What makes a great account handler?

Industry leaders give their thoughts

Industry leaders and their clients give their thoughts on what exceptional account management looks like.

What advice do you wish you had when starting out in account management?

Julian Douglas, IPA President & VCCP Vice-Chairman & International CEO: "Get commercial. Buy £10 shares in your client's business and watch the share price. They do."

Nick Maddison, Managing Partner, the7stars: "That the role is pivotal to the success of long-term business relationships – quite simply, about how important it is."

Jamie Mollart, Director, RKH: "Don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re just bag carriers. We’re not here just to pass things from client to creative and back. Always make sure you add value and then make sure others see this value."

Don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re just bag carriers. We’re not here just to pass things from client to creative and back. Always make sure you add value and then make sure others see this value.

Jamie Mollart, Director, RKH

Genna Trentham, Client MD, Wavemaker: "It’s about caring about your client’s brands, their businesses and them as people. It’s about being human. Not leaving your personality at the door of the meeting room in the quest for being professional and perfect, but sharing the best of who you are, your passion and your determination with your client, in the pursuit of their growth. That’s when client relationships start to thrive and the work turns to wow work."

Trent Patterson, MD, Publicis•Poke: "Be yourself. Clients buy people first. Agencies thrive by bringing different combinations of different people together in the service of creativity."

Steph Marks, MD, Havas Media Group: "That whilst it is our job to maintain our client relationships it isn’t our job to say yes to everything. It’s about a partnership and building up a way of working that is built on mutual trust.  You are not here to please the client but to positively challenge them to make the right decisions." 

What is the most important thing account handlers can do to stay future-fit?

Julian Douglas, IPA President & VCCP Vice-Chairman & International CEO: "Stay curious - ask questions, read widely, get out in the field, meet the consumer, meet the designer, try stuff out!"

Having an open mind and a hunger to learn will keep your skills and knowledge relevant, as technology and media (and pretty much everything) changes around you.

Louise Hayward, Client MD, Engine

Ed Palmer, MD, St. Luke’s: "Stay open-minded and curious. Work with as many different people from different backgrounds as you can. Keep asking questions. Lots of studies have shown that those who constantly question the status quo - and the assumptions that underpin it - are the ones that have the longest and most fruitful careers."

Trent Patterson, MD, Publicis•Poke: "Constantly push yourself outside your comfort zone. Learn something new; take on something you don’t know how to do; put your hand up for stuff that scares you; master the ins and outs of your client's business; understand how to drive creativity at every part of the consumer brand experience."

Charlie Hurrell, Chief Client Officer, Engine UK: "Nurture a growth mindset and look to always be learning. Be open-minded and curious to look for new and interesting ways to express ideas that are helpful, useful, or entertaining. Challenge yourself to ensure that your advice comes from a place of expertise."

Will Harrison, Group Brand Director, The AA: "Listen, read around, be proactive as well as reactive, keep an open mind. Keep learning about your clients’ business, gain wider industry and competitor knowledge, use other client challenges to help solve your own ones."

Simon Valcarcel, Marketing Director, O2 Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media O2: "The most important thing account handlers can do to stay future fit is to find ways to continue to offer a different perspective on a client’s business. Partnering with media owners to offer unique solutions. Identifying trends before they hit the mainstream. Know the client’s business inside out and the wider market conditions."

Why do you think account management is the best role in the agency?

Julian Douglas, IPA President & VCCP Vice-Chairman & International CEO: "You are there before the client brief is written, every step through strategy, creative development, and production, right through to measurement and optimisation. Account management is the best role by far - everyone else only sees a little piece of the puzzle. We have the whole jigsaw box!"

Paul Bainsfair, Director General IPA: "It's no accident that most agency leaders started in account management. No other discipline has such a broad and deep understanding of how an agency and client can work successfully together."

Nick Andrew, Head of Account Management, AMV: "Given that you touch almost every part of the agency, you can therefore help shape not just your project or account but the agency at large – making the experience of working in the industry as a whole more exciting, diverse and fulfilling."

Victoria Ellis, Client Service Director, adam&eveDDB: "Because you can shape and influence everything the agency does for the better and to fit your client and what they need. Treat each account like it is your business to run and you will see how far your influence can travel."

