One of the top questions asked of ad agencies today: what’s the difference between an account manager (AM) and a project manager (PM)? And for many clients, the follow-up question is often, “Why do I need both on my team?” Our most favorite, though, is “Can’t one person do both jobs?” The answer, of course, is a polite but firm “no,” because really we have your best interest at heart and know that there’s much more to be gained than lost when working with this dynamic duo.
Project management is a relatively new specialty to the agency world. Historically, AMs were the client’s single point of contact, and were responsible for managing the client relationship, overseeing budgets, developing strategy and executing projects. That’s a lot for one person to accomplish in a 40-hour week, especially with the added complexities that digital advertising is contributing to the industry. So project management was spawned out of necessity to be a separate but equal position to complement the AM and provide better client service.
It all started about a decade ago, when an account executive and production manager were drinking a little too much at an agency party. Nine months later: the project manager was born. Today, while AMs are focusing on understanding the client’s industry, developing long-term strategy and managing overall budgets, PMs are executing tactics. The AM’s job is to determine what needs to be done to meet the client’s goals and objectives; the PM’s job is to determine how it gets done. PMs are the communication hub between agency team members; they make sure projects are completed on time and on budget, by allocating talent, orchestrating teams and leveraging technology and tools to enhance the process. At the same time, AMs are working with account planners and research teams to uncover insights into clients’ customers and the best ways to reach them.
Daily tasks and responsibilities are not the only things that separate AMs from PMs; each job role requires different personality traits, as well. AMs need to be forward thinkers — up to date on the latest industry news and technologies, and able to communicate opportunities to clients before the client may even recognize a need. Successful AMs are leaders, motivators and delegators, able to view the overall account strategy without getting bogged down in the details. Good PMs are multi-taskers, negotiators and diplomats — able to interface with clients and manage expectations while guiding multiple projects through the internal process at the same time and keeping them within budget.
By having both on the team, clients are reaping the benefits and are winning much more than they would if only one person was on the job. AMs have time to share insights and suggest new ideas to clients, while PMs have time to make sure every aspect of a campaign is on track and efficient. Having both means the client is getting strategy and tactics, planning and execution, and the opportunity to do more, faster. Each role is essential to the success of campaigns, client accounts and the agency relationship as a whole.