Celebrating Brilliant Account Women
From Fighter Pilot To FCB's CEO: How Katy Wright Became One Of Our Industry's Best Account People
Katy Wright kicks off our series celebrating brilliant account women by sharing her learnings and advice
31 January 2024
Of course you don’t need to be trained in combat to be a great account person, but it’s delicious to discover that FCB’s CEO Katy Wright started out as an RAF fighter pilot.
Warfare’s loss was the ad industry’s gain when Wright decided her passions lay in a rather more creative – and less life-or-death – direction and pitched into the ad industry as an account manager over twenty years ago.
And over the years Wright has proved that what you do need to be a brilliant account person is energy, leadership skills, charisma and – of course – the sort of business acumen that reassures clients you’re going to help them grow. But underpinning all of this is something that, perhaps, is harder to learn, is more innate: you need to enjoy people and to genuinely want to help them succeed. It’s what made Katy Wright such a standout account person and now it's what makes her such a standout CEO.
And for a summary of what all this means for FCB's clients, Kimberly-Clark's marketing director Matt Stone offers this: "Katy is proof that values and authenticity drive business. I can honestly say that her energy, dedication and genuine partnership has been pivotal in unlocking the collective potential of our businesses. It has been wonderful to see these values permeate throughout FCB over the last couple of years, and to see the wins the agency is generating as a result. If you want a true agency partner, look no further than Katy.”
Katy Wright is also a loyal soul. Her first job was at DP&A, which was part of FCB and though she spent a year at what’s now The&Partnership, she’s spent most of her career at the various iterations of the FCB agency in London, rising to CEO in 2022. The agency, its clients and its people are pumping through her veins and it won’t surprise anyone who knows her to learn that Wright’s first full year as CEO was the most successful in the agency’s history. As IPG’s chief growth officer for EMEA Jackie Stevenson puts it: “Katy is a leader who instils incredible belief in all she works with, with an instinctive grasp of the role modern creativity plays in driving commercial growth.”
All of which may make Wright sound formidable, driven, singularly ambitious. If she is all of these things, she wears them very lightly and what shines through is her warmth, her humour (she is a terrific mimic but don’t worry, its most often a sign of affection) and her empathy. It’s easy to see why her clients not only value her partnership, but genuinely really like her, and why she engenders such loyalty from her team.
According to Stevenson: “Katy's worked hard at her craft and it shows - there are few people who inspire such loyalty from their clients, their people, and their leadership. With an eye firmly focused on the future she never forgets this industry is as much people based as it is driven by innovation and technology.”
It's no easy balance – finding the fulcrum between respected, trusted, scalpel-sharp business advisor and endearing, funny, warm ally. Wright has the pivot perfectly, says her colleague Owen Lee, FCB’s chief creative officer. “Katy is funny, charismatic and an endless ball of energy, but what sits behind that is a super-smart, astute businesswoman. And that killer combination is incredibly powerful. Clients love to work with her, hang out with her and laugh with her, but critically they also listen to her when she needs to tackle difficult conversations. The result? Better relationships and stronger work.”
Katy Wright On Being An Account Person
Tell us about one experience you’ve had as an account person that made you really proud?
It's so hard to choose one experience. What really makes me proud is to see people grow, and when you get it right it’s seeing that person bring that energy to a ‘team’. That in turn sees them deliver something that they’ve worked so hard to create and experience the joy of putting it out into the world. Being an enabler of that, that is something I’ll always enjoy.
What qualities make a great account person?
I used to say we’re the creative entrepreneurs, we’re the heart. We have to set the beat for the rest of the ‘body’. You’ve got to be brilliant at building strong relationships, be persuasive, be thoughtful, be passionate about the work. But you’ve also got to be financially astute, understand business and beyond that have a point of view. It’s EQ & IQ and that’s what makes it so satisfying and also totally wrong for some people. It takes a very people-centric person, so the small things count as much as the big things.
What’s that one skill that the best account people you know have?
If there was one skill it would be listening. Listening is a superpower and it tends to hold many of the answers. No one likes to feel like they’re not being listened to, or not heard. But the greatest account leads have a good amount of both EQ and IQ and we have to be the ‘jack of all trades’, dialling our creative/strategic/accountant/producer/therapist skills up and down seamlessly when needed.
What makes for a strong, productive client/agency relationship?
It’s got to be an open, honest, partnership, with clear communication, and that leads to the best work. Like all great relationships, there has to be trust, you have to feel like a team. And it goes way beyond the day to day - ultimately you care. And of course, really making sure that you have the same creative ambition.
What’s been the biggest learning you’ve had in your career?
You have to find the thing you love and if you can do it for a living, you’ve made it. You will thrive because you spend so much time at work, and like anything it’s not always easy, so doing something you love is critical. Couple that with belief - I’ve learnt once you believe, you gain confidence and then nothing can hold you back.
What advice would you give to people wanting to be a brilliant account person?
It’s linked to doing something you love, but be yourself, be curious. We talk a lot about 'never finished people' at FCB; it doesn’t mean they never get the job done, it means they have that growth mindset, always learning, always looking to find new ways, asking questions and being open to change. And make sure that you have an absolute love for creativity – it’s assumed that account people are just the do-ers and the organisers, the vision and leadership the business needs, but it’s also about driving that creative mindset like other departments in the agency, and it’s what makes the job worthwhile, making something that we’re ultimately really proud of.