Account Management as a career: lost sheen

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Where have all the young men (and women) gone?‘ asked a thought-provoking blog post from Babita Baruah. Going by the number & quality of comments, the topic – where do the bright young sparks in advertising go, few years into their career – seems to have touched a chord.

The topic has been in the limelight for quite some time now. According to agency CEO interviews over the last few years ‘attraction and retention of talent’ has been the biggest challenge the industry is facing. The problem is there for all to see – a lot of bright young graduates do not see advertising as an attractive career option. Very few agencies have a structured training programme for freshers – most of them are simply thrown into the sea, in the name of ‘on the job training’. Entry level salaries are no match to what the Marketing, Media or Finance industry pays and there seems to be a lack of pride associated, particularly with Account Management as a discipline.

We are in this situation perhaps triggered by a combination of factors: unbundling of specialist services, the death of the 15% agency commission and a crisis of talent management in advertising. The dissatisfaction is perhaps the most with Account Management folks, even though the discipline can play as critical a role as anyone else. To gauge the levels of dissatisfaction, here’s a small survey meant for the juniors in an agency (please pass it on to friends) – especially the account management folks. While I will share detailed results later, the Account Management folks seem to ‘not like’ their jobs and are considering getting out of advertising.

The solutions for this problem demands a separate blog post. One thing that strikes me is that when I joined the business, many of the seniors (say, Account Directors, CSDs and GMs) were role models. They were seen as knowledgeable about the agency & client business, capable of influencing the senior most executive at the client side and one generally looked up to them. I doubt if a majority of today’s ‘seniors’ (me included) command a similar respect from the juniors. People are becoming AD’s, GMs and VPs far quicker than was the case earlier. Large complex accounts demand a multi-layered structure (with Creative Heads and Planners thrown in) and therefore the ‘Account Head’ rarely wields the kind of power to influence the client-in-chief.

And with specialist divisions like Media & Digital hived off the new AE rarely gets to interact with those disciplines and develop a holistic perspective on the business. The Brand Manager he deals with is perhaps better placed to have this 360-degree perspective as he coordinates with them all. What’s the way out? Comments welcome.

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