The Unique role of Project Management in Advertising Media

Since enrolling in this class, I’ve struggled with the question of whether or not my current job as a Media manager is actually that of an advertising project manager. Upon doing some reading and evaluating the roles of my direct supervisor, I have determined that I am not in a straight project management role, but rather that of a hybrid project manager and producer/planner. Within the advertising industry, the role of project manager takes on a very different meaning and is not as effective a position as it may be in other corporate environments.

Recently, I read a very interesting article on AdWeek about agencies and the struggle between hiring project managers vs. producers.Within advertising, project management is too high level of a role to build success in a solid advertising plan. It is absolutely imperative that ad managers are directly involved with their teams, as media plan require an incredible amount of attention to detail and multiple double and triple checks among team members before something goes to the client. Because of this, taking an overhead management approach is incredibly ineffective. The article states:

“Project managers manage action items and resources. They see themselves as the owners of the master plan and project documentation. They serve as team coordinators, checking to-dos off a list. Project managers consider “on time” and “on budget” as their ultimate success metrics.

In contrast, producers love the creative work just as much as the creative team. Producers consider themselves members of the creative team and the center that helps empower the rest of the team to do brilliant work. They are heavily invested in the project and are equally proud to see the campaign go live. Producers measure their own success by the quality of the end deliverable.”

While I admit this is a biased view against project management, I have to play devil’s advocate and agree with it for the purposes of my industry alone. The closest position to “project manager” on my current team is that of the associate directors, one level above mine. The ADs, as we call them, are in charge of overseeing the entire media team at a very high level. They keep track of overall budgets once a month or so and make sure presentations are getting out and plans being implemented by talking to me and the other managers. My direct supervisor specifically makes sure to keep as out of the weeds as possible, to amplify his top-level role. This has caused a slew of challenges across our team many times. Within our industry, it’s incredibly important to be involved in the details so everything is covered if someone happens to be out sick or leaves the company. With high turnover in the industry, this preparation cannot be stressed enough.

Recently, we experienced an extreme project management failure on our team due to lack of involvement on the details. Two team members who worked together left the company within a week of each other and left their specific accounts in disarray. Because my associate director has gotten used to staying very high level and trusting everything to the assigned manager, he was not aware of what went into managing their media plans and the transition to covering for the two team members was a rough one that reflected badly on our team to the clients. In the two months that it took to recover their accounts, we all realized how important it is to keep track of all the small details with all of our plans. Since then, all of the managers and associate directors have worked together to keep track of everything going on at all level to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Overall, I believe the role of project manager is incredibly important, but in the ad world, the role has evolved to something a bit more involved than the high-level role used in the corporate world.

3 thoughts on “The Unique role of Project Management in Advertising Media

  1. Monica,

    I am surprised that you take the stance that project managers are not very effective in your business. Although I agree with you that PMs can be too far from projects at times, their oversight is necessary to ensure that the company as a whole is moving in the right direction. You indicate that they keep track of budgets and timelines – this is exactly what PMs are supposed to do (in my opinion). It seems that your role as a producer is much more important for the individual clients you work with, and I agree with your article regarding the significance of producers. That said, I sense that you are simply frustrated with the quality of your AD(s). It seems that they are not as involved with the individual projects that producers are working on. I further agree with you in that an AD should be able to pick up exactly where his/her team left off – especially if a team member quits the project.

    Knowing you, Monica, I think that you should work toward becoming an AD. That way you can more effectively manage producers like yourself while maintaining an appreciation for their work. I am sure that once you become AD, you will re-define the role of the AD for the better.

    1. Hey there Dan,

      Thanks for your comment. I do admit I am often frustrated by my AD’s ineffective management skills and it could be turning me off to the role of a project manager in my industry. Over the past few business days, since I wrote this post, the other two managers (producers)on my team and I have been working to redefine roles and responsibilities for our team. Coming out of that, I sincerely hope that our ADs embrace their roles and become effective project managers until I can get to that point myself.

  2. You raise an important point in your blog, with regards to the Project Manager (PM) needing an appropriate level of functional expertise to be effective in their assignments. For example, the information technology projects at my company, and I presume others, are typically managed by PMs with computer science backgrounds, or at least prior IT PM experience. Being involved with some of these IT projects from the perspective of the business, I did feel frustration sometimes when we were questioned by the PM whether or not software defects we discovered during testing were truly critical problems that we couldn’t accept. It was as if the pressure to complete the project on time and on budget was more important than the overall quality of the final software product released to the user community, and that these decisions were being driven by someone without involvement with the software after deployment.
    I read the article after reading your post, and I was surprised by the negative stereotype of PMs it contained. Administrative responsibilities such as budget and timeline management are fundamental business needs. Whether these are managed by someone with a PM title, a functional manager, or among individual contributors, they need to be done. Ultimately, companies need to decide on the roles and responsibilities that allow projects to be managed most effectively.

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