Project Managers and Producers in today's Ad Agency

On this site we try and identify the key steps in process and workflow in a typical agency. However, agencies are anything but typical. Part of what makes an agency special (besides the characters that work there) is the agency's approach to how they create work.

We use to identify agencies by either being account or creative driven. Now we identify agencies in dozens of different ways including creative, account, digital, data-driven, interactive with varying 360° experience or general agencies with varying degrees of interactive experience, to name just a few. This fragmentation has lead to a greater variety in workflow paths among agencies.

As experienced managers we know the dangers and pitfalls of having a workflow process that leans toward one of these extremes. It's no wonder that many agencies are re-examining project management and redefining traditional roles within the agency. In the quest to better manage our agencies, we are tearing down traditional silos to create cross-functional teams, on the opposite end we are also creating new digital silos with technical teams that seem to have a narrower creative function.

One of the struggles of the emerging digital agency has been to create balance. We lock in strong technically skilled project managers that can succeed on specific interactive projects, but too few can also can succeed on the larger creative client perspective. We are also asking a lot of our project mangers and lets face it, times have changed, agencies have become leaner. Combined with the perception that interactive projects have unique workflow needs that mirror the software and gaming industry with the need for less people to take on more responsibility, project managers have evolved into jack-of-all-trade producers.

A producer in the new agency model can be part account manager, project manager, production manager, technical advisor, finance manager and psuedo creative manager. From a workflow perspective, this presents new challenges that can be hard to implement in agency environment steeped in older traditions. However, I counter that each agency can find its own balance in re-assigning responsibilities. A producer is only as good as his/her team and support system. For example, while producers may take over part of the role of account executive, they should not be relied upon as someone that has the sole ability to manage the client/agency relationship. While they may be great at identifying potential new opportunities for client growth, an agency still needs to have a strong account planning and strategic account presence to build on those opportunities. 

The key is to find a balance that works best for your agency. Hire smartly. If you want to be known for more than just a specific digital space, its important to hire great general critical thinkers to supplement your technical producer team. Its similar to the way we think about creative hires. Great digital space people often need larger space thinkers. Breakthrough digital creative also require highly technical project managers to tackle a project in the digital space. However, that breakthrough often comes paired with a larger tactical idea that may go beyond digital. The craft that exists in broadcast and print production often trumps the digital content space. Finding the proper mix for your shop requires a bit of alchemy to create a larger creative production environment.

Remember, today's Facebook fan page project is yesterday's sitelet, which might be tomorrow's targeted mobile activated digital OOH advertising. What makes your agency valuable is its ability to continue to grow into these new spaces. 

So even in the digital space, projects change. What your agency managed five years ago is different than what it manages today. Stong project management theory applied to your workflow will help to maintain an environment where new projects can be managed successfully. 

Silos (functional managers) and teams (cross-functional teams led by PMs or producers)

In the old days, we use to think very functional when it came to managing things in the agency. Production department, account management, creative department and so on. In the new nimble world of advertising where creative content is so intertwined with production, it doesn't necessarily make sense to have so many separate silos. More agencies are replacing those silos with cross-functional teams, headed up by project managers or defined producer chains. The downside to having no silos, is that advocates and specialists are highly sought after on particular projects. There is also an organic need for support teams for functions. Even project managers benefit greatly from a strong PMO. Also, the bigger the need for project managers who are highly technical, perhaps the smaller the ability to hire project managers who can go beyond their own unique experiences. Depending on the size of your agency, your matrix (mix of functional managers and project managers) will be different. You may no longer have a need for a managed print or studio department, instead you may have created a need for functionally managed backend team. At the end of the day, the most important thing that you can do in this situation is to identify a clear reporting structure that supports the team environment.

Strong project managers have always been needed in the agency, we may not of always had defined PMs, but there was always proect management responsibility. It just wasn't always clear who was ultimately responsible for the entire project. Account people did one part, the creative director did another and production finished it out. This is why in the old days, traffic was so important to the workflow of a project. Remember, we still have the same stakeholders even when we do have a project manager or producer. In many ways, project managers have become a necessity to create a consistent pulse maintaining, guiding force in the agency. They also help to free up your key players. When you have dedicated project managers, creatives have more time to create and account people have more time to spend on planning and strategy and so on.


Producer vs. project manager.

While the word producer is common in today's agency world, what that word means in an agency can vary greatly. A producer can be a specialist in one area or a generalist. A producer's role can be production centric, or can be holistic and client facing. A producer can have limited responsibility (like an art buyer) or be identified as THE end-to-end project manager. Whatever flavor you decide on, it is important to identify and make clear who is ultimately responsible for the project and team. It needs to be clearly spelled out so that everyone has the same expectations. Moving to a producer model for client engagement can be a positive one. However, it doesn't mean there should be an absence of account management. I know I'm repeating, but its important to note, a producer who has the responsibility of managing the overall project, responsibility for the technical end and the added duties of a junior account person will have limited time to think strategically and to potentially grow the business as well as manage all of the client / agency experience.

In the job listings below, I've identified some top line responsibilities. Each of the line items may be included in a potential project manager roles within an agency. Roles, however, can be mixed and matched or even made into some sort of unique hybrid particular to your shop. When you are planning out responsibilities, list out all of the tasks for each key position, balance them out, identify one role to be the ultimate project lead and clearly identify how you are going to address potential short falls or funcational manager cross overs. Above all, when under taking a transition to a project management or producer model, make sure to support your new team leaders. Empower your team leaders. Ensure that you are supportive and your entire management team is supportive of your new model. Lastly, assign one person in your shop to whom the project managers ultimately report to. 

