One of the most demanding positions in advertising requires a blend of attention to detail, authority, business flair, people skills, flexibility and – yes – a love of creativity. Wining and dining, champagne, swanky business trips. That’s how Mad Men portrayed the daily life of account people. But what does it really mean to be the interface between the agency and the client, making sure everyone’s needs are met? And how do you get good at it?
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do?
Hello! I’m Jana Foley and I am a VP / Account Director here at RPA. I stumbled into advertising as I was graduating from college and found myself in need of a job in order to stay in Los Angeles. I count my lucky stars that a recruiter saw potential in me, even though I hadn’t previously set foot in an advertising agency and that my first Account Director felt the same. I quickly fell in love with being in Account Management, as it blended my type A personality and love of details and organization with an appreciation for the creative process and desire to “get my hands dirty.” After 5 years at my first agency, I was ready for a move and again found the stars aligning to bring me to RPA, where I’ve been for the past 9 years and worked across a myriad of accounts (Farmers Insurance, TikTok, Universal Production Music, Halo pet food, FX Network’s Fargo Season 3) and grown from an Account Supervisor to my current position as an Account Director on the ampm, ARCO, Pocky and Menchie’s accounts.
How do you define the role of an account director/manager? Has the role evolved much over the years?
I like to think of Account Management as the voice for the client within the walls of the agency and an advocate for the agency with the client. We are on the frontlines of knowing what’s going on with our clients’ businesses – the good and the bad – and helping lead an agency team that will create work to affect the business in a positive way. In a way, we need to channel our clients and anticipate their needs so the agency team is always prepared and, ideally, one step ahead of where our clients are. And, on the flip side, we get to be proponents for the thinking that is done at the agency and help sell through ideas that we know will impact the client’s business. At the end of the day, it comes down to knowing our clients, knowing their category and their business, and working with the larger agency team to find solutions that lead to results.
I think the fundamentals of being an Account Director have remained unchanged. Perhaps the focus on wining and dining has lessened throughout the years, but being a partner to our clients has not.
What sort of qualifications and experience do you need today?
It feels as if it is difficult to get into advertising without having completed multiple internships, which is definitely a more recent development. And an overall understanding of marketing and how an agency works is definitely a plus for someone just starting out. But as I’m hiring new associates into Account Management, it is less about the internships and previous experience and more about the drive and inherent skills that I’m looking for.
It feels cliché to type this, but important traits of good account managers are being detail-oriented, being proactive, knowing how to communicate with different audiences and understanding how to tailor communications accordingly, knowing how to juggle a lot of different tasks, and knowing how (and wanting!) to be part of a team.
Does the historic tension between the creative department and the “suits” still exist? Or was it always a myth?
There are some agencies where the tension is a reality, for sure. But at RPA, thankfully, it hasn’t been my reality. I have been lucky to work alongside very collaborative Creative Directors and their teams who embrace the idea of being “one team.” Yes, we are in different departments and we play different roles, but we’re part of the same team that works on a client’s business. And the more we respect each other’s expertise and come together to collaborate, the better the results and the more enjoyable the process.
For me, that means sharing the information I’ve received from clients that will impact the work. Creatives can only bring the best ideas to the table when they understand exactly what is going on with the business and where the clients’ heads are. And the best ideas come about when a team of people, including Account, are able to build on them or provide suggestions that will make them stronger. Creating work that drives business results is a team effort. And that team is made up of people from all departments who respect each other.
How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry and what professional achievement are you most proud of?
I first and foremost want to thank Monster.com for getting my resumé seen by a recruiter. In all seriousness, I can only credit it to chance that my first Account Director was willing to see my potential and gave me a chance to join the ranks of the marketing/advertising industry as an Account Coordinator. It was a job that hadn’t even crossed my mind and yet became a career that I’ve loved and has helped define who I am.
My biggest professional achievement has been my ability to work on a myriad of clients and categories. While I admire my colleagues who have worked in a particular category for the lifespan of their careers, I have been fortunate to work across travel & tourism, entertainment, retail, education, insurance, fuel, kids’ toys, food and beverage, and more. And with the arrival of each new client and category, I have been stretched and tested to expand my knowledge. I believe I am a more well-rounded Account Director because of my experiences and am always ready to take on the next piece of business and category.
Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?
I am inspired by many different people – leaders of companies, musicians, my family. But when it comes to my day-to-day working, I get most inspired by the folks who work alongside me. Witnessing the passion they put into every project with an unfailing commitment to always improve and with a foundation of respect for each person they interact with. That is what inspires me to log back on in the morning and give it my all.
How has the pandemic impacted your work? Do you have any tips on how to maintain connectivity with clients?
Our industry has for so long been centered around the mentality that we need to be in an office setting to be the most productive, and this pandemic very quickly shattered that belief. Working remotely has pushed us all to learn new ways to communicate, collaborate and still be a team even though we haven’t been in the same room together for months. While I look forward to the days of sitting in a conference room again, I know our agency has become stronger because of this experience.
I don’t think I’ve ever been on the phone with my clients as much as I have over the last 10 weeks. And while I don’t believe anything can replace an in-person conversation, the increased phone calls have been a wonderful thing. I have often struggled with the overreliance on emails and waiting for the next scheduled meeting to discuss a topic. And I’m thankful many of those standardized processes have been blown apart by the current situation. With a quick text exchange or phone call, we’re able to get more things done in less time. And better yet, it provides a chance to have a personal exchange that you don’t often get in writing or in a group setting. Checking in on how everyone is doing, learning about the struggles of homeschooling while working, getting a new dinner recipe. These more frequent conversations and reminders that we’re all human going through similar experiences help build the connections we have with each other.