That’s easy. Because you are the conductor of the orchestra and get to be involved in every area and aspect of the work and account.

Amanda Farmer, Global Brand Lead, The Pharma

Louise Hayward, Client MD, Engine: "We get to do the best bits of everyone else’s job – we are part creative, part strategist, part marketeer, part producer – and it is all glued together by our ability to foster deep human relationships, which is what I believe makes the world of business go round and is also a thoroughly enjoyable thing to do."

Ed Palmer, MD, St. Luke’s: "To paraphrase Hamilton, you wanna be in the room where it happens. Be involved in all the conversations. Be the one that sees it through. Be the grown-up in the room. Be the one that makes it all happen."

Anna McInally, Head of Marketing Communications, The National Lottery: "They are your voice in the agency. They join everything up within the agency world and connect you to the right people dependent on the need."

How would you define the value that account management brings to a client’s business?

Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA: "Great account management delivers the very best advice, ideas and insights to a client's business. Which is invaluable."

Nick Maddison, Managing Partner, the7stars: "You are there to help your agency create better work and exceed expectations in client relations – this will drive your agency and the client’s business forward. Without the relationships account management brings, the client & agency bond can become transactional and shift fast towards a customer & supplier operating model; Often the beginning of the end of the attraction the client has for your agency."

Jamie Mollart, Director, RKH: "If planners are the voice of the consumer then we’re the voice of the business. Throughout the creative process, we should be there to remind people of the aims of the project and act in the client’s best interest while ensuring we don’t compromise the vision of the creatives or to the detriment of the agency."

Genna Trentham, Client MD, Wavemaker: "They act as the client voice in the agency – making sure that work is refined with their perspectives in mind before it gets into the room. Ultimately, they are the conduit to ensure work is handcrafted for client’s needs, rather than generic – and that that work is done on time, in budget and with a smile on our faces!"

Sometimes advertisers need agencies to help them to make the brave decisions. These decisions are always the ones that clients will remember and thank you for in the long term.

Jenny Biggam, CEO, the7stars

Chris Ladd, Head of Media, Nationwide Building Society: "They should provide the client lens to any output of the agency, stress testing proposals, pitches and responses to briefs, whilst also challenging the client to test new ideas that can drive commercial or brand growth. By doing this, they create value in running an efficient agency resource only focused on positive outcomes for the client’s business."

Simon Valcarcel, Marketing Director, O2 Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media O2: "The value account management brings to our business is almost immeasurable. They have the unique ability to listen, assess and provide a different perspective to whatever challenges we may have."

What makes exceptional account management?

Amanda Farmer, Global Brand Lead, The Pharma: "Someone who cares deeply about the work and what it takes to make great work. Who can anticipate client needs and adapt accordingly. Bring the agency team on the journey with you, have an opinion and POV grounded in knowledge, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, be confident and comfortable managing conflict."

Charlie Hurrell, Chief Client Officer, Engine UK: "Integrity, honesty and emotional intelligence. Account management is fundamentally about how effectively we are able to bring people together to benefit from the collaboration and positive collision of different disciplines to solve our clients’ problems."

People who manage to create mutual respect with their clients, who feel like an extension of their team and that they are in it together. This in turn then allows the difficult conversations to happen more fluidly without them feeling like big issues. The ability to solve problems together.

Steph Marks, MD, Havas Media Group

Chris Ladd, Head of Media, Nationwide Building Society: "An advertiser should look to the account manager as the first port of call within the agency - a trusted lieutenant who represents the client’s interest within the agency. An exceptional one should be seen by the client as an employee colleague embedded within the agency, making spending decisions and priority calls only in the interest of the brand they both work on."

Anna McInally, Head of Marketing Communications, The National Lottery: "They understand your business, your goals, your challenges and you as a human being. And you understand theirs and them as human beings too. Great account managers ask difficult questions, push back and tell you the truth."

Will Harrison, Group Brand Director, The AA: "Being a true extension of the client’s business – understanding, listening, reacting. Joining the dots to package the best of planning and creative together to solve client solutions."

For more on account management, visit our brand new hub of resources dedicated to offering support to those in account handling and client services roles, including learning and development information, networking opportunities and useful publications and reports.

Last updated 23 January 2022