“Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” ~ Bill Bernbach
Achieving and maintaining success in the world of advertising takes plenty of skill, cleverness, and hard work — and maybe a dash of luck.
But once you reach some initial success and keep consistently onboarding new clients, you run into the complexities of growth. The processes that worked with a handful of clients aren’t working anymore, and suddenly, no one knows where anything is — or when it will be ready for the client.
If this sounds like your advertising agency, it could be time to start looking at your project management processes. In this essential guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get started.
Essential guide to ad agency project management
Understanding the role of project management in ad agencies
If your ad agency has never implemented formal project management before, it’s time to start. But first, you have to determine exactly what this discipline will look like in your agency — and what you want it to accomplish.
So, what is project management in an ad agency context? It’s the planning, organizing, managing, and reporting of ad projects and the people who work on them.
We’ll be the first to admit it — that definition sounds an awful lot like generic project management. There’s nothing particularly creative or advertising-specific about it.
That’s because, while the projects at an ad agency will look drastically different than those at a construction or software development firm, the principles and strategies of project management work in roughly the same way.
Key roles and responsibilities of a project manager in ad agencies
So, with that definition in mind, what does the project manager do in an ad agency?
Answer: The same things a project manager does elsewhere, but on creative projects and ad campaigns.
The project manager still plans, schedules, budgets, and documents the project. They still communicate with team members and creatively solve problems when they occur. They still manage resources and balance workloads.
The main difference is that they do these things on creative projects — where scope and direction can change, and quality and (ultimately) success are relative, subjective concepts.
And that subjectivity can make project management in creative teams very interesting.
Benefits of implementing a project management framework
Before we go any further, it’s worth asking: If the ad agency world is so different, is there really a good case to be made for implementing a project management methodology here?
We say yes, and here’s why:
Gain a better understanding of project progress: Better project visibility and oversight helps marketing teams recognize problems earlier, giving them more time to course correct.
Develop efficient processes: By carefully analyzing your agency’s current processes, you’ll identify areas for improvement and streamline your processes.
Grow your team’s communication and collaboration: When everyone is working from the same schedule and framework and focused on the same goal, it’s easier to communicate and collaborate with fewer misfires.
Work from a single source of truth: Managed projects and teams look to their project manager (and the project data within your project management software) for a single source of truth that includes schedules, budgets, current status, and more.
Common challenges faced in ad agency project management
If you’re managing projects in an ad agency context, you’re going to run into some challenges. Many of these are similar to the challenges faced at all types of creative marketing agencies.
But there are a few specific challenges that frequently show up in ad agency project management, including:
Communicating with creatives: Ad agency project teams are full of creative professionals who probably don’t love project management charts and lingo. The project manager might even feel like the creatives are speaking a different language!
Developing repeatable workflows: Every project and output feels unique, which leads to unpredictable workflows and project confusion. And it isn’t easy to develop repeatable workflows that are flexible enough to adapt to different projects.
Establishing clear processes: Creative outputs can’t be built via assembly line, but your people still need clarity about how the work should get done. It’s harder to establish clear processes in creative fields, but it’s worth the effort.
Navigating subjectivity: Creative tasks don’t always finish on consistent schedules, and you never know when a client will strongly object and send a project back to square one. The subjectivity of creative media leads to additional uncertainty.
Key components of successful ad agency project management
Ready to embrace the challenges of ad agency project management? We’ll walk you through the seven key components you’ll need to succeed.
1. Defining project goals and objectives
The first component sets the tone and vision for the entire project. Here, you’re not yet defining what you’re making — at least not fully. That comes in step two. Instead, you’re defining:
How you’ll define success (project goals)
Why you’re doing a project at all (project objectives)
You could also say you’re defining the outcomes you expect the project to deliver. Or, more accurately, the outcomes your client needs from the project.
The project goal could be to increase a client’s reach via a new ad campaign. Objectives could be specific targets or metrics you expect the project to achieve.
At this stage, you’ll also want to decide which project management methodology or style is best for you and your agency. There are several to choose from, like Agile or Waterfall, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Not sure where to start? Check out our impressions on the seven main project management styles.
2. Establishing project scope and deliverables
Next up is establishing what you’re creating — and what you’re not creating — within the scope of the project.
Here’s where you determine and commit to the kinds of ads you’ll be making, how many of them, what the budget for the project looks like, and so on.
