Why Pete Campbell Would Never Make It as a Project Manager

November 18, 2013 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Musings

Why Pete Campbell Would Never Make It as a Project Manager
By Kristin Thompson

Note: This post is mainly about Project Management in a marketing environment, hence the focus on marketing. - PM Hut

In the well-loved Mad Men, Pete Campbell, account manager at the fictional ad agency with a revolving string of names, wines and dines clients; he strokes egos, takes the good old boys hunting and finds the lonely-hearted a little late-night company.

It is a set up as nostalgic as the clothes and music. The creatives still drink and hate the mornings, but account management is a thing of the past.

The latest craze in advertising is project management. And project management takes more the suave charm and an expense account.

What is this new-fangled Project Management?

The terms Project Manager, Interactive Producer and Digital Producer seem to be popping up all over the digital (and now even traditional) advertising world. Exact responsibilities vary from agency to agency. Job descriptions are inexact and sometimes vague.

So what does the ambiguous title mean?

Actually, it means a lot.

Project managers run projects from start to finish working with clients, internal teams and vendors. It is a fulfilling, exciting, and stressful role for Type-A personalities who work well in teams and strive constantly to improve process and product.

So what’s the day-to-day? Project managers keep an eye on budget, timelines and big-picture strategy. Project managers are risk managers who work across disciplines to make sure the final product, whether it be an iPad game or a new website, meets client expectations. Unlike an Account Manager at a traditional agency circa 1964, project managers handle all aspects of a project from client communication to keeping the team on task and under budget.

According to Emily Carr, a project manager based in Washington DC, “Most of the time a project manager is a project owner. He or she is responsible for the leadership of the project from inception to completion. The project manager leads the team and helps negotiate the multiple relationships within any project—whether with clients, team members, firm principals or any variety of partners (such as freelancers, contractors or even civic committees)—and functions as the hub of a project.”

Yeah, but what’s the difference between project and account management?

Old school account managers are client contacts. They meet with the client, write briefs and handle meetings and presentations. Then they pass the information off to a Traffic Manager who allocates internal resources, works with production and manages timelines. New school project managers sit somewhere in between these two roles. While project managers are client-facing, they also work with the internal team to keep them on task and on time.

The project manager puts pen to paper, develops the plan and executes from start to finish. It is a fine line between account manager and project manager. One that has shades of grey and varies from team to agency. Donn Deniston, Director or Project Management at Eric Mower + Associates, puts it like this: “Account managers manage clients. They are the face. They bring this brilliant idea into the agency. At that point a project managers gets involved and says ‘Ok, this project is actually possible, here is how this will works, how much it will cost and how long it will take.”"

The key to the job according to Keisha Chapman, former project manager at Oglivy & Mather in New York Cityr: “There needs to be an understanding of the job and responsibilities. It’s new to a lot of people Project managers are not junior account managers. They are not gophers or interns or administrative assistants. Project managers and account managers are a team.

According to Account Manager Maia Dunkel, “having a PM really kept me focused on the bigger strategic issues and client relationships versus the more day-to-day project-level work. What I came to realize quickly is that a good PM can and should be an account person’s right hand man (or woman!) and the two should operate as a team. Your PM is not a messenger. He or she has his own unique role and adds value in a different way.”

So, yes, project managers are sometimes cat wranglers, sometimes babysitters and sometimes decision makers. A project manager is a catch-all who knows a little bit about a lot of topics and clearly communicates from one team to another. Project managers set deadlines and expectations. They are diplomats with a keen social IQ who can figure out how to motivate a diverse team of designers, copywriters and developers.

Join the Force: Tips for Entering the World of Agency Project Management

  1. Like every job, the first step is to network. Join your local AAF, AIGA, or AMA. Talk to account directors, creative directors and anyone who is working in your city. Start having intelligent conversations with intelligent people about the industry and the field.
  2. Start entry level. Get your foot in the door with junior positions. Work the front desk if you have to. It’s easier to prove your worth once they know your face. Jennifer Nelson-Gendle, project manager at EMA notes that “I started at the front desk and moved into traffic and production. Eventually, I ended up as a project manager and it fits me to a tee.”

