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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Digital Strategy & Execution - The "What Sandwich"

I try to use analogies that help stakeholders get their heads around some of the abstract concepts floating around in a marketing environment. Strategy and its proper relationship to Execution is one of them.

This is not a post on the elusive definition of strategy. Nor an attempt to define the difference between Strategy (with a big "S") vs. strategy (with a small "s") or Strategery or any of the other silliness that surrounds this term.

I like to think of the relationship between Strategy and Execution as a "What Sandwich" or, more specifically, a sandwich comprised of "What" needs to be built, that lives between 2 slices of "How" objectives will be achieved and "How" the features and functions will be executed.. The sandwich is made like this:

I'll leave the deeper question of "Why" for another time or other minds.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Agency Compensation - Variables that Impact Pricing

It's tough to make predictions - especially about the future.
                                                                    - Yogi Berra

How much will it cost to build an x for us? Where x stands for Website, Microsite, Facebook Page, Mobile App (or even a House, a Bridge, an Aircraft Carrier). Tough question, right? The answer is, "It depends". What kind of x do you want?

Unfortunately, this question is asked by clients of their agencies every day. Given the recession hangover, fortunately it is still being asked. I find that a little education helps either avoid this overly, simplistic question or more productively, it helps point to a method for finding an answer. The approach pretty much has to do with helping your client (as well as your team) understand the variables that impact pricing.

While on the topic, in the spirit of precision, I like to define terms. In general, the price of services and/or deliverables is made of two components: fees (pretty much labor) and costs (usually pass-throughs, such as travel, licenses, equipment, etc.).

Below is a list of some of the variables impact the price of a project. As I hope you can see this list will generate some pretty interesting discussions that, if handled, properly will result in a level of professional empathy that should elevate all involved
  • objectives’ clarity / validity
  • strategy integrity / clarity
  • project duration
  • time of year   -   for info on an ugly confluence of factors, see Use It or Lose It
  • program complexity
  • state / quality of assets, briefing, brand and style guides
  • 3rd party involvement (e.g. other agencies, technology vendors, email / sweeps vendors, client-internal parties [legal, IT, etc], client-external partners [other marketers])
  • scale & volume (planned scale decreases pricing)
  • review / approval process – including: cycle duration, feedback quality / consolidation, and number of stakeholders (e.g. marketing, legal, compliance, branding, etc.)
  • specification quality / stability
  • production value
  • costs (e.g. photos, video, locations, research, technology, travel needs, etc.)
The old Triple Constraint is also a valuable concept to help frame an agency compensation discussion with clients and your team.

There's a wide range of things on the agency side that also impact pricing, such as available staff, their skills, their rates, etc. Is it fair to charge a client an Art Director's rate to do a Production Artist's tasks? Same answer, "It depends".

Let us know your thoughts or if you have some other major variables that drive pricing.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Aligning Stakeholder Expectations - What's a PM to do?

    Below is one of the best articulations (definitely one of the most humorous) of why there needs to be a person or party looking holistically at engagements and focusing her/his energies on driving stakeholder alignment. If you’ve been in an agency for decades or just arrived on the last boat, the issue highlighted in this strip should resonate.

    Click on the strip image below to enlarge and/or check out the video variation on the theme below it.

    Please add your insights, experiences and anecdotes in the comments section of this post.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    PM Leaders - Areas of Greatest Challenge: Survey Results

    I sent out a survey to some of the industry’s foremost interactive and integrated agency Project Management leaders to get at some of the major challenges that confront, not only PM’s but agencies in general. IMHO, these leaders are in a unique position to assess what it takes to make the ecosystem work and what makes things grind to a halt or worse. If you'd like to take the survey, see the link at the bottom of this post.

    If being a PM is one of the toughest jobs in the biz, leading a PM group can be a real bear. Like other discipline leads within an agency, the Group Director of PM/Delivery or the Executive Producer has no real peers inside. S/he is faced with a learning curve that can go long stretches without gaining much altitude, and has responsibilities that pull in many competing directions. One lead told me that, “I gave up the illusion of making everyone happy long ago. I figure, if everyone’s just a bit, and equally pissed, and trust in my judgment is more-or-less intact, that’s about as good as it gets."

    My hat’s off to these leaders and am thankful to those who took the time to share their perspectives for this survey. Although your successes don’t always yield overt evidence, the absence of your experienced hands often does (PM Success, Where’s the Evidence).

    Results from the survey are not necessarily surprising but are illuminating none the less. The overall survey explored the following areas:
    • Variables that provide the most challenges (e.g. timing, pricing, client communication, etc.)
    • Stakeholders who provide the most challenges (e.g. creative team, account team, clients, etc.)
    • Areas of PM skill/responsibility that PM’s find the most challenging (e.g. tool usage, being too strident, being too passive)
    This post features results and commentary on first topic: Areas of Greatest Challenge to project managers within agencies Subsequent posts will address the other areas.

    No news here that Timing, which a full 88% of PM leads, ranked as either Consistently or Often providing a major challenge came out on top. Compressed timelines are always going to be part of this game.  Actually getting more time for assignments is going to be tough. Using available time more effectively is where PM’s can have the most impact. A few thoughts on this topic include:
    • Improve the briefing process
      This upstream event and the documentation surrounding it happen early enough to ripple through the entire process and a can be traced as the source of many common errors
    • Present solutions that can actually be achieved in the time available
      It’s simplistic to lay the blame on, “Creatives Gone Wild”. PM’s have a responsibility to drive a team and client to put great ideas through the reality-filter of time – just watch out for getting labeled as a No-(Wo)Man
    • Be critical of your Project Plans
      Just because you can make MS Project land on a date, doesn’t mean the work will. If you’re project plan has too many 1-hour durations or -2 day lags, it probably isn’t going hold up very well.
    • Consider phased releases
      Not the way they are often landed on – as a reaction to circling the drain towards your deadline the days before launch, but as an actual plan at the outset

    Again, no surprise that timing’s buddy, money is near the top of the list. Once their backs are against the wall, clients or agency execs will often try to throw money, which often means bodies, at an issue. This approach has a pretty unfavorable curve of diminishing returns.  Although, this does come up, I wouldn’t worry about that situation too much, as another common challenge, marked at a combined Consistent or Often ranking of 59%, is Pricing.