The goal here is that every project team member and stakeholder (including internal and external stakeholders) understands and agrees on what is and isn’t in scope for the project.
While you’ll almost certainly hold one or more meetings to accomplish this phase, make sure the information doesn’t die with the meeting. Creative project management often means working with professionals who are big on ideas but light on specifics, and you could both leave a meeting with very different ideas about what everyone committed to.
Be sure to document every decision in your project management software. And you should also create and distribute a project scope document, so that all stakeholders can see what’s being agreed to — and so you have a written record to refer back to when someone inevitably disagrees!
3. Creating project timeline and milestones
Next up is building out the plan for exactly how and when your team will complete every task in the project.
No big deal, right?
Seriously, this is a deceptively complex step in the project management process — and it’s much worse if you’re relying on Excel spreadsheets or pen and paper.
The right project management software platform can greatly speed up the process of building out your project schedule and can even automate the scheduling of repeated tasks.
Most types of projects run smoother if you create milestones — internal targets that measure progress and keep teams moving toward an in-sight goal. If you’re creating a TV commercial, milestones might look like:
Whatever milestones you choose, look for options that are distinct and, where possible, sequential. Statements like, “We can’t start that until ‘Photography Complete,’” can be great mental shortcuts that help everyone on the team remember to keep tasks in order.
4. Resource allocation and team management
Resource allocation or resource management is deciding who does what on a project. In the ad agency world, many roles are highly specialized, so you can’t assign your videographer to write copy or your copywriter to close accounts. But depending on your agency’s size, you may have more than one specialist (or freelancer) that could slot into a particular role on the project.
“Team management” is a bit of a catch-all term that covers everything from solving interpersonal conflicts to scheduling around vacations to working out process bottlenecks.
The project manager doesn’t just plan a project and then step back to watch it run. Instead, the PM sticks with the project — from planning to delivery — and is often the person called on to find and implement solutions when project plans collide with reality.
5. Effective communication and collaboration strategies
Managing a team well requires the communication skills of a master negotiator. But wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to rely on your own crisis intervention skills quite so often?
You can make this happen by helping your team communicate better and collaborate more seamlessly in real-time. When team members have both the ability and the tools to communicate effectively, they’ll solve many day-to-day issues before they escalate into hostage negotiations.
Of course, strong communication and team collaboration are more than skills that can be taught. There’s a teaching component, certainly — but there’s also an opportunity component. When you give people the right ad agency project management software tools, you give them what they need to communicate more effectively and collaborate more naturally.
6. Risk management planning
Risk management planning is identifying the risks that threaten a project and then taking steps to manage or eliminate those risks.
The potential risks at an ad agency are as varied as the deliverables you create (and the clients you serve). Start with the most likely risks (like missing a client deadline or having work rejected by a client) and work to develop plans for both avoiding those risks and course-correcting if they become realities.
7. Tracking and evaluating project performance
We mentioned a little earlier that successful project managers stick with their projects from planning to delivery. One reason is so they can solve problems along the way, and this is the other: Someone has to track project progress for a variety of reasons, like ensuring quality, time management, and profitability.
On small projects and small teams, this work tends to, by default, fall to the project leader or a senior member. But time spent tracking and evaluating project performance is time that the project leader isn’t spending doing their main job.
When a project or team is large enough to warrant a dedicated project manager, the project manager takes over this ongoing tracking, reporting, and evaluating. By giving concentrated attention to these elements, the project manager frees up the rest of the team to focus on their unique specialties.
In other words, the project manager worries about tracking and evaluating the details, so that everyone else can stay focused on wrapping up their to-do lists.
Streamline your ad agency’s project management with Teamwork.com
Ad agencies have to juggle multiple clients with numerous unique deliverables, and many of those deliverables require work from a dizzying number of specialized roles.
It’s a lot to keep track of.
Teamwork.com is the project management platform built for creative agencies — including ad agencies like yours. We’ve built a project management solution for people who’d rather be creating, not buried in a spreadsheet.
Our solution supports numerous project management methodologies and can produce friendly, rich visuals to help team members and stakeholders understand the state of a project. Gantt charts, checklists, time tracking, and tools for tracking billables and client hours — they’re all here in Teamwork.com, plus much more.
Ready to take control of your ad agency’s projects, reduce confusion and increase on-time delivery? Get started with Teamwork.com for free today!