Using project managers in your agency

Chip and Gini get asked all the time about hiring project managers. When to do it, how to integrate them with the team and clients, and whether it needs to be a standalone role or one combined with other functions.

The co-hosts take several questions from the community together to lay out their views on how to effectively use project managers and the pros/cons of different models for the role.

Transcript

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin 

And if you’re watching us on video, you can see us right down below. We’ve got our little caricature heads. So underneath and if you’re listening to us, you can’t see that so you don’t think it’s funny.

Gini Dietrich 

But he was padding our heads for a while there, it was kind of amazing. His head also keeps hitting the edge of Agency Leadership Podcast, calm on the graphics. But if you’re listening again, can’t see it.

Chip Griffin 

Right. But but but if you haven’t ever seen us on video, you really should, you should you should go over to Agency Leadership podcast.com, click on one of the episodes. And you can see us in video and maybe what maybe one day we’ll even do this live so that you can chip in with your own two cents while we’re recording. Yes, it would be it would be a vast improvement, I’m sure if we got some input from the audience.

Gini Dietrich 

If we’d be more than a vast improvement,

Chip Griffin 

well, but I mean, right now we get input from our third co host and the hamster. We occasionally get to hear from your dog.

Gini Dietrich 

January 19. January 19, January 19.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. delusional delusional, delusional. That’s that’s all I have to say is the

Gini Dietrich 

light at the end of the tunnel and you’re not going to ruin it for me. You know, if school January 19, if

Chip Griffin 

you want to believe that they are resuming in person classes on January 19. In Chicago, you by all means I believe it embrace it.

Gini Dietrich 

I’m embracing I believe it happening January 19.

Chip Griffin 

Well, the good news for our listeners here is that we are the as you’re listening to this this is this is right before the holiday break for most of you. So most of you will will hopefully be taking some time off I think I was talking with a client this morning. I think that that more people than usual are going to take time off between Christmas and New Year’s this year then. Then you would usually see I think most people are just spent I know I already spent

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I mean, even the this and this is this will make you laugh but for roll your eyes one of the two maybe both. But I’m a morning person I get up at 445 every morning you do to like it doesn’t that’s just what I do. I have slept in the last few days didn’t even hear my alarm. Like that’s not usual. Typical for me at all.

Chip Griffin 

Now what what is sleeping in for you though?

Gini Dietrich 

645 yesterday, holy

cow. Hey, I know. Wow. See, I

Chip Griffin 

consider 6am sleeping in if when I when I open my eyes and I look at my watch and it’s after sex. I’m like, cool. Yeah, something crazy happened.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. Oh, really unusual. So I think to your point, everybody’s just done.

Chip Griffin 

Yep. Unfortunately, as as we record this, we still have some time. So while people listening will be coming up on their break. You got

Gini Dietrich 

to get one more episode out of me.

Chip Griffin 

That’s true. Yeah, that is that is true. Although you know where you did decide that we had to not record on Christmas Eve in New Year’s Eve.

I did do that.

Chip Griffin 

I mean, talk about slacking.

Gini Dietrich 

You can call me a slacker. I don’t care. I want

Chip Griffin 

I once got a call from a reporter at I think it was six or 6:30pm on Christmas Eve.

About what?

Chip Griffin 

It wasn’t even an urgent thing. No, it was it was an investigative reporter for The Washington Post who was working on a longer term piece that he and I had been collaborating on. I was one of his sources. And he just had a he had a question. Well,

Soviet,

Chip Griffin 

Soviet I mean, he didn’t celebrate Christmas. So that probably contributed to him looking at it as just any other day

Gini Dietrich 

well, and a day that you can probably get worked on without being interrupted.

Chip Griffin 

Well, there’s there’s that too. And of course, this was back in the time. This was pre cell phones. I mean, this was 30, almost 30 years ago now. And so at that point, my my wife, who was then my girlfriend and said, You’re unplugging the phone. No more of this. It’s Christmas Eve.

Gini Dietrich 

That’s pretty funny.