    What puzzles me is the relatively low 17% of PM Leads that indicated Timing as only Occasionally a challenge and the remarkably high 41% that indicated that Pricing is only Occasionally or Seldom an issue. I’d love to know where they work, who their Account Management partners are or what’s in their secret sauce.    

    Of the 3 areas addressed, Internal Communications, Client Communications and 3rd Party Communications. Internal and Client Communications offer the most consistently identified areas of challenge. This too is an area where the project manager can have a substantial impact. Structured communications in a variety of media such as, Official Project Documents (e.g. SOW’s and Contact Reports), Emails, IM’s, Project Plans, Budgets, and PowerPoint and verbally are critical to PM success. This is one of the major areas where PM leaders can train and influence the efficacy of their teams.

    The surprise in these areas was that a full 36% of the respondents reported that 3rd Party Communications was only Seldom a challenge area. More power to you. The rising complexity of deliverables and the amount of subcontracting by bigger agencies to smaller, specialist vendors would suggest that this would be a growing issue. Perhaps the experience and quality of individuals who have begun to populate these specialist organizations has added some stability to the ecosystem.

    If you’re interested in adding your $.02 on the general Areas of Greatest Challenge for PM's as well as a couple of other related topics, please do so here, (it's just 3 questions) and/or do so in comments to this post.

    Thanks for playing!

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Use It or Lose It!

    It's that time of year - where that is a variable for things like: "holiday", "peace", "joy", "depression", etc. For agency and client staff, it's Use-It-or-Lose-It (UIoLI) time. By UIoLI I'm referring both to:
    • clients' end-of-the year rush to spend their budgets in order to squeeze out a last bit of performance or to justify next year's budget.
    • vacation days & corporate policies for roll-over (or not as the case may be).
     These two UIoLI events come to a nasty head at the end of year. To a lesser extent, summer time with its holidays and summer Fridays, also has similar issues.
    How can a dedicated agency person, leave her client, or for that matter, her team in the lurch during these critical times of year? This conundrum becomes even more complex because people both have long-standing plans, or faced with UIoLI, slap together last-minute trips. To turn up the temperature a few more degrees, on the client-side the same thing is happening, making the end of the year pretty much the sloppiest, most pressured, time of the year.

    It only took me a few cycles of being one of the few saps (dedicated employees?) still in the office at 11pm on 12/23 and 7/3 to begin managing my and my team's vacation schedules. One approach I've taken rounding the Q3 corner, when my team wasn't burning their vacation days fast enough was to implement Winter Fridays, where they could at least enjoy some additional 3-day weekends. If someone has two weeks of unused vacation coming onto the 4th quarter, they can pretty much work it out so that they can have 4-day weeks for the rest of the year. Another approach was to encourage them to come in late or leave early. Of course, the "good" ones (you guys know who you are) would still manage to put in over 50+ hours, even in those shortened weeks. At least they got some down-time that they otherwise would not have had.

    Their are many benefits to encouraging (or as some of the business literature suggests, "forcing") your team to take time off, including: higher retention rates and increased morale to learning time-management skills and driving productivity. The Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Business Week and many others have written extensively about these issues.

    So, if you're not fortunate enough to live in a state like California, where vacation days are considered earned wages that roll-over from year to year, take the time you deserve. Trust me, you and everyone around you will be better off than if you give them back to the man.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Project Management and Conflict

    One of Project Managers' most important roles is to drive continual improvement. In a multi-agenda, multi-stakeholder environment this pretty much means that conflict is inevitable. We're all familiar with the full range of conflict from the healthy kind, which results in the aforementioned improvement to the kind that comes from butting heads with those whose personal agenda and greater good aren't fully balanced.

    A key to success for a PM in an agency environment is getting good at working through conflicts in a way that elevates the ecosystem. It's a refined skill, which on the weak side results in you caving on something that needs to be driven and on the other side has too strident an approach, which generates disproportionate resistance. In addition, to a lack of progress, too much of either approach will leave you ping-ponging between them and getting nowhere while building a reputation that you'll have to shake.

    I followed an interesting string on the topics of conflict and leadership, which led from:
    • Jessica Stillman's Entry-Level Rebel blog post: Tim Ferris: Don't Be Afraid to Piss People Off on BNET - Jessica is a great amplifier of sage advice from blogs, books and presentations.


    • Tim's Ferris's blog post: The Benefits of Pissing People Off, in which he advises that, "Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs. This is fine – if you are willing to take the heat."

      and finally to

    • Colin Powell's Leadership Primer on Slidshare, in which, among other things, he advises that, "Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad . . . you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization"

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Achieving Balance - Rigor and Flexibility

    If nothing else, being a PM in an agency environment is about achieving balance. I'm just going to skim the surface of this topic in this posting. There are a myriad of competing forces to reconcile along the development continuum in order to find the win/win including:

    Reliability & Innovation
    Options & Recommendations
    Breadth & Depth
    Effectiveness & Efficiency
    Client Goals & Agency Goals
    Collaboration & Autonomy
    IM & Email (or picking up the damn phone!)
    Revenue & Profit
    Branding & Response
    Engagement & Accessibility
    And the PM classic: Quality, Speed & Price

    On the PM side, whether we're talking about employing a service delivery process, using tools & templates or just how one manages communication and relationships, it often comes down to balancing rigor and flexibility.

