Account Service: The Perfect Blend of Strategy & Personality

“I have learned to respect ideas, wherever they come from. Often they come from clients. Account executives often have big creative ideas, regardless of what some writers think.” – Leo Burnett, Advertising Industry Pioneer

What makes a great account executive? What trait or function makes them able to serve as the proper bridge between client and agency while still being able to think strategically enough to guide the creative process? The answer to these questions are not simple and they can vary from person to person, but one universal principal remains true – one must possess a blend between strategic thinking and an outgoing personality.

Being a quick-thinker, a leader, a team player, a self-starter – all of these traits are great, and in one form or another are required to succeed in account service, but as Yoda would say “a great account executive they do not make.” Being a good storyteller is a valued and important trait. Having a wealth of knowledge or the courage to admit when you don’t know something are very important parts of the account service position. Keeping your client informed, managing client expectations, taking notes, sending meeting recaps, sticking to deadlines and holding internal team meetings are all part of the account service job description, but alone will not allow you to fully succeed and advance. So what is it that will?

The answer is certainly not one thing compared to another, but a combination of all of the above plus more. Note taking and listening skills can be taught. Attention to detail and hard work can be learned over time. Strategic knowledge, the ability to lead and solid relationships can be forged and built. Unfortunately, some things in account services must be possessed. These intangible skills can be defined as a solid extrovert personality. Fifty percent of being a great AE is being a “people person.” It cannot be taught or learned. It is something that is in your DNA or it is not. This portion of what makes a great account exec is a must and yet some people just do not have it.

According to Jung’s theory of Psychological Types, Extroverts are “directed towards the objective world” and are usually the following:

  • Interested in what is happening around them
  • Are open and often talkative
  • Compare their own opinions with the opinions of others
  • Like action and initiative
  • Easily make new friends or adapt to a new group
  • Say what they think
  • Are interested in new people
  • Easily break unwanted relations

The other 50% of being a great AE is strategic thinking. Being able to talk the talk is great and is definitely necessary, but being able to walk the walk with your clients and your team members is essential, as well. Strategic thinking is defined by asking questions such as “Why?” or “How” as compared to just asking “What?” Thinking strategically as an AE helps to guide the creative process, structure integrated marketing plans and ultimately helps the client see the AE as a trusted and respected expert in the field of marketing. If that type of trust and confidence is not built between a client and their AE then the account is usually very one-sided. This normally results in the client treating the agency and AE as a vendor and not as a trusted resource. Strategic thinking and the ability to properly communicate are key to any successful client/agency relationship.

Emil Mogul, a Madison Avenue advertising exec, once said “If I had to sum it all up, I’d say there are three breeds of account executives: the play-it-safe-and-by-the-rule-book transmitting agent; the neutralist, who’s never quite sure from one day to the next of his role in the agency-client relationship; and the truly creative account man, who may never write a line of copy in his life, but who, in his own way, is every bit as creative as the finest copywriter in the business.”

A truly great account executive has a perfect blend of personality and solid strategic thinking. Mastering both aspects can sometimes take a lifetime, but even the journey to such perfection will lead to amazing results.