Chip Griffin 

I once had a Wall Street Journal reporter call me not on deadline at 1am. In the morning. He just he was just he was he was a little a little bit. high strung, shall we say? Huh? Yeah, yeah. So one, I am just, I mean, what we up out of a dead sleep. And it was not a deadline. I mean, I knew it wasn’t deadline because the Wall Street Journal doesn’t have any deadline, right? In the early to mid 1990s. That would have been a one I am. It’s just a return. Yeah. So he just thought that was okay. He did. He was he was an odd duck. I mean, he, I at some point will actually get to the real episode here. But But the first time I met him in person, he came into my office on Capitol Hill. And he perched up on the arm of Mike couch in my office because I was committee staff. So I had my own office, and he perched up on the arm of the couch to like, like a bird. Something it was, it was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Like it

Gini Dietrich 

was he like his feet were up there and he was like perched

Chip Griffin 

Yes, yes. Yes. His feet. Yeah, he was balancing on it and, and, and asking it to the point where since I had I’d only ever spoken with him on the phone. I actually called up someone else who I knew knew him. And I said, I said, Can you just confirm that this is this that I’m not being punked here that I don’t have, you know that I’m not being targeted by someone who’s trying to you know, get me to reveal stuff that I wouldn’t.

Whatever. Yeah.

Chip Griffin 

And and he’s like, no, that’s that sounds exactly like and then insert the name. Hmm. Well, I will not insert the name here because this is a you know, we’re publishing this and this is still someone who’s very much around so is he still around? He is not not for the Wall Street Journal. But he is still around.

Gini Dietrich 

is he’s still reporting I we’re gonna

Chip Griffin 

move right along here. Now Jenny? really like to guess You? You? You can you can press me after we hit the stop. I’m recording. But I am. There’s no way I’m going down this path while we’re saving this for posterity. So yeah, you guys. Alright, so enough of this posterity. Let’s let’s get into the posterity of I don’t know, useful information. And the actual topic of today’s episode, which is project managers gonna talk about this, because this is something that came up were in the Spin Sucks community because it’s where all great conversation happens. Or at least a lot of great conversation.

Gini Dietrich 

conversation for sure. It’s actually hopping right now. Everybody’s

Chip Griffin 

got mean, he didn’t quiet it down for a few months there. And now all of a sudden, people seem to have woken up and said, oh, there’s a place I can get my questions answered.

Right. It’s kind of nice.

Chip Griffin 

I like it. It is it is great isn’t much great for us on this show. Because it makes it so much easier. We don’t have to think about topics too much, which that’s always dangerous. So since it’s the Spin Sucks community, as always, I will let you kick it off and share more about what the question was. Oh, okay. Well, since I have it open, then I will I will rescue you.

Thank you.

Chip Griffin 

So this was a question from someone asking, determining if a project manager should be brought onto the team to help manage workflow across several client accounts as the agency scales and grows. And there were some specific questions, pros and cons of a project manager being part of the team. When does it make sense to hire a project manager? When does that not make sense? Do you prefer to have your project managers internal or client facing? And has any agency used project managers in a self management environment and examples and such anything else that they did not ask? So that’s really a huge landscape that we can pursue. So I guess really, the question is, you know, what are your thoughts on project managers in the agency environment?

Gini Dietrich 

So we have never had an a project manager in my agency, but certainly coming from both an ad agency and a global PR firm we did. Um, this is the first year that I have felt like we needed one. Because a lot of times the project management lies with the account directors and with the leadership team, and it’s too much for me, I can’t it’s it’s becoming too unbearable. So this is so it was an interesting question from that perspective. But this is the first year that I have felt like we’ve needed some somebody to help manage all this stuff, because it’s a lot. It’s a lot, and it’s for some reason, a lot more than

other stuff going on. Right?

Chip Griffin 

It’s as you may be able to hear her her students since Jenny is also a teacher now is sitting adjacent, and in a quote unquote,

Gini Dietrich 

class. They’re doing arts and crafts right now.

Chip Griffin 

arts and crafts. Yes, yeah. How we should have an arts and crafts episode of the podcast at some point, we’ll just build that that would be really disastrous, because art was never a good class. For me.

Gini Dietrich 

The Legos or something?

Chip Griffin 

I guess I wasn’t I was never very good with that either. So

Gini Dietrich 

forget it. No arts and crafts episode. Yeah.