    PM is a robust and mature disciple with a successful history in a number of complex industries. However, an agency environment, is not a construction site, a military base nor a software engineering firm. Many of the PM tactics, tools and tenets that drive success in those environments will choke the life out of an agency. Applied with the right sensibility and professional judgment the methodologies promoted by PMI, Prince2 and the like can absolutely enhance PM and overall agency performance. However, without the appropriate judgment to achieve balance between the rigor supplied by those approaches and the flexibility that must exist in an agency, a clash or a lose/lose is inevitable. Similarly the lack of predictability that comes along with iterative approaches, like Agile is sometimes too nerve-racking for clients or agency stakeholders to bear.

    A PM who can effectively depart from a plan to the mutual satisfaction of all is far more valuable than one who can create a 700-line project plan and hold a team hostage with it.

    Bend so you don't break.
    Bend but don't bend over.

    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Pricing Wars - Agency/Client Dialog

    This one, "The Vendor Client relationship - in real world situations", has been making the rounds. I've already heard from several colleagues that they've seen it and have even used it as part of internal, agency meetings. If you haven't viewed this, it will make you laugh and cry.

    For any clients reading this: Please keep in mind that on the agency-side, we realize these are caricatures. And further, a spoof that could be produced on the many agency-side foibles related to pricing would similarly generate laughter and tears - (e.g. 2 weeks to generate a $10,000 high-level estimate).

    However, determining pricing and managing expectations and scope as it relates to pricing are some of the most charged areas of agency/client relationships.

    Like so much else in a partnership, clear communication up front and some organizational empathy can help avoid scenes like the ones depicted in this clip. Often issues surrounding pricing have more to do with poor communication and expectation-management than one party trying to pull something over on or unduly squeeze another - although there's certainly a bit of that floating around, especially in this pressured, economic environment.

    A few things for all to keep in mind surrounding pricing include:
    • It is impossible to tell how much time and money it will take to develop even a modestly complex project prior to receiving a proper brief. For a long range/complex project, even once the brief has been given and a broad solution determined, time & money can't necessarily be accurately predicted - and yes coming up with a viable, broad solution also takes time and money.

    • The most accurate way to price a project is through sequential estimates that gain fidelity as insight is uncovered and actual phases of development approach. (See my posting: Letter of Agreement (LOA) - Getting paid from the beginning for more on this topic.)

    • All parties need to understand that there are both activities and deliverable that need to be funded and that sometimes seemingly simple features and functions are very interconnected to other issues and take a lot of thought to execute effectively and efficiently - Right, like one of those Tiger Woods ads: 75% Preparation / 25% Execution.

    • There is a wide range of variables that affect pricing of a seemingly simple scope of work, including: quality of briefing, state of assets, state of brand/style guidelines, condition of technical environment, timing pressure, client's internal structure/relationships and 3rd party involvement.

    • Any agency worth its salt should be able to clearly articulate what is known and what is not known and the basis for their pricing.

    • When bids come in with gaping discrepancies, more often than not, there are not shared assumptions about the scope of the project.
    So, here's to hoping that collectively agencies and clients can bring "getting what you pay for" and "paying for what you get" a bit closer.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Project Management Recognition - Getting the Love (and more) that PM's Deserve

    For the purposes of this post, let's consider Project Manager and Producer roles the same thing. There is certainly no clear distinction in our industry - more on this in a future post.

    Trolling around the Droga5 website, in the "Stuff" section. I found, "I Want to Marry a Producer" by Ted Royer, Droga5's Executive Creative Director. It's one of the funniest, most endearing (and somewhat creepy) things I've read recently. He discusses various intra-agency marital options: account person, client, even another creative but dismisses them all for a producer. I don't know Ted personally (not entirely sure I'd like to - I certainly wouldn't want to get too close) but he has a body of work that puts him in high-regard in the industry and, in my book, his romantic side adds to his rep.

    I always appreciate it when PM's and Producers are recognized for the important roles they play. Unfortunately, recognition of PM contributions isn't the norm. If you haven't read my post Project Management Success - Where's the Evidence?!, which features a clip of Dustin Hoffman, playing Stanley Motts, the self-absorbed producer in Wag the Dog, give it a try. Hoffman delivers a hilarious set of tirades about producers and recognition.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009

    An Agency's Ability to Deliver - People Are Talking

    Industry talk is tantalizing. Externally, aided in great part by the plethora of awards, trade pubs and blogs, buzz tends to center around account-wins, creativity, and to a lesser extent, results. Published industry evaluation reports (e.g. AdWeek's Digital Agency Report Card, Forrester's Wave Studies) evaluate similar things, but an agency's ability to execute efficiently is not considered. However, within the industry, peer-to-peer at the bar (like when one PM asks another about a shop she used to work at), an agency's working environment, and its ability to deliver, are main topics.

    I've had the opportunity to get out and about to various industry events and conferences recently. Good form prevents me from listing details of what I've overheard. I will say that I was amazed at the consistency of buzz about certain agencies from one event to another and how well it aligned with the trash-talk I've heard inside of various agencies. The lack of understanding by some non-creative agency parties about the challenges of managing clients and creative/tech deliverables was striking as well.

    An agency's reputation is important to maintain. Here are just a few areas where buzz comes into play.
    • Hiring - In the current economic environment, agencies that are hiring have the upper hand. However, the best talent out there, especially those that have a stable gig, will still be applying even more scrutiny when considering whether or not to join a new shop.

    • Business Referrals - Media companies often influence clients' choices of what creative agencies to work with or, believe me, to stop working with.

    • Headhunters & Agency Recruiting Personnel- These guys hear it all. They get a regular insider's tour of agencies from the slew of talent they interact with. I've begged one of my long-term headhunter friends to write a book, I, and I'm sure others, would love to read it.

    • Third-Party & Publisher Preference - Guess which agencies 3rd party vendors like PointRoll, EyeBlaster and EyeWonder are going to partner with and feature in their case studies for their newest, high-functioning units? Publishers are well aware of which agencies deliver on time, and which deliver heartache.

