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Account executive

Overview  

Account executives (AEs) are the linchpins of the business side of advertising. AEs bring business to advertising agencies and then act as liaisons between clients and the agency. Like salespeople, they keep track of which competing agencies have which clients, which companies are merging or working on new products, which are growing, and which might be leaving their agencies. After AEs find a lead, they contact the company and try to pitch an account. If the AE makes a good impression, the company may ask for a formal pitch, where the AE would explain how the agency would position the company and what it would do to advertise the company or product.

After securing the client, the AE is responsible for servicing and maintaining the account. The AE works with the client and makes sure that things get done within budget. One of the AE's most important jobs lies in keeping the client satisfied. Negotiations between the creative department frequently requires a great deal of diplomacy: the creative department may be more interested in advertising as an art while the client often just wants to sell its product. So AEs must balance the creative side's motives and intentions with what the client wants. They also need to thrive under intense pressure and tight deadlines coming from both their agency and their clients.

After an AE finds out what his or her client wants in an ad campaign, the AE heads for the agency account team. After the agency develops marketing strategy and creative concepts, the AE brings that information back to the client. Creatives and clients live in a perpetual state of mutual suspicion, so it's up to the AE to balance that tension. The AE has to pay attention to the client's needs while keeping the agency's reputation in mind. Clients may think they know what works, but in general, the advertising staff knows more about the advertising business than clients do. (The same problem exists in PR. Public relations people usually know better than clients how the press is going to react to certain presentations since PR folks work with journalists every day.)

Ad people will frequently move from the creative side to account exec positions for the client contact and the networking and relationship-building possibilities.

Turnover is especially high in the advertising industry as accounts are lost, companies merge, and advertising budgets are slashed. Those with experience in Internet advertising and e-commerce are highly sought after to satisfy the advertising needs of the Internet-focused. AEs can expect frequent travel and 50-hour work weeks in addition to a fast-paced, dynamic work environment.

Career Path  

Most account executives start off as assistant account executives (at some agencies, this is called an account coordinator). Assistant accountant executives assist the AEs, keeping tabs on all account activities. They have to be very detail-oriented and are often the ones who catch problems that have slipped by others in the group. These assistants work closely with traffic and production coordinators, updating them on the status of projects and alerting them when an account is about to become active. They are also responsible for reminding people about schedules. Assistant account executives keep files of each account containing industry research, competitor information, press releases, and past advertisements. Assistants spend a year or two in this position before moving up to the account executive position. Insiders report that assistants who spend more than two years at the junior level without being promoted to AE are essentially signalled that they will not advance within the agency.

After two to three years as an account executives, insiders report, AEs can move to the account supervisor level. Supervisors monitor several accounts and the AEs who work on those accounts. This is largely a managerial position, and supervisors are ultimately accountable for the AEs' performance on each account.

Uppers  

Dynamic workplace;Advancement opportunities;Growing industry;Young colleagues

Downers  

Long hours;Frequent travel;Low starting salary; Potentially brutal office politics;Pressure to live and dress glamourously on an unglamourous paycheck;Need to kow-tow to clients

Personality Match  

Good schmoozer;Creative;Persistent;Diplomatic

Personality Miss  

Dependent on structure;Sensitive

Hours  

Average about 50 per week

Salary  

Average entry-level salary: $26,000;Average account executive salary: $43,000

Skills  

Bachelor's degree in marketing or advertising

Our Survey Says  

One advertising executive describes his job as "a transfer of enthusiasm." Account executives are salespeople, and "they must be excited by the product" in order to create a convincing ad. AEs "make their own perks," as landing a big account benefits the agency as a whole and, subsequently, the individual in charge of the account. The job can be "unbelievably stressful" when it comes time to meet a deadline.

Account execs must be dressed to meet with (generally conservative) clients. Also, the challenge of keeping clients happy while not "irking creatives and stepping on their creative pride" is "a Herculean task." When the client is happy, one respondent explains, "everyone is happy, and when the client balks, it's my head." Account execs consider their work a combination of "a science and an art." Of the people in the industry, an account executive said, "some people are wonderful, and many are jerks."

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