Account manager

 13 March 2013

An account manager develops the business and handles new and existing customers.

Work involves liaising between the client and the design team. Image: IDEO London
Work involves liaising between the client and the design team. Image: IDEO London

What is the work like?

An account manager is the main point of contact between the client and the agency. Their job is to:

  • generate new customers
  • handle existing customer accounts
  • retain current customers
  • develop business with existing customers.

Similar roles may also have other job titles such as client manager or account handler.

The day-to-day work includes:

  • getting to know the clients and understanding their business
  • discussing with the client their design requirements
  • presenting the client with suggested design solutions
  • negotiating the contract, including budgets and deadlines
  • liaising between the client and the design team during the project
  • overseeing the successful delivery of the project.

As well as liasing with clients, an account manager may also be responsible for the successful delivery of projects, so there may be some overlap with the work of a project manager. They also work closely with the design team and with project managers.

Different types of account manager

In a small agency, you might be the only account manager. You would be responsible for looking after all the agency’s clients.

In a larger agency, where you work in a team of account handling staff, you are responsible for a group of clients, or one major client.

Although most account handlers work in agencies or design companies, some experienced account managers are freelance, working on short-term contracts with different organisations.

Although office-based, account managers spend a lot of time travelling to meet clients. This may include overseas travel for international projects. You may be expected to work long hours, especially around project deadlines.

How do I become an account manager?

You need to have very good interpersonal skills combined with good business skills. Even if you do not have a design qualification, you need to have an awareness of the design process. It would help also to be interested in how people react to messages and images.

Employers will expect you to be:

  • an excellent communicator, both written and verbally
  • able to present ideas enthusiastically and convincingly
  • a good negotiator
  • able to meet business targets
  • able to work under pressure
  • well-organised
  • good in a team, but able to work on your own
  • quick to absorb information and take on new ideas.

Training and qualifications

There is no set entry route. As with most of the design world, it is a competitive area to enter.

You need to have very good interpersonal skills combined with good business skills.

Employers are as interested in experience and skills as they are in qualifications. They want to see good business skills, perhaps from selling or marketing.

Degrees

In practice, most account managers have a degree. This may be in design or another related area such as communication or a combined degree such as marketing and design. Many employers will take graduates in any subject, particularly if they have business or sales experience.

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels or equivalent. The UCAS website lists all courses. D&Ad also has information about design courses.

You can prepare for a design degree by studying design at different levels. As well as GCSEs and A levels in Art and Design, you could take:

  • Awards, Certificates and Diplomas, including a Foundation Diploma
  • HNC or HND.

Other useful subjects include business, business administration or enterprise.

Apprenticeships

You may be able to enter account management through an apprenticeship in business admin, sales or marketing, for example. There are also apprenticeships in design, which could lead to a career in account management.

Once you have experience, you can take on larger and more prestigious accounts. You can become a senior account manager and progress to account director. You may have to change employers to get the experience you need to build your career.

What could I earn?

As a graduate trainee account manager, you may start at around £21,000. With experience an account manager could earn £35,000. A senior account manager could earn £45,000, and an account director £65,000 or more.

A freelance project manager is paid on a daily rate for the days they work. They could earn up to £200 a day.


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