    • Who's Got Your Back? - When the trash talk about your agency starts flying (usually behind your back), you want/need someone who knows your agency's and your work to chime in and support you.

    I don't need to tell you that clients care very much about an agency's ability to deliver. Any agency evaluation report card, or feedback given by a client (especially those leading up to or following an account being put into review) consider agency efficiency and reliability very heavily.

    PM's main mission is to ensure high-quality output that is delivered on-time, on-budget and on-spec. It's incumbent on you to not only execute on this and to form positive relationships with those who share the ecosystem with you. Obviously, this will help improve your ability to deliver together, but it will also improve your company's and your own reputation and your ability to thrive. I assure you, you will need it someday. As the Oracle of Omaha suggests:

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”

    - Warren Buffet

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Ad Operations - Our Industry's Connective Tissue

    Last week I attended the Leadership Forum run by AdMonsters, the association dedicated to online advertising operations and technology. As is AdMonsters MO for these kinds of things, the Forum was attended by a pretty small and senior group. There was good representation from around the ecosystem, including publishers (e.g CNN, NY & Washington Times, MTV, Gawker, YouTube, Time, Inc.) top tier agencies (e.g. MediaVest, Razorfish, Universal McCann), Networks (e.g. Platform-A, Undertone Networks) as well as some of the usual, appreciated suspects in the 3rd party/sponsor set (e.g. Google/DoubleClick, BurstMedia).

    I'm no stranger to the operations world and I was blown away by this Forum.

    The deep dive I took re-impressed upon me the importance of operations work - here's the key: These people exist across the entire online marketing and advertising ecosystem (publishers, agencies, networks, 3rd parties). Throughout the day, I kept wishing that C-level executives on all sides could listen to the dialog. Understanding and improving the connective tissue of operations is critical to elevating our entire industry - and key to diminishing the pain in all of our professional lives.

    I tuned in and chimed in most when talk turned to process - and there was a lot of it. Themes common to the plight of PM's emerged: need for better communication, collaboration, documentation and tools. The most important area for improvement I heard about was to get the ops folks upstream (themes near and dear to my heart see previous posts: The Best Predictor of Project Outcome - Project Initiation & Project Management Success - Where's the Evidence?!

    I know it's scary to peer under the hood and see some of the dirty machinery, but it's a necessity. Support of operations staff by bringing them into the conversation early, so they can participate in defining execution and innovation strategies, rather than being relegated to playing defense, will yield benefits for all.

    Do yourself and your teams a favor. Connect with the people in your organizations responsible for operations and learn about and support groups like AdMonsters. In addition to the Leadership Forums, AdMonsters runs conferences for junior team members that are invaluable. The next one in the US, Ad Ops 360°, will be held in New York in May. I hope that AdMonsters gets around to an executive conference or forum soon.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Letter of Agreement (LOA) - Getting paid from the beginning

    "Is there a signed Scope of Work (SOW)?" is one of the most frequently asked and important questions that comes up in an agency.

    The competing needs listed below are among the most vexing, catch-22 components of a project's initiation phase:
    • agencies need to have a signed SOW before starting work and committing resources
    • the substantial amount of work and information required to develop a proper SOW
    • clients need to know what they are buying before they sign off
    • projects need to start quickly lest they go away or will not be finished on time
    • client-side vetting and delays in getting a full-blown SOW approved

    Enter the Letter of Agreement (LOA). This short document can be enough to satisfy both agency execs and clients alike that there is value on its way. The goal of the LOA is to quickly and painlessly establish that the agency, under the direction of the client, will carry out a preliminary set of activities and deliverables and will be compensated for all substantiated fees and costs incurred.

    Additional parameters such as upper fee limits, general timing and deliverables can also be included if necessary. However, it's preferable to avoid these details or you will find yourself on the road to developing a bad SOW. Once you get sucked into this, it is easy to slip into project kick-off with no agreement signed.

    To help move LOA approval along, it's worth pointing out to the client and that the agreement protects them with phrases like, "directed by the client" and "substantiated fees and costs". Including a statement in the LOA that a subsequent agreement, such as an SOW, will govern the final compensation terms, activities and deliverables, also helps mollify clients and agency execs.

    I've been advised that these letters really don't have much legal bite, but that's not the point. The LOA is simply a tool to break through the typical project initiation impasse and prevent projects from starting with nothing in writing and ending without the agency being paid for all their efforts.

    Issuing an LOA is the lesser of many evils. However, standing firm by not allowing a project to begin unless there is a signed SOW, when there is a hard deadline that can't move, isn't so great either. Just make sure you get around to issuing a proper SOW.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009

    Penny-Wise & Pound-Foolish - Asset / Art Management

    A discussion in the Advertising Professional group on LinkedIn, posted by Charisse Louis of Charene Graphic Design, stirred up some unpleasant memories. She asked, "Is it OK to use clip art?" Clearly a seasoned professional, Charisse provides her learned opinion on her blog.

    My answer to the question is, of course, a multi-part: "It depends."

    It's certainly preferable to have a design using clip art that is well-executed and on-strategy over a design that is poorly executed, over-done. To me, it's also preferable to use clip art over a design that is well-done but is off-strategy.

    Beware of spending dozens of unplanned hours looking endlessly for a great "free" or cheap image because client is budget-strapped and hasn't been managed. Of course, in the process the agency has spent $x,000 of their time looking for this "free" image.

    This scenario's my favorite:

    1. Art Director uses non-original art or photo or content.

    2. In the rush to complete, AM/PM, unaware, presents it to budget-strapped client.

    3. Client loves it. And double whammy: client's boss, who never reviews work at the same time, happens to see this preso and loves it too.

