you will learn on the job are applicable to a number of different jobs so it’s worth it taking the time to get it right. The fact that you get to work with some colorful people and insane deadlines, well that’s just what ensures you’ll never have a dull day.

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