  3. Get the right degree. “Major in business administration with a concentration in marketing or accounting” says Donn Deniston. You have to know how to use a calculator to scope and track budgets. Accounting doesn’t sound very creative but you’d be surprised how handy a strong understanding of numbers can be.

  4. Learn the tools of the trade. “You have got to know Microsoft Project, what RACI stands for and the ins-and-outs of Excel.” notes Keisha Chapman. “There isn’t one perfect tool for project management. You have to find the right combination of resource allocation, time tracking, budget management, and work flow applications that work for you and your team.” notes Leilani Johnson, formerly with HUGE, Inc.

6 Truths That Every Project Manager Already Knows: Not to scare you off, but…

Ok so it is this great growing field in advertising. A place where your type A personality can fit into the creative suite. I applaud you. It is a great role and a fun job. But you should be aware. It’s not all buttercups and champagne. Here are some words of caution from one PM to another.

  1. Everyone blames the project manager. Project Managers are the scape goats. They are involved in everything so they are expected to do everything. It ends up making the PM the easiest target.

  2. Project managers have to delegate. You must assign responsibilities to other parties. Note it in an email. And hope like hell they don’t let you down. You have to manage others successfully. According to Deniston, “the project manager is the only adult involved in the project.” You end up being the responsible party no matter what. So while it is a necessity to delegate, you also have to manage others. Remind them about deadlines. Keep an eye on budgets. Babysit.

  3. You will be stuck between a rock and a hard place. As a project manager, you are always the bearer of bad news. It is really difficult spot to be stuck between the client and the internal team. You end up in the middle and everyone hates you. It sucks. Try to temper anger by explaining candidly to both parties the situation. Sometimes you have to let everyone down a little to make sure no one person is completely screwed. It’s a delicate dance.

  4. Know how to estimate and how to add caveats. Part of the project manager’s role is to scope out a project. Before ever starting, you have to create a contract that stipulates outcomes and deliverables. Things that could and likely will change in the intervening 9 months. You have to come up with a scope without knowing every detail. You have to take your best guess even though it’s not true. A hint: scope can always turn but it can’t expand. Make sure your estimates and scopes are filled with caveats. Never over-commit. Always over deliver.

  5. Be the bad guy. Sometimes, budgets are low and timelines are tight. A that point, you have to go to your team and crush dreams. You will have to keep your team from doing their best work every time. There is a fine line between telling a designer “hey, don’t be awesome” and “hey, be as good as you can within the budgeted hours.”

  6. Don’t implicitly trust the client. Content is always the number one issue in creating a website. Getting content from clients is like pulling teeth. Databases are always terrible, out-of-date and never cleaned. Clients never obey their own deadlines. Ever. Don’t hold your breath.

Now, off you go into the world of project management. Stay strong, drink coffee and beware the dreaded scope creep.

Kristin Thompson is a Project Manager at Eric Mower and Associates. You can read more from Kristin on her blog.

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3 people have left comments

Come on Pete is a creep, ambitious and damaging and frustrated - so he couldn’t hack PM any better than AM - but what about the creative force Don ? What is his role - or would you like to hang in a closet for expensive obsolete toys along with Dear Peggy (Olson)….

NickAllen wrote on November 19, 2013 - 10:47 am | Visit Link

I like your differentiating of the PM and account manager roles at the agencies. This will help my students know specifically what they’re aiming for professionally as they prepare to enter industry. Kudos!!

Brian Carroll wrote on November 21, 2013 - 2:19 pm | Visit Link

Love how you point out #4 and provide keys for navigating. Great work!

“Scope can always turn but it can’t expand. Make sure your estimates and scopes are filled with caveats. Never over-commit. Always over deliver.”

Amy E. Wolfe wrote on November 22, 2013 - 2:02 pm | Visit Link

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