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A Tete-a-Tete with an Account Executive in Advertising Agency

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Q - How did you get started in advertising?

A - While getting my M.B.A. I was looking around for summer internships. I had been taking marketing courses and really began to consider advertising as a logical union between my extensive creative background and business training. Eventually I won such an internship at a major advertising agency. My experience there confirmed my interest in advertising and really told me that this type of professional, creative, marketing environment was where I wanted to be.

As many of us do, I started my career in the newspaper business, where you learn to write well and fast. This is an excellent qualification for the advertising business, since it also requires good and sometimes very fast writing when you are under a deadline. I was mainly interested in becoming a newspaperman based on what I'd read about it. Once I was in the field, I discovered other opportunities for people who could write, namely, in the area of public relations, which led me into advertising and finally into agency work. So I really had no concept of agency work in my mind when I started.

I pursued the creative end of writing while I was in school. Look all of the creative courses. I stuck around and got my graduate degree in advertising and thought that I would "put a book together" in only spare time to help obtain a writing job. I went through the interviewing process and got a job at a major agency beginning in the management training program.

Q - Would you explain your organizational structure and where you are in that structure?

In our agency, I report to an account supervisor, who is the key ink with our client in planning and execution. My role as an account executive is planning with my supervisor and client and coordinating assignments with the research staff, creative group, media group, sales promotion group, and electronic and print production group. It is also my responsibility to make certain that approvals are obtained at the diligent level and those deadlines are met within the agency. At our agency, he account management group is looked upon as the catalyst between agency and client, which makes it a most exciting area in which to be involved. I am in an excellent position to know what's happening in every phase of activity.

There are the three major areas-creative, account management, and production-and obviously every company in the world has to have an administrative function. So, we have to have accounting people, "housekeeping" personnel, and all that good stuff. There is also a media department, which is in the business of planning and buying advertising space and time.

A very small company might contract out for creative or production work, but most agencies have in-house capabilities to some extent. An advertising agency truly plays the role of an agent. For example, if we are going to create a TV commercial for a client, we hire a production house or production company. They are the ones who have all the cameras and all the equipment, people, directors, and so forth. We have a number of production people in our agency, any one of whom might supervise a particular shoot. Smaller agencies might not have a production person like that, although they probably would have someone to do the job.

Generally, at the advertising agencies we don't have TV cameras, we don't even have a still camera. I think we have a Polaroid someplace. We have to hire TV production houses, photographers, printers, typesetters, and illustrators. We go outside for all these things and pick from the pool of talent available to us. For TV production we'll go anywhere in the country, and we normally have to go to one coast or the other. So, we are truly an agent, really the go-between, and as such we coordinate and direct the production of everything.

I'm responsible for one major brand or sometimes a couple brands if they are small. I report to an account supervisor. Under the account supervisor are two or three different account executives. Above the supervisor is a more senior person, a management director or director of client service. This person is responsible for all of a particular company's brands with the agency and may therefore have two or three supervisors reporting to him or her.

The next step up from here is a group of vice-presidents, who have two or three management directors reporting to them. They have other responsibilities, because they're also on the board of director. They may be in charge of new business pitches or long-range planning with the financial people. There may also be a number of special projects like recruiting or training for which they are responsible. Above these people are the president and chief executive officer of the agency.

In my area, account management, there are technically six different levels: group account director, account director, senior account supervisor, account supervisor, account representative, and assistant representative. I work on two relatively small accounts as an account representative. Above me are only two upper management people-the account director (vice-president) and the group account director (senior vice-president).

Additionally, there are no clear-cut lines of duties from title t title. For example, an account supervisor may take on the responsibilities of the account representative and vice versa. Division of the work load definitely depends on the needs of the account, because the nature of this business ranges from extremely active to extremely slow; rarely I there anything in between.

Two last points about titles. Often I think titles are given out to impress the client, so that he or she can say, "I have one senior vice president, two vice-presidents, and so forth working on my account. Lastly, titles do not determine salary. For example, I know one assistant account representative who makes more than the account representative on another account.
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