How to progress your career as an Account Director

18 Jul 2018

Q When should I move in-house?

There isn’t a perfect time to move in my opinion and however much you direct your career, sometimes being in the right place at the right time plays a big part alongside who you know. The majority of roles available on the market right now are at a PR Manager level and they are often a perfect level for an Account Director. However, a word of warning, once you’re in an in-house environment moving up and progressing in title and salary can be more challenging than in an agency. You may think the grass is greener but be mindful of what is important for you in your career and make informed decisions.

Q What’s one of the main differences I might expect if I move in-house?

As an agency Account Director, you need to stay one step ahead, filling the gaps for the client, and being super proactive. This isn’t always the case in-house. Something else which is often cited, is the challenge of navigating the internal politics.

Q What else should I be aware of if I move in-house?

In an in-house environment you may be viewed as a ‘cost centre’ and in an agency you are working with like-minded people and be viewed as a ‘profit-centre’. If you wish to move in-house, be aware how communications is valued in the business. It comes from the top and your creativity and ideas may be limited to how willing the company is to push the boundaries. On the other hand, agencies are paid to be creative and push the boundaries. You may also be limited by how transparent they are required to be (a partnership for example is quite different to a listed company). Just be careful about the choices you make and do your due-diligence before committing to any business.

Q Does in-house pay more than agency?

There is a bit of a misconception across the industry that in-house pays better. According to our latest salary guide 2017/18 the average salaries for each level in an agency and its equivalent in-house come out about the same. There is more disparity with senior level in-house pay as the pay bands are wider and super senior roles can pay more. That being said, in-house comms teams completely outshine agencies benefits packages and they offer more flexible working overall.

Q How much of a salary uplift can I expect in a job move?

We tend to see a 10 – 15% uplift on your basic salary in a move at this level, however, it will depend on what you are being paid in the first place. Keeping your salary at market rate is up to you – the salary guide here will help you. Look at the ‘recommended range’ and the average. This will help you in your salary review discussions too. On the whole, people who move every few years tend to be paid more.

Q I’m currently a generalist, should I start thinking about becoming a specialist?

If you are thinking about moving in-house, you are better off being a specialist so you can demonstrate in-depth sector knowledge and contacts in order to secure a role. The competition for in-house roles is fierce and it’s likely the next person walking through the door after you is a specialist in the sector so you will need to outshine them and that’s not easy if you’re a generalist.

Q What do I need to do to get promoted to Associate Director level?

In order to get promoted, you need to be seen as really proactive when it comes to networking and looking for new business. Increasing retainers, bringing in additional projects and adding commercial value is vital to being seen as commercially-minded and adding value to the bottom-line. An Associate will doubtless contribute to the operations of a company such as holding training workshops and upskilling others, or perhaps get involved with recruitment.

Q I’m an Account Director now, can I get promoted to Associate Director in a move?

In my opinion, 8/10 Account Directors will probably not get a promotion when moving roles. Those who do may be moving to smaller agencies which give them the title to attract them to the business. In any case, you must be able to justify that you are operating at Associate Director level. You need to remember that your abilities are unproven to a new employer and even if your promotion is due, your future employer will wonder why your current employer hasn’t promoted you already.

Q How important are people management skills for my level?

At this level you should be managing others, driving and motivating your team forwards. You are expected to be delegating, training and supporting your team members; however you are not expected to be undertaking appraisals or pay reviews at this point. If you’re looking to move in-house, there is 50:50 chance whether you will get some line management responsibility in a Corporate Communications/PR Manager role.

Q How can I stand out as a high performing Account Director?

Show that you are commercially minded and be proactive with ideas and get really good at anticipating client’s needs. Get involved with new business where you can and network. As a team manager, you should be driving and motivating your team. As a client handler, impressive results and smooth project management skills will also impress your boss.

The Works Search specialises in finding industry best talent at board and senior level in corporate communications and financial communications. As executive search consultants we enjoy nothing more than discovering hidden ‘high calibre’ gems and sharing our expert career advice.

If you think we can help, please call Sarah Leembruggen on 0207 903 9290 or email

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