How to become a studio account manager
Design Week: What’s your educational background?
Jorijn Harms is from the Netherlands and studied industrial design at Delft University of Technology. It is quite common to do a master’s in the Netherlands. I did one in strategic products design. I decided to focus on the thinking behind the design and not the execution. This was the best for me. I am not a terrible designer, but I feel better at analysis.
DW: How has your career path been so far?
JH: As part of my marketing course, I did an internship in the marketing department of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream brand. It was great fun, and it sparked my interest in branding. It seemed that a lot of the creative work was outsourced by the in-house team. I realized that a design studio would be a better option for me.
As part of my thesis, I was placed in a Dutch design studio called Cartils. This studio specialized in perfume packaging design. The research process was very enjoyable, as it involved trying to understand people’s associations with scent through packaging design. I was not even aware of the job title at the time when the studio asked me if I would like to continue in account management. It was a job I felt I could change if I didn’t like it.
I found that the account management department was closely connected to the creative process. It was why I enjoyed it so much. There was a lot of variety within the job. Even though I didn’t do the design work, I enjoyed working in a creative setting.
Cartils asked me if I would like to move to London after four years. This was a decision I was happy to make. I have always considered London a great place for design education and graphic design. I worked my way up to the role of client brand manager for four more years.
It was a small studio that did a lot of packaging for beer and spirits, which I enjoyed. I was looking to expand my horizons so I applied for the account director position at Jones Knowles Ritchie. I have been with the company for three-and-a half years, and now I am group account director.
DW: How did you first become interested in account management?
JH: I was actually studying product design strategy at university. The abstract part of the design process is what I gravitated to. Understanding trends, how cultural and political landscapes influence people’s perspectives and how products play a part in their lives has always been my natural instinct.
My experience has taught me that I enjoy the practical aspects of the job. It’s important to remember that it’s a business and not just an art form. I learned how to manage processes to achieve the best results within a given time.
DW: How does your typical work day look for you?
JH: My hours of work are 9-30am-6pm. There is an hour lunch break. However, it is possible to make arrangements for people who want to be there earlier or later. JKR has five group account directors.
On Mondays, I will perform some urgent admin and review emails. Just before lunch, my team will give a huge run-through presentation for the week. We’ll go over everyone’s work schedules (whether they’re at home or away) and then we’ll have lunch.
The process can last up to an hour and then I’ll do all the other things for the remainder of the day. This includes delivering presentations to clients and performing internal progress reviews with strategy and creative teams.
As an account manager, my responsibility is to introduce the project, explain what we are doing, why it matters, and show them where we are in the process. The strategy team walks the client through the reasoning, while the design team guides them through the creative process.
To help manage the workflow of different teams, I hold several meetings within my organization. This includes setting deadlines and time frames, checking whether everyone has enough resources or if we need to hire freelancers, as well managing times when people are away.
I also organize internal training and present a weekly financial performance presentation to the company. This focuses on how we are performing against our plans. It includes things like whether we are overstretched, not too busy, so we can bring in more projects.
DW: What are your main day-to-day tasks?
JH: Internal and External Communications, Organisation through creating time-plans, emailing people and writing creative briefs, presentations, making keynote presentations to explain clearly what our teams should be doing, meeting various departments, and building presentations on the larger future vision for JKR as well as specific projects.
There’s also the admin and financial side. This includes tracking finances, people’s hours and tasks, as well as ensuring that we adhere to budgets.
DW: Is the job creatively challenging?
JR: It’s very creative and a lot different from visual creative work. To be able to adapt the company’s work flow and provide good results for clients, I need to think creatively. Also, I need to make sure that teams are motivated and come up with great ideas. Design work will be more enjoyable if I can create a positive team environment.
JKR offers a lot of room for people to pursue other interests and do other things. JKR recently established a foundation for non-profit work. I was very interested in it, so I helped to set it up and make it successful.
DW: How closely do account mangers and graphic designers collaborate?
JH: We work closely together; I work with multiple design departments every day. For briefings and presentations, I will be present in meetings with other creatives from the company.
It’s great and very beneficial to spend time outside of meetings. When I travel to an external client briefing, I am accompanied by a brand strategist and design director on a train or plane. We just chat and brainstorm new ideas. It’s important to have a dialogue between departments. Being in a relaxed, different environment with maybe a beer really helps.
DW: What are your strengths as an account manager?
JH: It is important to be able enjoy a varied day with many activities. It is important to enjoy switching between modes. You must be meticulous and thorough. It is my responsibility to ensure that briefs are accurate and that presentations and creative work are error-free. You must also be able see the big picture and have great organization and time management skills.
DW: What are the best parts of your job?
JH: It’s a great experience to work with creative people. I love seeing a project come to life.
I love the new role branding plays in society. People don’t just buy something because it looks good, but also because it represents them. I enjoy working with brands that are sustainable or equal, like start-ups such as Hippies and Ugly Drinks, which have a greater social purpose and ethics.
I am also a bit of an all-rounder so I really enjoy working on many different projects. I will be doing 12 different things each day.
DW: What is the worst part of your job?
JH: We don’t always find a solution right away, even if we have a structure. It can be stressful because clients may get annoyed and frustrated that things aren’t on time. I will be the one calling them to let them know we’re not delivering. That frustration is what I get first!
You need to be trained to manage it and to understand that it is not personal. In situations like these, it can be hard to remain positive for the teams you manage. It is important to be able to accept bumps and keep your cool.
DW: What would you look for in a junior manager?
JH: I would like someone who is able to think quickly and express ideas in a creative way.
They must have a positive attitude, and a friendly personality. Working with clients and internally requires that you are a person who is sociable and enjoys working with others.
It is important to be positive and willing to face challenges head-on. You will need to be able to think critically and understand complex processes. Experience in dealing with all types of creative processes, whether graphic design or otherwise, is a plus.
DW: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in account management?
JH: Talk to people from different areas of the creative landscape. This will help you determine if you like the execution of creativity.
A creative studio has many aspects, so don’t assume that you know everything. They come from many backgrounds. Diverse teams are better.
Consider also — Is a design studio right for me? There are many other roles, like in digital innovation studios or research agencies. You should explore other career options and not let your education or qualifications dictate what job you should do.
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