Chip Griffin 

So So I mean, I think that project managers it with almost every role that you have within an agency, the answer is it depends, right? Yeah. I mean, it’s, I don’t have my T shirt on today. So I can’t just point to it. But it really does. It depends. You know, what, what your model is, what services you’re delivering what the rest of your team does. There are some kinds of agencies who are listening who you almost certainly could benefit from project manager, particularly if you’re, you know, doing more, you know, digital stuff, web dev, those kinds of things where you’re managing contractors, and you’ve got a lot of moving parts. Those are ideally suited for having project managers who are different from account managers, right? If you’re doing basically straight traditional PR, you may not benefit as much, because you may not have those bright lines where it’s easier to say, Okay, this is the project manager’s responsibility. And this is the account manager, it may be easier to have it all within one. So you need to think through what works and so on. My suggestion anytime you’re thinking about hiring a role, or assigning someone a role internally is to make a list. What are, you know, what are you working on? What are the tasks that are taking time, this is where time tracking is valuable. If you know what you’re investing your time in and you know the pain points you’re trying to solve, then you can figure out what the right solution to that is, whether that’s in house contractor or hire a new employee or whatever.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a lot. And we’ve had an episode on tools and software to use. And you always make the point that the software or the tool that you use, is the one that you’ll use not. Yep. And I think the project manager is the same way. It’s

Chip Griffin 

as Jenny project manages her student,

yeah, well,

Gini Dietrich 

now we know why I need a project manager.

Chip Griffin 

With all respect, you need more than a project manager resolve this. So? Yeah,

Gini Dietrich 

so I think with project managers is the same thing. All right, you know, is it somebody you’re going to use? Do they can you keep them employed full time, they’re not going to be a billable person, it’s gonna be an administrative job, all those kinds of things. Um, we actually have one for a client that we’re working with that she’s internal. And she manages, she manages Monday, which is the software that they use, which I’m glad because I hate it. And then she’ll, she has a weekly status meeting where she says, Okay, here’s everything that’s on the docket. And she manages all of us, and it’s great. I love it. manage the heck out of me, please? I don’t want to do it for you.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I mean, absolutely, I am not a good cranes running on time person is, as any listener to this podcast will know, because who knows what day that podcast is actually going to be published that week, because it goes on my list for the start of the week. But I mean, as we’re sitting here recording this on Thursday, this week’s podcast still hasn’t gone out yet. Because I got distracted by other projects, and just didn’t have a chance to take the hour or two, it’ll take to do the editing and publishing and all that kind of stuff. And it wasn’t a priority versus actual client work.

Clients

Gini Dietrich 

always take priority,

Chip Griffin 

they really do, which, you know, it’s it’s unfortunate. It’s all your clients listing out there. I’m sorry, but you know, it’s it’s rough that you’re the priority for us, we’d like to be able to do the fun stuff. But that mean, look, I think part of the problem is that that people think that hiring a project manager is the solution to a lot of their problems. But it’s it comes down to what is that person actually doing? Right? I mean, and project manager, account manager, senior director, Managing Director all these titles, they mean nothing. Because if I go to seven different agencies, and I have seven different project managers, they all do different stuff. And so you need to figure out what it is that you’re actually what you want them to do. And I will challenge something you said where you said the project managers are not billable. And I would I would dispute that. Because the if the project manager is actually doing client work, it should be viewed as billable time now, most of the listeners are not actually billing hours anyway. But it should be assigned, it should be tracked towards that project, and it should go into your pricing for that project. It

shouldn’t be there

Chip Griffin 

because it shouldn’t be an overhead expense share.

Gini Dietrich 

Because if you are doing it or account directors doing it that would be billable. That’s fair.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. So So I think it needs to be it needs to be thought of as such, it need to be tracked. As such, I know some agencies will actually charge you a project management fee, which I don’t like just because it seems to me It sends the wrong message. But I understand. I mean, I actually had a an agency who did work for me in a past life. And they were one of the folks who said we charge for project management. And I got what they were saying philosophically that it’s an important part of actually delivering the results that we wanted. At the same time. I think from a client perspective that does come across as your kind of niggling into having me kind of like the old days when we used to charge for a page of a fax or something like that, which was the as I’ve said, I think up before on this show, it’s it drove me mad as a client to get a bill for $1 a page for a fax. I mean, that was just stupid. And so I you know, so you have to be careful with all these things. But from an internal perspective, as you’re tracking it, the time of that project manager that they’re spending to manage a project for a client should be tracked as an expense for that client work and and you should be charging appropriately to capture that do not put it into overhead, because that’s how you start getting into profit margins very quickly.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, that’s totally fair. Um, and I I’m the same way on project management you do as a fee you do you have to do it. But I, I learned a very good lesson from a large client who might be fortune three company who I can’t say out loud, but you can surmise. Who said to me, I totally get it. But it should be cost of doing business. So now we just roll it into our fee. I mean, it’s still there. You’re still paying for it, but on a separate line item.

