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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.