    4. Agency, which hasn't covered this situation in it's SOW, eats the cost - This is even more exciting (triple whammy?) if the image goes live and then you learn that a licensing fee is owed, a competitor has used the same image or some other rights nightmare emerges.

    Process, patience and communication. Process, patience and communication.

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Media and Creative: Live together or die together.

    Stakes are higher now than ever for success - actually, high stakes for our survival are more like it. The level of dysfunction between agencies (and the various parties within), clients and publishers continues to elevate as campaigns gain complexity and economic pressure increases. To focus a bit: collaboration between media and creative teams, whether from the same or different agencies, has got to improve.

    Gunther Sonnerfeld, in his March 13, iMedia Connection piece, Why Media and Creative Need to Cross the Aisle, addresses the topic to a degree, but veers into the high-ground of " . . . when innovation is the key to success." As PM's we are painfully aware: great thinking isn't worth the PPT it's printed on if you can't execute.

    It never ceases to amaze me how seasoned, high-performing industry veterans, who know, work with and respect each other, will claim that the other's agency/team is nightmare to partner with. All day, everyday very smart people across the industry, including very senior talent, are mired in the collateral damage of poor partnerships.

    Along the campaign development continuum, from Initiation to Deployment & Diagnosis, there are key activities and deliverables that require media/creative alignment in order to get projects out on-time, on-budget, on-spec - let alone reaching Sonnerfeld's ideal of innovation or, even high-quality. Below are some key milestones, grouped by project phase. Let's play a little game: See how many you recognize as dys-integration pain-points from your past experience (and likely, your future ones):

    • Client Request:
      Always hear about this in time?

    • Brief (Media, Creative, Project ):

    • Strategic Recommendation:
      Always considers both medium and message?

    • User Experience or Design & Channel Roles:
      Full customer journey considered?

    • Measures of Success:
      Ever see CTR driving a branding campaign or humor/animation that impedes reaching desired response objectives?

    • Media Consideration Set:
      Creative folks have an opinion on where/when ads should run?

    • Conceptual Designs & Prototypes:
      Media folks have any thoughts on whether units will work or what the competition has already done?

    • Specifications:
      Red Meat! Don't even know where to begin on this one!

    • Main Ad Units:
      Wish you'd seen/shown to your partners before client buried you?

    • Unique Units, Odd Sizes & Resizes:
      Too many / too few? LCD issues? Show client all units or assume because client approved the main ones, the others are approved?

    • Traffic:
      Ever resent a site,media or creative partner for caving and saying they can turn around in 1 day?

    • QA:
      Listed after Traffic intentionally. Ever wish you checked yourself, before trafficking?

    • See comments re: Measures of Success in Definition Phase section above:
      How good are you at arguing both pro and con DL study results? Have enough time / budget / data to optimize creative?

    There are a myriad of best-practices to be applied to address issues across this broad a spectrum. They all include better, more timely communication between media and creative teams / agencies. As far as serving the client, we only succeed together. In terms of CYA, if your partner blows up, the shrapnel could be headed your way.

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Kill the Post-Mortem

    It's a commonly held best-practice to perform a Post-Mortem session following a project - especially one that doesn't go very well. I strongly support this practice and, along with teams I've worked with, have benefited considerably from them over the years.

    One common risk with these, shall we say, charged events is that they become finger-pointing exercises (or chair-throwing if things really get out of hand). The typical objective is to generate actionable insights that improve the chance of success going forward. Obviously a certain amount of look-back is critical to the process but this should be done with an eye towards the future. To those ends, I've found the following to be helpful:

    • Do some info gathering w/a broad range of stakeholders.
    • Identify areas to Sustain and areas to Improve. Including items to sustain helps keep a positive focus and is, of course, instructive.
    • Capture the initial observations on a grid (see sample below) that lists project phases down the left and disciplines involved across the top (note the presence of the client) - you can even divide each cell into Sustain / Improve subcells.
    • Use this info to help formulate your sense of what really happened and where you'd like to take the meeting.
    • Don't shy away from your instincts and ideas about what happened and definitely have a strong notion of what positive outcomes will be for the meeting.
    • Preview the grid and your ideas with a small number of key stakeholders and enlist their support around driving towards (not precisely at) your vision of positive outcomes.

    • Choose a person to facilitate the session. Common sense is your guide here: ideally someone who can work dispassionately and has the strength and intelligence to deal with, shall we say, "passion".
    • Be clear about session objectives, desired outcomes, ground rules and keep a parking lot for issues that are not directly relevant or too deep for the scope of the meeting - you are not going to solve deeply rooted agency issues in this meeting.
    • Distribute the grid and share your thoughts on its value and how you want it used (fill it in further, just a guide, etc).
    • Allow for some venting, but keep the session moving.
    • Many process or change management initiatives jump too quickly to detailed solutions - a shared vision of the way things should be is a prerequisite for changing the way things are.
    • Recap findings and next steps.

    • Share outcomes w/broader team
    • Publicly call out strong contributors
    • Implement and educate about any changes to the organizations processes, tools and documentation (or FINALLY commit to creating them)
    • Refer to the session as related issues (or the same damn ones) come up on other projects


    Improvement is cyclical and iterative. The best way to avoid the tragedies that drive the need to conduct painful post-mortems, is to start out correctly in the first place (see: post on Project Initiation). Good Pre-Natal activities and health are the best way to avoid the slaughter that necessitates the Post-Mortem.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    The Best Predictor of Project Outcome - Project Initiation

    I have developed and deployed numerous tools, techniques and templates that assist in completing high-quality projects on-time, on-budget and on-spec. However, the best aides in the world are of little use, without a framework or a way of thinking that guides their use.

    The central idea of the framework that I advocate is that up-stream investments pay down-stream dividends. If you don't start right, it's difficult to finish that way. Simple idea, yes, but in the common rush to complete and succeed in an agency, groups of highly intelligent professionals (i.e. the team) frequently devolve into a 3-ring circus. "Ready, Fire, Aim" is a prevalent and unfortunate reality of day-to-day agency life.
    Up-stream activities, such as information gathering, synthesis and dissemination are the preventive medicine that keeps agencies healthy.


