How to excel at account management

By Maud Davis,

The CIPR’s State of the Profession Report 2018 identified management and business acumen as the two competency gaps in the public relations industry, so it’s no surprise that the job boards are full of vacancies for good account managers.

So, what should those who are stepping up or into this role aspire to?

I asked three agency directors to share what they look for in a good account manager:

Storm Communications

“A good account manager is in complete control of the account, both upwards and downwards.  They should be the central point for all client handling and media work, capable of taking the signed off plans and making them a reality, driving the team to deliver the client KPIs,” says Amanda Williams, managing director at Storm Communications.

Working Word

Caroline Holmes of Working Word says that she looks for someone who is self-sufficient, who can keep an account running, suggest ideas and make sure they are on top of the day without looking for constant support.

“Of course, there is always input from a higher level, but I actually think an account manager is one of the most important roles in an agency. They are at the centre of client relationships, balancing the need to still be operational and delivering work while at the same time having oversight of an account to make sure what has been promised is being delivered,” says Caroline.


Tech PR Agency managing director, Lee’ann Kaufman of iseepr looks for someone who can think critically.

“At iseepr, we want to hire and retain account managers who are able to constructively evaluate, question and challenge. This helps them to get under the skin of clients’ technologies and industries and to play a part in improving agency practice as well as deepening close client relationships.  Our clients really appreciate the account managers who show this ‘intelligent engagement’ and they’ll often be first in line for promotion.”

How can account handlers develop themselves to be account management-ready?

Alexandra Lewington, Head of PR and Communications at Reuben Sinclair recruitment says:

“They should try to take ownership as much as possible, initially of individual projects or campaigns, to build themselves up to be that main point of contact.

“Most of our recruiters look for account managers to have people management experience – so candidates can try and get some experience in this area by taking on mentoring roles with interns or new team members. Their colleagues will always be grateful for support in managing people and it gives a great insight into what it takes to be a manager.”

I agree.  Executives who start to work with interns can find that these junior staff will relate much better to them than to more senior manages or directors.  So, it’s a great opportunity to start developing management skills and to learn how to give clear briefs and keep tracks of others’ work.

But, where trainee ‘managers can come unstuck is just now much hand-holding to give and how to deal with delivered work that isn’t up to scratch.  Adopting the right ‘manager’ style for the occasion is absolutely essential – sometimes this will mean being quite direct, at other times a supporting or coaching style is better.

And anyone who thinks the right time for giving feedback is at appraisal time will have found that those on the receiving end will be totally deflated or elated.  Good managers aren’t afraid of feedback. In fact, they actively encourage the giving and receiving of it as a way to drive improvement.

Building close relations with the team and the client will help an account manager to better deal with problems and the best way to get closer to clients is to take an active interest in their business as well as getting to know them as a person.  This means immersing oneself in the client’s business sector, not just in the day to day, but being able to see the big picture. Researching competitors, trends and forecast planning.

When I am asked to conduct feedback audits, what clients seem to value most in their account manager is the feeling that they are forever thinking about them and coming up with ideas and solutions.  Partnership comes to mind.

Amanda Williams says: “Account managers need to instill confidence with clients and their teams. But above all, a good account manager should have that sparkle:  you can’t always put your finger on it, but the client has to love them.”

I agree. And I’d add one more thing – never stop loving to want to make a difference for your client.

The CIPR runs 50 courses each year with more than 220 dates to choose from in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Newcastle – book your place today!

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