Adding non-creative capabilities to creative teams
Yes, it is a bit of an oxymoron: To raise the bar on overall performance, creative teams often have to add non-creative capabilities. Advertising agencies have long understood this fundamental truth, but in-house agencies are just beginning to embrace the idea wholeheartedly. This often crystalizes when an in-house team begins to put serious brainpower behind increasing efficiency and managing workflow. It is inevitable that sometime during this process, we will discuss adding two vital roles: the traffic manager and project manager.
So what do these people do? How do their roles differ? How do they support each other? And why are they so important to the efficient operations of an in-house creative team?
It's the traffic manager's job to keep the rest of the team focused on developing creative. At the most basic level the classic TM is responsible for taking in and closing out jobs. This position ensures that the creative team has all the necessary requirements (creative direction, information, files, and chargeback number) in hand before production begins. Nothing is more wasteful than having a graphic designer chase down a client to get a missing picture or a high-resolution logo.
So the traffic manager opens a job, enters all the data in the system, and gathers all necessary materials. Only when everything is in order is a job placed into the queue for production. Oftentimes, the traffic manager is making the routine decisions about which resource is tasked with the commonplace projects. When a job is complete, the traffic manager is responsible for closing it out on the system, archiving the files and packaging the physical materials for storage.
Between opening and closing a job, a traffic manager is often checking in on the project's status to ensure nothing has fallen through the cracks, and things are moving smoothly. This is why the TM is often the person responsible for generating status reports and recommending process improvements.
If you don't have a TM, you will be surprised at the efficiencies this one position can create for a team. It is normally considered an administrative job supporting any number of teams within a creative organization (graphics, video, writing & editing, etc.). Some large organizations will have multiple TMs. At the end of the day, the traffic management role is all about process and data entry.
On the other hand, a project manager is all about managing risk. The PM is accountable for meeting client expectations when it comes to budget and schedule. This means creating and managing the project plan from the onset, establishing and monitoring the creative budget, and overseeing and directing production throughout the project's lifecycle. Managing client expectations is a critical component of the job.
Project managers have enormous impact on a project's and a department's ROI (return on investment). They keep scope creep at bay; they ensure projects come in on time and on budget; they reduce the frequency and breadth of redoes; and they keep clients coming back again and again.
Typically, traffic managers report into the person responsible for the overall performance of the production team whereas project managers tend to report into a manager responsible for all project managers--either inside the creative organization or within a centralized PMO office outside the creative team.
The two frequently work together. The PM will build a plan with the client for a deliverable or campaign and then brief the TM on the requirements. The traffic manager then opens the job(s), assigns resources, gathers materials, and releases the job into the production team. The PM oversees the project's day-to-day progress and reports back to the client while the TM monitors the progress of this project along with all others as they move through the shop and reports back overall statistics to the creative team's leadership. Once the job is completed, the PM moves on to another while the TM closes the job and archives it for future use.
The importance of managing workflow and customer expectations cannot be overstated. At some point in a creative organization's maturity, it becomes natural to focus on aspects other than creative quality--to begin to manage scheduling, scope, budget and capacity planning. When you do, the need for traffic and project management becomes apparent. Hiring the right skill sets for these two roles and integrating them into an existing process can be difficult, but the results far outweigh the frustrations.
Cella Senior Consultant Cyndi Urbano is a former in-house creative leader offering deep expertise in financial analysis and modeling, organizational design and process re-engineering. She has managed in-house departments of more than 100 creatives and has consulted for creative organizations across various industries with teams as few as 10 employees to as many as 400-plus team members.