    Now, one doesn't want to get carried away. This orientation should not be misconstrued as a recommendation that the end-state should, or even can be, known at the outset of a complex engagement. In fact, the very value that project managers bring to the table - thoughtfulness about process, planning and up-stream focus, can choke the life out of the place if applied rigidly. There is value to be lifted and applied from both waterfall (stringent) and agile (flexible) methodologies.

    Perhaps a bit overstated in terms of the uselessness placed on plans, this quote frames the issue well:

    In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
    - Dwight D. Eisenhower
    Ike realized that the very act of planning and the frame of mind that it creates, lays the groundwork for intelligently dealing with challenges.

    Do yourself and your teams a favor and apply effort up front. The finest minds in an agency are a valuable resource to be used wisely. Time spent in the early phases of a project is a far more effective than time spent scrambling to find and apply resources hours before a deadline.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    Document Management - Where is the latest version of xyz?

    Not being able to find the soft copy (the latest version!) of a printed document is pretty high on the list of things at an agency that drive me nuts.


    To combat the effects of short, mid and long-term memory loss - effectively saving myself from myself, I have become reliant on inserting a field that dynamically generates the filename and path in the footer of all of my Microsoft Office documents. Combined with a proper file-naming convention, a "bread-crumb" path to the exact server or local hard-drive location of a document printed on the bottom of your document is invaluable. As far as I know, this doesn't work in PowerPoint, but as a bonus, it works like a charm in Microsoft Project.

    I'm not going to go into detail on how to do this. It's easy enough to find out on the Microsoft site. As an example, you can find the instructions for Microsoft Word, in the Quick Reference Card on the Microsoft site.

    If you've ever had the joy of updating a document from an older version, while a deadline or your boss is looming, you will agree that taking the time to include this in your and your team's SOP is worth the effort. The job you save may be your own.

    Friday, January 30, 2009

    Client Management - The answer is, "maybe"

    Successfully managing client relationships, especially in these pressured times, takes the combined efforts of skilled interactive agency professionals. More PM's have lost more hair (or at least their coloring to gray) hearing phrases like, "XYZ Account person told the client that, we could do "it" and still meet the schedule. S/He made no mention of a potential fee increases."

    I have toiled, presented, implored, cajoled, collaborated and otherwise tried to influence agency Account people not to play the game of, "Client says, 'jump', we say, 'how high'?" or to look at the advice/insult another way, to stop being "yes-(wo)men" (I can assure any offended Account people that this is a mild characterization compared to those bandied about an agency - especially in the wee hours of the morning.) Among the many benefits of removing the instant, "yes" are that it would take some pressure off of the PM's, who invariable are vilified when they assess the situation and have to say, "no".

    The aim is to migrate towards more of aconsultative answer of, "maybe". Ideally, towards an Account Management-response along the lines of, "Client, I understand the request, let me talk to superwoman-PM back at the office, see how we can address this. I will get back to you ASAP with a recommendation and let you know if there are any impacts to the project's scope, timing or pricing." This is not a bait and switch. It actually gives the agency some time to thoughtfully address the request and be fairly compensated if there is a legitimate change in scope.

    When discussing this issue with a wise agency president, he suggested that one way to facilitate the migration of yes-(wo)men on the Account team to the maybe column was to also move the PM's to the maybe column. He posited that one reason PM's are often met with resistance or, worse avoidance, is that in their zeal to defend, PM's can become very problem-oriented vs being solution-oriented - effectively turning themselves into "no-(wo)men". If PM's reflexive response was also, "maybe, let's see what we can come up with", the partnership would benefit, friction diminished, and the ecosystem would be better aligned for success.

    Sunday, January 25, 2009

    Entry-Level Project Managers - Pound for Pound, the Best PM's in the Biz

    This is a send up to entry-level Project Managers. At 0 - 1 year of experience, vetted for the core PM skills: intelligence, work ethic and common sense, Associate/Assistant Project Managers are an invaluable part of any PM team.

    There are more moving pieces, parts, assets, paperwork and points of contact to be managed than ever before in building Web sites or developing online advertising campaigns today.

    An APM can elevate the performance of an entire PM team. Beyond the direct benefits of the myriad of listing, vetting, and distributing of tasks that APM's take on, they enable other members of the PM team to focus on higher-level activities and deliverables. Further, their presence gives more senior members of the team an opportunity to mentor and manage to the benefit of all.

    I love having these smart, motivated, young guns around. Their on-boarding helps validate the efficacy of tools and methodologies, and contributes to process and tool evolution. These new-entrants also bring a native's view of new technologies and trends and inject much-needed energy into the "old school" of some agencies. Mike Carlton, of Carlton Associates Inc, is particularly compelling on this topic and related ones in his piece, Who's Going to Do the Work?

    The best APM's invariably gain mastery of the support skills in a few months (right, if they can't then their probably not cut out for PM'ing?) and begin taking on higher-level tasks themselves. This doesn't hurt the agency bottom line and definitely raises the bar for everyone. Further, there's nothing like someone w/half the experience and salary, nipping at heels to keep a team on their toes - especially those prone to sluggishness (you know who I'm talking about, right?).

    From an overall agency perspective, a junior PM role, with exposure to so many aspects of an advertising agency, is the perfect farm league for feeding all the disciplines in an agency. One could go so far as to say that all entry-level employees would do well with a rotation in PM.

    If you've got 'em make the most of it. If not, you would do well to add an entry level PM if you are able. The job/agency you save, could be your own!

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Advertising Agency Compensation - Exploring Alternatives

    The premise here is simple: aligning agencies and clients around results, rather than squabbling about costs and time, which further drives the commoditization of agency services, is a win/win situation. Ad agencies are in a fight for survival. The opportunity for the brave and innovative to flourish has never been greater than right now. For those who don't/can't start thinking differently, look out for the tar pits.

