Passionate, hardworking account managers are the heart and soul of any high-performing public relations agency.
Traditionally, public relations agency account managers were held in these support roles for up to a year before transitioning into a predominantly client-facing capacity. Those support functions, however, are largely being replaced or streamlined with technology and outsourcing, and this shift is changing the roles and responsibilities of account managers at all levels, particularly entry-level, in that they are now expected to be client and media-facing right out of the gate.
Additionally, during this period of high unemployment, these career opportunities are as competitive as they’ve been since the Great Recession. With heightened expectations and competition, today’s account managers need to step up their game in a big way. The best account managers will have to develop and display these six crucial qualities:
- Assertive control
In this business, the best account managers are those who would rather ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re the type to deliberately break rules or undermine direct orders. It means they have the confidence and judgement to make autonomous decisions rather than slowing things down by trying to delegate accountability.
Furthermore, good account managers do not simply ask their clients what they want. They provide assertive advice, telling clients what they need to achieve positive outcomes—and being candid with clients when their requests are inadvisable or unrealistic. Agency clients want their account managers to be honest, decisive and in control.
- Accommodation & anticipation
The best public relations agency account managers exercise keen intuition and quality judgement in accommodating and anticipating their clients’ needs. For example, in response to written interview requests, account managers should offer to draft the reply for the client or be resourceful enough to repurpose existing content to avoid redundant efforts.
Furthermore, great account managers do not ask their clients to do their own public relations. They do not ask clients to do work or provide information they themselves are perfectly capable of gathering.
And rather than delegate direct media communication and coordination back to the client, they step in and take control—even in instances where the media goes directly to the client.
- Proactive communication
Agencies don’t share an office with their clients, therefore steady communication is required to demonstrate to the client that their account managers are hard at work. The best public relations agency account managers develop an internal clock in their heads, understanding that long periods of non-communication can have a negative impact on the client experience.
Rather than making the client check in on the status of projects and initiatives, account managers should proactively send updates to help the client feel engaged, involved and properly apprised. They don’t wait for clients to bring them breaking news and pitch ideas. Instead, good account managers show their clients they are on top of relevant news by proactively bringing stories, trends and ideas to the client as they emerge.
- Comprehension & curiosity
Account managers should immerse themselves in the industries they represent, eager to learn the lingo, nuances and key issues impacting businesses within that field. Those who lack initiative and intellectual curiosity will try to fake it—meaning they will attempt to learn just enough about a given industry to be able to adequately perform their job without investing the time and effort needed to gain a sophisticated understanding.
Great account managers, on the other hand, will ask smart questions and conduct their own research in order to truly comprehend each client’s organization and the industries in which they operate. They do what it takes to gain a sophisticated understanding of their clients’ expertise so they are able to identify otherwise hidden media opportunities and articulate each clients’ story and key messages in a compelling way.
- Magnetic creativity
An account manager is not a robot. Management cannot simply program them to repeat tasks and execute commands. The best account managers are true creative professionals and storytellers able to navigate the nuances and intricacies of the news cycle.
They should excite their clients with clever headlines, story angles and stunts to meet and exceed campaign goals. They must also be able to think like journalists, connecting the dots between breaking news and the brands and experts they represent.
- Clutch delivery
The most successful account managers thrive under pressure. When the stakes are high and their backs are against the wall, they find ways to pull a rabbit out of a hat. This clutch factor is among the most valuable traits for this position. It is difficult if not nearly impossible to teach. It has more to do with passion, persistence and perseverance than general know-how.
Sometimes one big opportunity can turn an otherwise lackluster campaign into an enormous success and produce game-changing results for the client. The best public relations account managers have a way of overcoming challenges and making it happen when it counts and is needed the most.
Account managers determined to reach elite status should study these traits and strive to master each one of them. This will put them on the path to achieving new professional heights, lifting their agencies and the brands they represent up with them.
Brian Hart is the founder and president of Flackable, a national public relations agency headquartered in Philadelphia. Follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianHartPR. A version of this article was originally published in Flackable’s blog.