Become an advertising Account Manager – Leo Burnett interview

This is my 19th interview in my series of “how to get into advertising” and sadly one of my last, with just three more left to go. This week I spoke to Stephen Attree, from Leo Burnett about how to become an advertising Account Manager, what it takes and what Leo Burnett look for in Account Management.

Stephen studied French at Oxford University and began his career at Leo Burnett in 2009, where he worked as an Account Executive for two years, he has since been working in his current role as Account Manager for almost three years. With experience already under his belt and working for one of the top agencies out there, Stephen has a wealth of knowledge, advice and insight about how to become an advertising Account Manager and make it into the industry.

Become an advertising Account Manager1. What is your day to day role?

I’m a Senior Account Manager on the McDonald’s and Coca-Cola accounts. This involves the day-to-day management of about 4 -7 cross-media campaigns, all at different stages of development, at any given time. It’s quite demanding, so time management is vital, constantly reassessing priorities during the day. It’s mostly managing other people and ensuring work is completed correctly and quickly, but more and more it is about preparing for key meetings and agreeing actions and direction with clients on strategic and creative matters.

In my mind it’s calmly directing work with considered thought. but in reality it probably looks more like running round the office like a blue-arsed fly.

2. How did you become an advertising Account Manager?

I did my undergraduate degree in French and Spanish, then had a year out before continuing studies with a Master’s in French Drama – this made me probably the oldest grad in the industry when I finally started my career, but it didn’t seem to matter. Since then, my career has been defined by instability, despite remaining at the same agency for four years. Clients have come, gone, grown and shrunk and sometimes all four in the time I’ve worked with them.

Getting to where I am now had always been a case of trying to learn as much as humanly possible, from each experience and each team I’ve worked with and using that to take on new responsibilities. Weirdly and refreshingly, keeping a low profile when it hits and high one when it sinks gains you more respect than the other way round.

“I found I improved quicker by realising that the job is never quite done, that there’s always more to learn.”

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced to get where you are?

Waiting. It’s an incredibly stimulating thing to work in such a driven environment. Most people in advertising are highly (and healthily) ambitious, but clearly for everyone to be above average is a statistical impossibility. I found I improved quicker by realising that the job is never quite done, that there’s always more to learn and by paying more attention to what I did each day, than I did to titles, labels and pay.

Become an advertising Account Manager

4. What would you say Leo Burnett look for from Account Managers?

The same as any good ad agency – a good mix of dedication, passion, intelligence, imagination, personality, independence, curiosity and good old-fashioned common decency. That said, I managed to slip through so clearly; that old university fear of being an admissions error never quite leaves you.

“Interviews and work placements were vital in my experience as this helped me see what the job was really like.”

5. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an advertising Account Manager?

Apply, meet, do. As far as I can tell, there is no perfect way, perfect answer or perfect CV. You could be the scientifically impressive love-child of Bill Bernback and Don Draper and you’d still only walk into a meeting armed with an opinion. So the more you do, the more keen you are to take on responsibility and learn, the more people will trust you and want you involved. Interviews and work placements were vital in my experience as this helped me see what the job was really like and what expectations would be of me for real, as opposed to what you’re told at career fairs or talks.

6. Are there any steps you would recommend to getting into an agency?

Same as above really – it doesn’t matter what type of experience you get, as long as you’re getting real, day-to-day contact with the industry, so I’d try to put myself out there and find a way to get it. The one thing I’d add, is that on no account should you hide or lose what makes you you in all this. Passionate people create the best work, so if you’re an inveterate food nerd, a closet poet, a virtuoso musician, a highly talented amateur clown or an aware-winning Lego artist, for God’s sake don’t stop doing it! So very, very few of us actually grew up dreaming of making telly ads for insurance brands, no matter how many hilarious Russian-accented furry animated meerkats they feature.

Become an advertising Account Manager

7. What has been your career highlight so far?

Spoiler: massive cop-out answer follows.

For me, it’s the sheer variety of it. Projects come and go, but I really think great agency-side personalities crave novelty. Moving from cinema ads to websites to social media campaigns to small-scale events and from food brands to the UK government to charity clients and the agency’s own grad scheme – that’s the  fascinating part and always tests you to work out what makes sense in each new scenario.

Nailing the jelly to the wall, it was probably making the trailer and design work for the BFI’s London Film Festival 2010. I’m hardly the most dedicated of film geeks, but I was like a pig in sh*t on that one (and the work was good too!)