How to be a superstar account handler

Posted On: February 19, 2018  Posted In: Account handlingClient and agency relationships

Account handlers, account managers, client managers, business managers, suits, client guys, yes men… the male members of a typical marketing agency account management team have been called many things over the years.

Some good, some not so good.

There used to be an old adage that account handlers were only there to carry the bags, pour the tea, and pay for the taxi. Harsh words for a role so critical in the modern marketing ecosystem.

The internet and technological revolution have changed things dramatically for account handlers over the past decade.


Do marketing agencies and their clients have a good enough understanding of what makes a contemporary account handler?


Here are my traits that define the qualities of a modern suit.


Leads all stakeholders through the process

The modern marketing and communications process is incredibly complex.

Launching an integrated campaign will often involve multiple disciplines, multiple agencies and multiple client stakeholders working across multiple channels and with multiple assets. 

The process is complex and nuanced and requires exceptional judgement, process management, emotional intelligence, stakeholder management and precise decision making across multiple and concurrent briefs.

A superstar account handler will orchestrate this process like a world-class conductor, delivering at the end of it:

  • Best-in class work that will be proven effective
  • A delighted set of clients
  • An upbeat and proud internal agency team
  • Profitable agency revenue
  • Potential for future account growth

Not much to ask then.


Modern marketing is a team sport with each team playing a different sport.


Develops deep and collaborative relationships

Contemporary account handlers know that they cannot do their job without the full and complete cooperation of the aforementioned stakeholders. But to get that cooperation requires a unique ability to persuade, to negotiate, to influence, to get what is required to move the process on.

There is no easier way to facilitate this than with a set of strong relationships.

Savvy account managers know the importance of robust and trusting relationships and prioritise these over everything else.


 Success hinges on building client trust through deep and collaborative client-agency relationships.


Committed to the cause

If you want an easy life, I can say with confidence that you should not become an agency account handler. It’s the toughest job in any agency. Perhaps even in marketing.

But it can also be the most rewarding.

There is a saying in account management circles that not everything is your fault, but everything is your problem.

Brilliant account handlers understand this and therefore whilst navigating the process and stakeholders they pay particular attention to every single, little, last detail.


Superstar account handlers are multi-skilled individuals. A rare mix of right and left brain ability teamed with character, resilience, leadership, and combined with buckets of emotional intelligence.


Interrogates the work

Account handlers sit at the very heart of the development of each campaign and therefore can see the process from all angles. Given this unique position one could argue that their opinion is perhaps the most valid, after all they also know what the client is looking for better than most.

Is it on brief? Is it best in-class? Is it right for the client? What could make it better? Will it elicit the response we want?

Nothing bugs me more than seeing a client handler just shuffle briefs and work from pillar to post without having a valid opinion. I see it all the time.

There is a skill to giving that opinion though and an experienced account handler knows how to get what they need without denting egos.


All stakeholders need to be managed and coordinated with the same precision as a philharmonic orchestra.


Focuses on the commercials

Outside of finance, account handlers should own the agency commercials ensuring the agency receives (and the clients pay) a fair price for work completed.

How a process is scoped and managed through the agency directly affects the profitability of the job, the account, and ultimately the agency. The more people on a brief the more income that is needed to make a profit on the job. The maths are as simple as that.

Seasoned account handlers use people wisely knowing that their time is precious, only over investing when they need to, and always with a close eye on profitability.


With the current pressure on agency margins account handlers must continue their laser focus on the bottom line.


Knows how important it is to ABC

You may not necessarily think it, but account handlers work in sales.

It’s not traditional sales, but consultative sales. Sales requiring a degree of long term dialogue and ongoing relationship.

Each meeting, each phone call, each interaction with a client they are typically asking them to buy something. A brief, strategy, idea, scope of work, media plan, meeting time.  Whatever it is they need to close and they need the client to say “Yes”.

Superstar account handlers put themselves in the client’s shoes and makes it easy for them to say yes.


“Always Be Closing”


As hopefully I’ve demonstrated, contemporary account handlers are a rare breed.

They know that the modern marketing and communications process is rarely smooth and rarely runs to plan. But that when things go wrong, a positive client relationship and a quick solution to the problem will usually suffice.


As the marketing agency ecosystem continues to grow in complexity, now more than ever, do agencies need world-class account handling to act as the bridge to their clients.