Having the right skills and aptitude can go a long way in the competitive world of advertising

As an advertising account executive, you'll work within an advertising or multi-service agency, acting as a link between the agency and its clients. You'll be responsible for the coordination of advertising campaigns and therefore communicating clearly to all those involved. You may also be known as an account handler.

It is vital to understand the needs of your clients, which you'll learn through liaising closely with them throughout campaigns, often on a daily basis. You'll also manage administrative and campaign work to ensure that advertising projects are completed on time and on budget.

Responsibilities

As an advertising account executive, you'll need to:

  • meet and liaise with clients to discuss and identify their advertising requirements
  • work with agency colleagues to devise an advertising campaign that meets the client's brief and budget
  • present (alongside agency colleagues - particularly the account manager) the campaign ideas and budget to the client
  • work with the account manager to brief media, creative and research staff and assist with the formulation of marketing strategies
  • liaise with, and act as the link between, the client and the advertising agency by maintaining regular contact with both
  • ensure that communication flows effectively
  • negotiate with clients and agency staff about the details of campaigns
  • present creative work to clients for approval or modification
  • handle budgets, manage campaign costs and invoice clients
  • write client reports
  • monitor the effectiveness of campaigns
  • undertake administrative tasks
  • arrange and attend meetings
  • make pitches, along with other agency staff, with the aim of securing new business for the agency.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £19,000 to £24,000.
  • More experienced executives and account managers can earn around £30,000 to £40,000, while account directors can earn up to £55,000. Senior account directors might earn up to £65,000.
  • Salaries at senior level, such as business director or board director, range from £80,000 to £100,000+.

Salaries at all levels vary based on the size and geographical location of the agency. For example, executives in and around London generally earn more than those employed in regional locations.

Some agencies may offer their staff additional benefits, such as profit-sharing schemes, free gym membership, car allowance or medical insurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

A typical week will run from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. However, you'll often be expected to start the day early or stay late in order to meet deadlines. Weekend work is rare.

Although there are few opportunities for paid overtime in the industry, some agencies will offer time off in lieu. Career breaks or part-time work aren't common, but job-sharing is sometimes possible and some of the larger agencies offer paid sabbaticals after a qualifying period of service.

What to expect

  • You may handle multiple accounts and the hours can be long in a competitive and sometimes stressful environment.
  • Although you'll generally be office-based, travel within the working day is frequent as you'll be expected to visit clients and may attend TV shoots, radio recordings or castings. Absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel is occasionally required.
  • Large advertising agencies are becoming increasingly international in scope. Many are part of a larger media and communications group, whose parent company may be based in another European country or in the USA.
  • The working environment is generally informal, although smart dress is often the norm. The role can involve socialising with clients.
  • Redundancies can be common in the advertising industry, for example, if there is an economic downturn or the business is undergoing a difficult period. Advertising agencies are continually trying to win new business.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree or HND in the following subjects may improve your chances, especially as advertising is an increasingly competitive sector to enter:

  • advertising
  • business/management
  • communications
  • English
  • marketing.

Entry without a degree or HND may be possible with enough relevant work experience, but graduates are generally preferred - especially in larger agencies.

It's helpful to read job adverts in the trade press and request vacancy details to help you get a feel for the combination of skills and industry knowledge that an advertising account executive needs. Consider related posts for work experience, e.g. in sales, marketing or public relations, as employers often find the skills and experience gained in related roles transferable to advertising.

Networking may help you to secure a marketing position. Your university careers service may host events giving you the opportunity to gain contacts and meet industry representatives.

Social networking sites offer an increasingly effective way to network with advertising professionals. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has further details about social networking and blogs on its website.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • a proactive attitude, with the ability to use initiative
  • excellent organisational skills
  • the ability to work under pressure and assimilate large quantities of information quickly, while maintaining attention to detail
  • drive
  • flexibility
  • effective teamworking skills
  • influencing and negotiation skills
  • oral and written communication skills
  • commercial awareness
  • a passion for advertising and an understanding of what makes a good advertisement
  • a willingness to learn
  • resilience, to enable you to deal with problems and constructive criticism
  • IT literacy and an awareness of how the industry is developing in light of new communication technologies.

Work experience

Pre-entry work experience is extremely desirable and an excellent way to gain an understanding of how an agency works. It's also a way to make valuable contacts, which may be useful when you are looking for a permanent role as an account executive.

You can gain relevant experience through vacation work, placements or job shadowing. Some larger agencies offer formal work experience/internship programmes, often in the form of summer schools. More details on work experience can be found at on the IPA website.

As advertising is so competitive work experience may sometimes prove difficult to secure, but any other work experience in a commercial context may be helpful. If you're able to financially support yourself, undertaking a period of voluntary work is an alternative way of gaining valuable experience.

Employers

You'll find the majority of opportunities in the larger advertising agencies. Agencies may form part of a larger group, or may operate as autonomous companies.

Typically, a larger employer will have between 50 and 80 employees, although some agencies have more than 300. Smaller companies can range in size from five to 15 people.

Many of the larger agencies offer a multidisciplinary service to clients, such as marketing in addition to advertising, as many clients will be looking for a full 'communications' package.

Look for job vacancies at:

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)'s online marketing careers resource, getin2marketing, includes a database of marketing graduate schemes and placements - including advertising roles. CIM also has a record of recruitment agencies who specialise in advertising and marketing, which may help you source employment.

You may also find roles through speculative applications. A speculative, targeted application using a focused, attention-grabbing CV and covering letter can be an effective approach. Try to learn as much as possible about advertising, the role of account executives and about the organisation you wish to work for before applying directly. The IPA has a list of agency members listed on its website, including relevant contact details.

Larger agencies, which have graduate training schemes, invite applications through their websites. These are usually made early in the autumn term of your final year. Smaller and specialist agencies recruit as vacancies arise, often using specialised websites or recruitment consultancies.

Professional development

The training you receive will depend on the agency you work for but the majority of training is carried out on the job. Some of the larger agencies may have structured training schemes in place. You may be encouraged to study towards a qualification and your employer may offer financial support, provide study leave, or both.

You may also be required to undertake external training, such as the IPA Foundation Certificate. This is an online course for junior advertising professionals and covers the entire brand communications process. The IPA also offers a range of short courses and seminars for experienced staff. An understanding of digital, social media platforms and mobile marketing is helpful to this role.

The Diploma in Marketing Communications, run by the Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Foundation includes an advertising module that can be studied part time, intensively or via distance learning.

The CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing and the Professional Diploma in Marketing are popular with advertising account executives and managers.

The Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing is available to those who have already gained a significant level of knowledge and experience of marketing. These qualifications usually take one year to complete and studying towards them requires CIM membership. By holding associated membership, you'll be able to attend marketing workshops and seminars free of charge or at a reduced rate.

Career prospects

It's usual to enter this career as an advertising account executive and then progress as follows:

  • account manager, managing executives and handling high-profile clients. Most account managers spend at least three or four years at this level before having enough experience to seek promotion
  • account director, taking responsibility for all account staff and clients
  • group account director.

How quickly and far you progress in your career will depend on the level of experience you gain and the success of your campaigns. Working on an award-winning campaign, for example, will give you a higher profile and industry recognition, and your career progression will be much more rapid. As a result you might even be headhunted by other advertising agencies.

Moving between agencies and working for several different clients can help you progress more quickly, so mobility and flexibility are important in building your career.