Katie Wright

The future of account management

Want to be a good business leader? Ignore The Tap Dancing Bullshit

The newly-installed CEO at FCB Inferno on what good account management looks like

By Katy Wright

Account management is sometimes dismissed as a “Jack of all trades” role, but I would argue that instead of being “master of none” it is the “master of many.” The best account managers can spin all the plates – they need to be a coach, a therapist, a negotiator and a communicator who can also listen, they have to have integrity, to be charismatic, fun and honest – a set of skills that make it a great foundation for agency leadership.

Account management are business partners to our clients, they know their challenges and opportunities better than anyone, and if they are good they will also pay attention to details, even the small things like what they can or can’t eat and drink. I know an agency where, for four years, a client had to explain at every single meeting that she took soy milk please in her tea and coffee. A good account director would never let that happen – paying attention to the little things because they know it will lead to the big things.

I think account management got hurt during the pandemic. The best account managers want to work in person alongside their clients, talking to people and meeting face to face. Working from home without real interaction makes the job look different, and it starts to make sense to go somewhere like a consultancy or a tech company where you can double your money.

Account management has been worn down partly because it's lost a lot of talent to other industries who are smart enough to realise that it’s a point of difference just as much as the work. There is no questioning the distinctiveness and quality of our product is crucial. The difference is also in the way a client is treated, in the experience they have every time they go through the door or get on a call.

As we enter a recession, good account management is going to be more important than ever; clients will need someone who understands their business, creative and strategic needs – not the tap dancing bullshit, but the real conversations that make a difference.

When I started out in account management, I was often working ridiculously long hours, doing nothing much all day and then having an admin task landed on me just as I was planning to leave, because my manager wanted to test me. That old-fashioned approach is just bad management, and it isn’t going to work for the next generation of talent, who are a lot smarter about the way they work. Instead, we need to invest in them, build them up, recognise their areas of greatest strength and make them feel supported.

You need to work hard and prove yourself at any job if you want to succeed, especially if you want to be a CEO, but I have so much joy for this job, and I know we can inspire the next generation to have the same passion.

New recruits in account management can come from a much wider pool of people than some of the other disciplines. All the important skills aren’t the ones you learn at University, they are a much broader set of qualities that you can develop on the job or as part of your side hustle.

Katy Wright is the chief executive of FCB Inferno


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