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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!