One of the largest departments in any advertising agency is account services. Once referred to as the "suits," because they always dressed in more formal clothing than other departments, account services brings together the client and the creative department.
The main job of the account services department is to keep work flowing into the agency, by establishing good relationships with clients and constantly overseeing the creative department's work. Account services meets with clients, takes requests for work, and writes briefs. They also act as the go-between, presenting work to, and bringing feedback from, the client.
When a client relationship sours for whatever reason, the members of the account services department know about it before anyone else. It is their job to be proactive and maintain a good working relationship because without clients, there is no ad agency.
While account services roles are relatively standard industry-wise, many departments have additional roles within the standard roles, including junior and senior positions. In smaller shops, only a few people may do the work of many.
The entry-level job in the account services department, the account coordinator is a learning role for a graduate or someone new to the business. Although a lot of time will be spent on the administration side of the account, this is a stepping stone to the many duties of an account executive.
This account executive (AE) plays a major role in any advertising agency. Typically, an AE is assigned to just a few (or sometimes only one) of the many accounts on the agency's client roster. This is because the AE needs to have an intimate understanding of their client's core business, and also ensures that a strong working relationship is established between the client and the AE.
The AE usually takes assignments from clients, working with them to create creative briefs for the creative department. The AE also handles budgets, pitches, timing of jobs (in conjunction with traffic), and the day-to-day running of the account. The AE reports to the account manager, or sometimes to the account director.
Often integrated with the account services department, the account planner's role is quite different than that of the other members of the team. A good account planner is a strategic, critical thinker and researcher, more in tune with the consumer than the client. In short, the account manager knows what the client wants or needs, and the account planner knows what the consumer wants.
The account planner often drives the strategic direction of each campaign and ensures the creative work is both on-brand and strategically focused. The account planner is a key role, but many shops place the burdens of account planning on the account manager or director. Larger agencies will have an entire department dedicated to account planning.
A more senior role, the account manager is the main point of contact for one or two specific accounts. While they may not oversee the day-to-day running of the account, they are responsible for managing that account and maintaining an excellent client relationship. The account manager establishes budgets with the client, is there for conflict resolution, ensures timely deliverables, writes creative briefs, and approves payments to and from the client.
The account manager is also in charge of contracts and contract renewals, quality control on the account, and actively pursues new opportunities with the client. The more opportunities, the more work, and money, for the agency.
Above all, account managers know more about the accounts than anyone else in the agency. They are the go-to people for that brand. An account manager reports directly to either an account director or agency director, providing input on all account activity.
The account director steers the account services ship in the same way a creative director steers the creative department. Account directors know their own company's structure and workings inside and out, and also have exceptional business skills and salesmanship. Most agencies have an account director pitch new work alongside the creative director.
While the creative director provides insight into the creative work, the account director helps the client to understand why it's good for their business. A truly excellent account director is also a strategic, disciplined thinker who provides excellent creative briefs when necessary and assists in the overall direction and execution of each campaign.