Are Your Account Executives Spread Too Thin?

AEs Spread Too Thin

We have a question for all account supervisors, directors of account service and agency principals: Do you know what your account service people must do in an average day?

Sure, you’ve assigned accounts they are supposed to service, and they have a job description, but do you actually talk with your AEs regularly to learn how they are handling everything they are expected to do?

We ask because of something we learned at a recent Certified Account Executive College event. Attendees—predominantly acting account executives or junior level service people—told us they handle on average 15 accounts at any given time… some retainers, some relationships offering regular project accounts, some one-offs.

“How,” asked one AE, “ are we supposed to be able to build ongoing relationships with accounts when handling this many clients… and also do research; proactively propose new projects and marketing ideas; assist with account planning; and even help with new business pitching as Second Wind recommends? Frankly, it is hard to just stay in regular contact with all of my accounts, and do the everyday tasks of collecting assignments and delivering proofs and invoices.”

Turnover among account service people is fairly high; the only position that has a higher turnover among smaller agency staff is the new business developer. One big reason for high AE turnover: we burn them out by demanding that they run hard every day, doing so many tasks that they cannot focus on doing any one thing well.

“So why should AEs be any different?” asks the busy agency principal, trying to service top accounts, supervise new business and keep a close eye on agency financial operations… and often serving as the de facto HR manager and creative director to boot.

Our answer is, yes, in a smaller agency, everyone must wear many hats. But… your client relationships are what keep your agency alive and growing. If your AEs are stretched too thin to properly service today’s high-demand accounts, those relationships may suffer and maybe die. Some other agency that supports and attends to how much work their AEs can handle is going to pick off the clients you fail to properly serve.

The Typical AE To-Do List

Based on a sample account executive job description, the typical account executive has to pack the following into their regular to-do list:

•Handle day-to-day activities for assigned clients.

  • Meet with production and traffic managers or other relevant personnel to schedule projects, check budgets and keep apprised of progress of clients’ projects.
  • Receive client briefings.
  • Fill out Client Contact Reports for all client meetings and distribute to appropriate agency personnel. Quickly and accurately relay Client Change Orders to all appropriate agency personnel.
  • Effectively present, sell and defend all agency work/proposals to clients; support other client service team members in these functions.
  • Keep apprised of clients’ brands/products/services/marketing developments.
  • Assist in preparing client invoices, proposals, marketing communications and strategic marketing plans, media and public relations plans.
  • Oversee execution of approved marketing programs.
  • Check and approve creative/production materials, copy, layouts, and production art, and coordinate client approvals.
  • Review billing prior to release to clients; ensure prompt collection of accounts receivable.
  • Inform account supervisor regularly of account progress for all assigned clients; involve account supervisor immediately in event of potential problems, i.e., client/agency relations, budget overruns, etc.
  • Assist as needed in agency new business pitches and in developing proposals.

Did we leave anything out? Oh yes… account planning is increasingly an AE skills requirement, as is regularly conducting industry and competitive research for each assigned account. Many AEs share research with other client service team members, create presentations for clients, and can speak knowledgably about interactive and traditional media tactics.

Tactics to Keep the Rubber Band from Snapping

Obviously time management is important where AEs wear many hats and perform multiple duties during a typical workday. But beyond mere organizational proficiency, AEs in smaller agencies need support and smart management from agency leaders. If agency principals perpetually complain that their AEs are not working with great speed, accuracy (and personality!), they are a big part of the problem. These expectations are as unreasonable as those of the average, do-less-with-more client. Their account service people are running hard, stretched out to try to do too much every day, without even a thank you for the effort, let alone the heartfelt support of agency management.

Here are our suggestions for taking some of the tension out of your AEs’ daily overload.

Spread the load. If you can, budget to hire an extra AE this year. Selectively move some account work to the new person as you train them in your agency’s account service practices.

Consider hiring an account coordinator. If you currently have one or more account coordinators, think about promoting them to account executive—they are already familiar with the clients, after all—and hire a newbie to contribute support services to your AEs. Or, your receptionist may like the idea of moving into a coordinator position. It’s easier to find someone to answer phones and do basic admin than to pull a good account service person out of a hat.

Take a close look at service hierarchy. AE College attendees reported their agencies have no true tiered account management. AEs may have supervisory titles while still doing daily client service, or perform lower-level work that could be handled by an account coordinator. Adding structure to account management (a senior-level supervisor, a group of AEs, and one or two ACs) can even the workload and enable better client service. Some higher-level duties move to the AS job description, allowing breathing room for your AEs to build client relationships—and, we hope, increase billing with more projects from your clients.

Read more about internal training of account executives.

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