Project management players in the agency may include the following:

Account manager

Chain (Assistant AE, Account Executive, Account Supervisor, Account Director, Head of account services)


  • Client engagement (agency "face" to the client, presents estimates and SOWs, schedules, project status and deliverables). 
  • All backend correspondence such as meeting reports, creative briefs, strategic briefs.
  • Client status reports and client meeting facilitator
  • Internal meeting coordinator and lead presenter.
  • Client advocate, understands clients business, clients goals, deliverables and strategies.
  • Agency advocate, understands full agency process and how best to match it with client requests.
  • Creative advocate, understands agency creative process and strives to maintain creative integrity.
  • Production advocate, understands production needs of both agency and client and strives to maintain production equilibrium.
  • Participates in pre engagement meetings.
  • Participates in planning meetings.


  • Develops or is an advocate for strategic goals, planning and positioning.
  • Marketing advocate, understanding of clients business from a client perspective.
  • Media advocate, understanding of the media space and media planning.
  • PR and social media advocate, understanding of client and agency PR perspectives and risk
  • Research and ROI advocate.
  • Grows agency relationship. Seeks out new opportunities with existing or new clients.

Project Manager


  • Owns and manage project production process (Advanced creative through production process.)
  • Develops RFP and Scope document.
  • Defines project steps, tasks, requirements against SOW.
  • Tracks timeline and milestones.
  • Tracks resources.
  • Translates and presents specifications and project requirements.

True Project managers:

  • Develop projects and plans, direct, manage and monitor project execution. Control changes in scope and end of project closing requirements. 
  • They have full authority over project scope, time, cost, resources and team members.


  • Write SOWs, assesses and manages requirements and content development.
  • Manages project steps, tasks, requirements against SOW. (Scope management)
  • Manages resources, timelines and milestones. (Time and cost management)
  • Manages and monitors project lifecycle. (Time and cost management)
  • Manages risk assessment and risk management. (Including time, costs and resources)
  • Manages project quality.
  • Manages actual team members. (The human resources)
  • Manages project communications
  • Manages project procurement.


Chain (producer, senior producer, executive producer, production director, head of production services)


  • Estimating and project management of outside production related resources.
  • Estimating and project management of internal production resources
  • Production timelines, production schedules.
  • Manage budgets.
  • Technical and creative partner.
  • Manages production process and tasks.
  • Manages production tasks, activities, risk, quality control and production team member.
  • Manages project procurement.


  • Estimates all aspects of project and creates SOW.
  • End-to-end project management responsibility (see project manager responsibilities below).
  • Skilled in advanced production or technical aspects in one or more specialties.


  • Non-client facing: Owns project from creative through production and delivery but does not have account management responsibilities. (Typical Interactive, budget > schedules > creative > wireframes > design > development / CMS > delivery)
  • Client facing level 1: Engagement (typically from presenting estimates and SOWs, project planning, correspondence, scheduling, meeting assignment)
  • Client facing level 2: Account management with basic or advanced functions and responsibilities of the account manager.
  • The full deal: Faces client and has full engagement and ownership of project: Owns and directs all project tasks, activities and risk centers. (project scheduling, project planning, resource and task assignments, time and resource tracking)


  • Art Buyer / Photo production
  • Specialty 

Production Manager

Chain (production coordinator, production manager, senior production manager, production director)


  • Manage production portion of a project life-cycle and production teams as it relates to specific production experience (print, interactive, or broadcast).
  • Estimating and project management of outside production related resources.
  • Estimating and project management of internal production resources
  • Production timelines, production schedules.
  • Production advocate.
  • Manage production budgets.
  • Technical and creative partner.
  • Manages production process and tasks.
  • Manages production tasks, activities, risk, quality control and production team member.
  • Manages project procurement.
  • Interactive example: Ownership after hand-off of creative development. production budget > schedules > wireframes > ui > development / CMS > delivery)
  • Print example: Ownership after hand-off of creative development. production budget > schedules > art or photo buying > retouching > mechanicals / prepress > print > fulfillment >delivery)


  • Advanced technical background in one or more specific areas.
  • Creative partner, contributes to the creative process.
  • Full circle SOW, estimate all costs
  • Full Project management responsibility 
  • Owns production management from a technical and creative development standpoint, advisor and partner of the creative process. 
  • (Interactive example: creative development > production budget > schedules > wireframes > design > ui > development / CMS > delivery) 

Traffic Manager

Chain (traffic manager > junior AE, project or producer)


  • Collects project information.
  • Formats project information from stakeholders.
  • Collects status information and records.
  • Creates client and agency status.
  • Tracks resources from a logistic background, flags issues.
  • Keeps project records.
  • Schedules internal meetings.
  • Responsible for gathering and tracking internal creative or project approvals.
  • May create master agency status.
  • Tracks task assignments, but has no responsibility from a project manager standpoint.

Resource Manager


  • Tracks project assignments and time records for staff and freelancers.
  • Assesses which team members are available and appropriate for specific projects.
  • Works with project managers to assess best usage of resources.
  • Heads up human resource management risk.
  • Seeks and maintains freelance base.
  • Can be specific to teams (by client(s) or full agency.


  • Human resources background.
  • Recruits and has a background in an agency specialty.