PM vs. AM: Different as Night and Day

One of the top questions asked in ad agencies today: What’s the difference between an account manager (AM) and a project manager (PM)? Ask 20 people and you will likely get 20 different answers. If you’re a client, you may also be asking, “Why do I need both on my team?” Or, our personal favorite, “Can’t one person do both jobs?” The answer, of course, is no, but a polite 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. Previously, 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 complexities that digital advertising is adding 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 service to the client.

It all started about a decade ago, when an account executive and production director 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 their clients’ industries, developing long-term strategies and achieving clients’ business goals, 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. They 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 tools to enhance the process.

At the same time, AMs are working with account planners and research teams to uncover insights to understand clients’ customers and the best ways to reach them. By having both on the team, clients are now winning the battles and the wars.

Daily tasks and responsibilities are not the only things that separate AMs from PMs. Each job role requires different personality traits, as well. Account managers 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 multitaskers, negotiators and diplomats, able to interface with clients and manage expectations while guiding multiple projects through the internal process at the same time and maintaining scope.

By having one of each on their team, clients reap the benefits of both of them focusing on doing their part exceptionally well. AMs have time to share insights and suggest new technologies 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.