    This post takes up on some of themes introduced in the December 5th post, Achieving Balance in an Agency, where the value of certain agency activities and deliverables (e.g. a breakthrough idea) was examined.

    Value-based pricing is not a new idea, but it's a good one that has been in place for a long time in the consulting and pharmaceutical manufacturing arenas among others. Many agencies and clients are stuck in the familiar worlds of commission-based or hours/labor-based compensation. At their worst, these approaches encourage reach-oriented (i.e. tonnage) marketing programs, support running up the clock to justify billable hours and perhaps worst, crush innovation and performance.

    The barriers and risks to adopting this approach are not insignificant and include:
    • Agency and client comfort/momentum in doing things the way they've always been done.
    • Having enough influence on an overall program so that the value you envision and agree upon with a client can actually be created.
    • Clearly defining success and therefore value (raise your hand if you've been part of a view-through debate)
    • Determining pricing so that nobody loses their shirt and the agency doesn't miss out on the upside.
    There are various individuals and groups that are promoting this approach. Ignition Consulting Group and The Verasage Institue spring to the top of searches on the topic. Ignition even has a presentation on the topic posted on that is quite informative: Burying the Billable Hour.

    So, what does this have to do with Project Management? In a study that Ignition and VeraSage conducted on behalf of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertiser's (ANA), the 2, top-rated agency value-drivers according to marketers were:
    1. Working in a collaborative way with the client by creating an environment of mutual respect.
    2. Ensuring that agency functions are integrated and agency divisions collaborate on behalf of the client
    Along with the fact that Project Managers are often at the heart of conversations around pricing, these two tidbits should help give you voice on important discussions about evolving your agency's relationship with its clients. On the business development front, RFP's almost always allow responses for alternative means of compensation beyond the cost+ calculations they require. Putting a value-based option in front of a prospect isn't likely to get taken up at the outset, but at least it will show that your agency has some life.

    Speak up. Watch out for the tar pits!

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    Project Management Success - Where's the Evidence?!

    You may have heard the old saying, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan". Ironic and appropriate that the source of this piece of wisdom is unknown.

    The best Project Managers are the unsung heroes of their agencies. I'm not knocking creatives or account management, but you know as well as I who gets the awards and the accolades, and if something is late or wrong, where the attention goes.

    Precious few within an agency truly understand Project Management's value. Without PM's on-time/on-budget/on-spec/high-quality is a long-shot. One of my favorite illustrations of this point is from the film, Wag the Dog. Dustin Hoffman, playing Stanley Motts, the self-absorbed producer (feature film's version of a Project Manager) is hilarious. Check out this clip from Wag the Dog on YouTube (starts about 55 seconds in)

    Motts again on the same topic:

    MOTTS: It's all, you know ... thinking ahead. Thinking Ahead. That's what producing is. (PAUSE) It's like being a plumber.

    BREAN: Mmm...

    MOTTS: You do your job right, nobody should notice.

    I'm not in love with the plumber association. As long as we don't get known for "PM's crack", I suppose I can live with it.

    Issue detection and avoidance, arguably Project Managers' greatest contributions, don't leave much physical evidence. Right, Stanely? "You do your job right, nobody should notice." I'm not suggesting Project Managers run around the agency shouting, "Look at me.". However, it's in your and your teams' best interests to "market" yourselves internally and externally whenever possible. One thing I have my team leaders do is submit a Project Management status report. This is generally a good business practice that gives quick reference for accomplishments and aides in the above mentioned risk detection/avoidance. I also ask my leads to send accolades they and their staff receive, which I pass up the food chain whenever I get the chance.

    This was one recent note of appreciation from a particularly tuned-in Group Account Director:

    "Thank you both for all of your time and attention on the XYZ scope. We know it always takes more back-and-forth than anyone expects but please know that none of your tireless efforts are lost on us." bless her heart.

    This from an Executive Creative Director, while both his feet were firmly on the ground:

    "I just wanted to drop you both a note to let you know how impressed I am with XXXX. She has performed exceptionally well on a very complex project, YYYYY. She has had to coordinate and schedule 3 separate offices and has done it with aplomb. Everyone has been really impressed with her performance and friendly, yet, professional demeanor. Thanks for putting her on this project, she's been a real asset to the team."

    Project Management doesn't always get the credit it deserves, but it deserves far more credit than it gets. Keep it up. Try to get some attention. You deserve it!

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF) - Project Managers' Friend and Foe

    I was surfing the ad agency advocate sites and came across the Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF), which initially drew my ire. When I came across a section of well-articulated advice from industry veteran, Bruce Kelley, Vice Chairman, The Martin Agency, my temperature came down a few notches.

    Guess what position isn't even mentioned among those detailed by the AEF on their Careers in Advertising page. Not surprisingly, Project Management doesn't make the list among: Account Management, Account Planning, Creative, Media, Market Research -not even a mention of Project Management in their general bucket of Interactive Marketing. Not that I expected much from an organization with such traditional roots. However, one might expect more from a board that includes the forward-thinking, power executive, Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy and Barry Wacksman, EVP & Chief Growth Officer R/GA, a stand-up guy who is as progressive as they come.

    I know that my ire about Project Management being a missing link is a variation on the theme introduced in my December 8 post on Account Management / Project Management partnership. But their crime of omission bears repeating - especially from an organization that misses so big as it seeks to enrich understanding, which is expressed in their Mission Statement: ". . .the advertising industry's provider and distributor of educational content to enrich the understanding of advertising and its role in culture, society and the economy."

