Haley Baird Riemer
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If you're a media fanatic with killer management skills and a passion for making clients happy, you might make a great account executive. The middle (wo)man in a relationship between a marketing or promotional company and a client company looking for advertising, account executives oversee every aspect of a client's account with an advertisement, PR, media or fashion agency. Account executives are also often found within the sales team as a junior-to-senior level role.

If you think you might be interested in pursuing a position as an account executive, here's what it takes.

What does an account executive do?

Account executives are tasked with building and maintaining relationships with clients on behalf of a company;  they're often known as relationship managers. In a marketing or advertising company, the role involves creating and executing plans for promoting or advertising the client. Account executives handle everything from securing clients, to developing the client's vision for their company's brand, to communicating those ideas to the agency and deciding how best to execute them. 

If a client has an account with an agency, an account executive is in charge of overseeing that account and managing it in accordance with the client's needs. This means using any number of writing, organizational, or administrative skills: scheduling press releases, contacting media outlets and bloggers or setting up meetings for clients. In the advertising and marketing industries, a large part of the job is drawing in more clients to increase the company's revenue, as well as facilitating more technical aspects of the account, like contract negotiations.

What skills do you need?

Account executives need a broad range of skills to do their jobs effectively. Here's what makes them successful:

  • Superb communication skills. Account executives are, above all, excellent communicators. They are the main point of contact between the agency or firm and the client, and they have to be able to articulate the company's vision and brand to their team to meet the client's needs. This means having great writing skills, as the account executive must also be able to communicate ideas and concepts in a compelling way that engages the media and the client's target audience.
  • Sales expertise. An account executive is, essentially, a salesperson. They need to effectively attract clients and convince the client to hire their company's services by ensuring them that their needs will be met effectively. Particularly if you work at a media company, like a TV station or magazine, you'll be responsible for securing ads and generating revenue for the company, so your sales skills have to be sharp.
  • Customer service and creativity. As an account executive, the client is your priority. Your job is to make clients happy, and that requires being invested in customer service and satisfaction. It also means being creative, as your execution of the client's vision is what will ensure the business relationship continues. 
  • Strategic planning and attention to detail. Account executives have great strategy skills. They must assess the individual needs of each client in order to market them effectively, and no two clients are the same. They can identify the subtle differences in strategy that make a campaign work for one client but not for another, and they excel at problem-solving and workshopping different approaches to an issue.

Education

There are several different educational paths to becoming an account executive, but there are a few basic requirements.

  1. A degree in marketing, advertising or business. These are the most common areas of study for account executives. Going to school for anything business-related gives you a leg up in the hiring pool, in part because of the access to internships that might help you get your foot in the door later. 
  2. Or, a degree in communications. A liberal arts degree can also work in your favor. A communications degree is a great asset for an account executive, as so much of the job is focused around communication and coordinating skills. Similarly, you could get an English degree, and with the right resume, experience and skills, you'd be a great candidate.
  3. Get an internship at the kind of company you want to work for. This could be an advertising, PR or marketing firm. It could also be a fashion company, radio station or similar. You can find account executives at all of these kinds of places, and while the details of the job vary, the core skills and responsibilities stay the same. Start building your resume by targeting internships in administration or marketing, and climb the ladder from there. If you want to work in an advertising agency, this is especially important, as internal promotion and hiring are common. 
  4. Climb the ranks. In advertising and PR, the hierarchy of management is important, and in any media career, climbing the ladder is standard if you want to get to your dream job. Make the most of mentorship, and build relationships through internships and other experiences you have with people who are doing the work you want to be doing. An account manager, for example, might start as an assistant or an account coordinator of some sort, lower on the company's totem pole, and work their way up to executive.

Salary

Depending on where you work, you can make anywhere between $50,000 to $101,000 per year. Factors like education, experience, and the city in which you're employed have an effect on what your salary looks like. The average account executive in New York City makes an annual salary of $87,860, while the average salary of account executives in the country is a little lower, at about $72,600.

A day in the life of an account executive.

No day in the life of an account executive is the same. The job often runs outside of the hours of a 9-to-5; account executives often start working early and are "on-call" until late. That being said, their daily schedule can change according to their clients at the moment, so they often have some flexibility. 

Here's an example of a typical day an account executive might have.:

The day starts in the early morning, with coffee and checking your email; typical office stuff. Responsiveness and timely communication are essential for an account executive; that's what closes deals with clients and keeps customer satisfaction rates high. When you get to the office, you have a meeting with your sales team. Account executives often have a couple of assistants and report to an account manager or other higher-up. During this meeting, you strategize for the day: who you need to talk to, which meetings need to be attended, who needs phone calls returned, etc. Account executives are, first and foremost, communicators, and a large part of their day is spent on correspondence. 

Some of these calls will be discovery calls, in which you'll be reaching out to or meeting with potential clients. Before these happen, you'll need to do research on the client, their needs and the pitching strategies you'll use to close the deal. What aspects of your company's services are you going to highlight in your meeting or phone call? Are their similar cases you've had in the past that have been successful that you can mention to the potential client? In addition to discovery calls, you will check in with existing clients to see if anyone has any issues, follow up on email chains and reach out to satisfied customers for referrals and feedback. At the end of a long day, you go home and relax, but keep your email notifications on in case you hear back from interested clients you reached out to earlier. 

The professional life of an account executive is a fast-paced one, but it certainly isn't boring. If the combination of a competitive sales environment and creative communication skills intrigues you, this job might be a good fit. Just be ready to think on your feet, go out of your way to make clients happy and know how to close a deal that works in everyone's best interest. 

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