Published on November 13, 2018, at 12:40 p.m.
by Reagin Edwards.
The agency life is full of fast-paced decisions, creative collaboration and lots of cups of coffee. Through all this hustle and bustle, there are a handful of people who help to keep the agency, as a whole, focused on the ultimate prize: creative pieces that can win awards and inspire others. These people are the account and project management teams.
A lot can be said about the differences between the two departments, but their overarching goal is still the same. Allie Hansen, associate director of project management at 22squared, touched on the roles both departments need to play in an agency. “I view account managers as the client advocates and project managers as the creative advocates, but specific roles and responsibilities vary greatly,” she said. They both play crucial roles in an agency, and when they work together they can be even more effective.
It is important to learn about each department’s roles individually to fully understand how they can operate together. So what exactly is account management? A general definition of the role is an employee who serves as the primary point of contact between the client and the agency. This position can range from providing customer support, to the planning and optimization of the account itself.
According to Jackson Spalding account management intern Maret Montanari, her time in account management last summer was very client-focused, as she worked on both the Interstate Batteries and the Mattress Firm accounts. “I got to see all the moving parts. You have to translate what your client wants and then make sure you are orchestrating it in your team. You have to make sure all of the parts are coming together to satisfy your client,” she said.
Montanari was tasked with overseeing a sponsored event for Mattress Firm during her time at Jackson Spalding. “I coordinated every aspect of that; I coordinated with everyone on the team from social media to media relations to also the Mattress Firm team, making sure that we had people on the ground on their side for the event,” she noted.
Being an account manager requires strategic thinking and vast knowledge about your client’s business and creative solutions. Montanari discussed her experience learning about her client, Interstate Batteries.
“I had to learn how to do B2B work because I’d never had any experience with that,” she explained. “I’d say the best way to learn about a client, is to just throw yourself in and take that initiative to learn about them, especially when you are in those higher up leadership roles. You have to understand your client because you are making those decisions, you have to inform your team and you are serving as the advocate for the client.”
Account management requires a certain skill set. Like every position in a company, it may not be for everyone. Montanari touched on what she believes are the key skills someone in account management needs to possess.
“The two biggest things are to be organized and motivated,” Montanari said. “Whenever you are having to communicate with a client and then translate it back to your team, you need to make sure you can juggle multiple balls at one time, so that’s where being organized can be really helpful. Also being motivated is key — you are the go-getter for your team, and you have to make sure that they are just as motivated as you are.”
Much like account managers, project managers also help to satisfy client’s needs. They take on a more internal role, however, and they are in constant contact with the other members on the agency’s internal team. These members can range from the production department to the art directors and even to the strategy department.
Allie Hansen discussed the role of being a project manager at 22squared. “At 22squared, we are the guardians of the creative concepting; we evaluate and protect the resources and time needed to put forth the very best thinking for every project the agency works on,” Hansen said. “Risk management is baked into a lot of our daily routines, whether it’s knowing who’s going out on vacation or proactively identifying when we have a gap in a specialized skill set. We think of ourselves as conductors of an orchestra; our internal teams rely on us to make sure they are working in sync and look to us to shepherd the work through the agency, from the time the brief comes in the door to the time we have a concept approved to produce.”
The project manager and account manager must communicate and work together to get deliverables to their client in a timely manner. A project manager sets and communicates deadlines for key tasks, negotiating both with account managers about client needs and with creative staff about the time they need to do a thorough job.
Hansen talked about how to maintain a positive work environment between the two departments. “No one likes to get an urgent assignment from an account manager who’s known about it for weeks, and an account manager doesn’t like finding out we’re going to miss a deadline after the fact,” she noted. “Having trust that both parties are working toward a solution that works for clients and the agency can help keep strained conversations positive.”
Project management requires a good bit of critical thinking. “Our days are filled with navigating new assignments, resourcing conflicts and negotiating time and resources where we need to. On any given day, we could be collaborating on schedules, briefing teams on a pitch or scrambling to find resources for a super urgent client request,” Hansen explained.
Hansen expressed her belief that good project managers need to be flexible and quick on their feet when it comes to clear decision making. “I think the biggest misconception about project managers is that we are drivers of process for the sake of it. I actually think the best agency project managers are the ones who are the least rigid and the most adaptable. We have to be solutions-oriented and be critically evaluating both individual projects and the higher-level outlook in mind,” Hansen said.
Communication is key in the project manager role. The creative team will often look to the project manager for resources and deliverables from the account team. Sometimes this can become stressful and tasks can get lost within your inbox. Just like account management, organization is a strength you must have.
“Bad or lack of communication really is the root of so many issues, so closing the loop on open items and getting actionable next steps and alignment on a plan is critical to a team being successful,” Hansen said. “Consensus building can be hard when emotions are high or we’re working toward an urgent deadline, so being able to navigate sticky situations and to reprioritize work without much notice is key.”
These two departments need to walk together, attached at the hip constantly. Constant communication is key, and the interest of the client, management and creative staff must be the utmost priority. Occasionally there might be some disagreements, but good relationships can be formed both professionally and personally if the effort is put in. All agency operations vary, and the departments’ jobs can also always vary, but both functions are needed for a high-performing creative services group.