    I'm not feeling too terribly negative today, so I offer this very strong contribution from the AEF site as well: Bruce Kelley, Vice Chairman, The Martin Agency is arguably part of the old guard agency establishment. However, the guy has a lot of experience and you'd be a fool not to at least listen. Although his advice is offered for Account Managers (I'll forgive his omission in this context), the section he authored on the AEF Web site, Memos for Account Management, is fine reading, especially for Project Managers. If this kind of thinking permeated the entire marketing ecosystem of agencies, publishers and third parties, the world would be a more orderly place - right, that's what we project managers are after? Among the topics he covers are: How to Push Back, How to be Proactive, Handling Crisis and How to Think Defensively.

    One would think that just having these topics up for discussion among colleagues in an agency has got to foster a productive working environment that is marked by better collaboration internally and with clients. Although, you never know - the distance between memos, theory and on the ground experience can be vast. Would love to hear from any of you Martin alum or clients.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Pre-Managing Client Relationships

    Here's a refreshing topic from Andreas Roell and Sarah Kotlova of Geary Interactive in the iMEDIA Connection newsletter: 6 reasons agencies want to strangle clients. Despite the reference to violence in the title (c'mon, we've all been there), their piece is about how to collaborate better with clients. They provide insights on how to work through issues that are endemic to a B2B service industry and ultimately form positive relationships with clients. Clearly Roell and Kotlova have been around the block a few times and offer some sage advice.

    Their suggestions make reasonable sense. Unfortunately, the importance of logic and reason diminish in the relationship-success equation as issues heat up. In my experience, it is extremely difficult to address issues during or following flare-ups.

    As a project management lead, I try to instill a preventive medicine approach with my teams. I like to conduct audits and assessments as part of the upstream Initiation and Definition phases of any project. Sessions in these phases usually cover expected and important topics like:
    • defining objectives and strategies,
    • uncovering insights about the target and competitors
    • roles and use of relevant technologies
    Importantly, we add an operational component, that seeks to establish the best working relationship between agency, clients and 3rd parties BEFORE and to AVOID strangling or being strangled. We define roles and responsibilities, establish review/approval cycle guidelines, and determine communication formats, processes and document-use (e.g. contact reports, status reports, change orders). Clients are very receptive to this early in a relationship or project and it pays dividends immediately.

    Getting client engagements in a healthy place is critical when you're in the service business. Instilling this approach within an agency is important. Topics like this are perfect for running internal sessions with your teams. A simple exercise of breaking into small groups and throwing out a few, " What should you do if . . . " kind of scenarios and regrouping to share thoughts, generates lively interactions that help you guide the culture and personality of your agency - perhaps you'll find out that poison is better than strangling ; )

    I applaud Roell and Kostlova for shining a light on these issues.

    Update, May 2009: Topic rationally addressed by Bart Cleveland, Creative Director at McKee Wallwork Cleveland in - How to Manage Client Relationships in Perilous Times

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Account Managers and Project Managers: Partners?

    The relationship between the Account Management and Project Management teams is one that needs constant attention and definition. Like any partnership engaged in complex endeavors, there are complementary areas, supplementary areas and grey areas.

    I've seen all points on the map from clear distinctions to planned reinforcement that form the foundation of strong partnerships. These models benefit both clients and agencies. Some agencies have Account Directors only and everyone else is a project manager. Some relegate the ugly, "just-get-the-job-done" details to the project managers and the glory to the Account team (and Creatives). Many agencies either don't understand the project management role or don't have it at all.

    I hate (well not really) to put things in a competitive light, but the Account Managers do have an edge in that the role has always existed in the agency world and they benefit from external recognition. Guess which discipline is missing from the Agency Discipline's section on the AAAA's Web site. Project managers have a pretty uphill battle to define and claim their position in agencies. This funny video from Monster , which made the rounds a while ago, almost touches on the role when it mentions producers toward the end. Sadly, project management remains off the radar - even from a company like Monster that earns its keep selling the role to agencies.

    This post by Lindsay Cotter on the Hill Holiday blog, HHblog: Rethinking Marketing, is inspiring in that she opines about the value of Account Management in, The Best Job in Advertising? . However, worse than no mention, is when your thunder is stolen. She concludes, with pleasure when describing the AAAA's 2008 Account Management Conference:

    "Finally, we did not forget to tell our co-workers that the conference stressed the importance of account managers to an agency, as one peer put it, account management folks 'make sure the trains run on time.'"

    Thoughts? Feelings feelings about our "partners"? About elevating Project Management?

    Friday, December 5, 2008

    Achieving balance in an agency

    An interesting bit of insight about the inherent contradiction of running a business that relies in great part on intangibles like creativity, from Phil Johnson, who blogs on in the Small Agency Diary section. For example, from: Balancing the Billable Day vs. the Creative Way

    "A strange truth about the agency business is that it's very difficult to define productivity. An hour on Twitter may lead to a breakthrough idea. Half a day storyboarding a concept may yield nothing useful. . . . I've concluded that the art of running an agency is learning how to inhabit both worlds at the same time."

    No mention of how PM's who might help achieve the necessary balance, but nice to see critical issues like this being discussed.

    Related to achieving balance in an agency:

    What adds more value ?

    • The strategically sound, beautifully designed campaign or The PM who does a double check to find and fix destination URL's that were pointing to the wrong pages.

    • The incredibly insightful campaign analysis program developed by a team of geniuses or The PM who notices that the whole application is being run on a PC that is doubling as a plant stand next to a geek's desk and gets the thing ported to a proper server that is backed-up regularly.

    Thoughts? Other examples?

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    Stir the pot

    This is for all you PM's out there who are constantly trying to make the spot between the rock and the hard place better for all.

    I'm moved to write based on the following stimuli:
    • The umpteenth request from a client that wants more for less - only this time do it faster
    • The team, that despite their best intentions, did too much of this and not enough of that
    • Management who wants to know, "What do PM's do?"

    Pretty much a typical day at the agency.

    Please share your trials, tribulations and triumphs herding the cats.