Chip Griffin 

Right. Well This is I mean, this is probably a good topic for a different episode. But agencies often are far too transparent about what’s fair. Just tell them it costs this. Yeah. Right. I mean, and I was just working with an agency a few weeks ago, and was looking through some of their proposals. And they, they gave excruciating detail Hmm. In their proposals, and you know, what things cost and how many hours? And I said, Well, are you billing by the hour? No. Okay. If they go over those number of hours, are you charging more? No? Like, why are you telling me the number of hours it’s going to take them? It’s, it’s, it’s

irrelevant? irrelevant? Yes. to it.

Chip Griffin 

And if you’re I said, you know, you’re showing all these individual line items, will you do that individual line item for that price? If they say no to everything else in the proposal? No. Okay, well, then don’t even show it. Because to the extent you show things in a proposal, it should be because it’s an actual menu option that you’re willing to provide. And if you’re not, don’t, don’t break it out. Yeah, keep it rolled, rolled together. And the more that you, the more that you show that stuff, the more that you get into just idiotic conversations with clients, who say, I don’t understand why it would take that long or cost that much to do those kinds of things. And project management is very much the same way they don’t, they don’t really want to know that it’s, you know, people don’t need to know how the sausage is made. They just need to know that it tastes good. Yeah. And so you need to be thinking about all of these things the same way. But you do need to think about what it takes to get that sausage made. And so that’s where the project management comes in internally, and you have to figure out, you know, is a is a body though solution, is it, that someone on your team just takes on that responsibility? Because they’re particularly organized? And that’s a good use of their time? Is it? Is it that you put more systems and processes in place? And it’s not a person? Right? I mean, there’s all sorts of different ways to solve the problem. So but it really comes back to figuring out what is your pain point what problem you’re actually trying to solve? And only then can you figure out is that a resource problem? Or is it something else?

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, um, it’s funny you say that, because even if you break out the project management fee, in a proposal, or on an invoice, to your point, if you’re not offering that as a standalone menu item, that’s, that’s a really great way to look at it. I actually just had a conversation with a client who said, Ah, we have a client who wants to see our time sheets, and it bites me in the butt every time because they’re like, why did it take two hours to do this?

Ah,

Gini Dietrich 

if a client wanted to see my timesheets, I’d be like, yes, there’s the door. Right?

Chip Griffin 

I mean, that’s the thing people don’t understand. You don’t have to do that. Now. There are certain there are certain contracts, you know, if your contracts, things like that, yeah, everything we say there’s always the exception that proves the rule. Yep. But generally speaking, you don’t have to disclose that to clients, and you shouldn’t, there’s no, they need to know what the results are, that they’re getting, and how much it’s costing them. They don’t need to know all the detail behind it. And, and, and project managers, while they can be expensive, if you’re actually using someone as a project manager ought to be because it saves you time and money, right? in some fashion. So yes, it’s an expense on the one hand, but it’s because you’re you’re shifting work from probably a higher priced front end person who’s dealing with clients, to someone who’s probably lesser cost behind the scenes, all I will say good project managers aren’t cheap, right. So, you know, project managers shouldn’t be, you know, someone just out of college that you throw this to, which is one of the things that I say a lot of folks do, will just, you know, let’s throw it on you. I mean, it needs to be someone who understands how to make the machinery work. And it tends to work more so in larger organizations, where you’ve got contractors at different teams internally, and you have to, you’re, there’s someone who’s sort of working across disciplines, in order to solve problems for clients. So if you’ve, if your clients are generally, you know, just doing one thing with you, and it’s, it’s much more vertically oriented, from a service standpoint, project managers aren’t going to serve you as well. It’s when they’ve got some graphic design and some content creation, and some social media and some advertising. Project Managers really excel in those environments. Because they know, this needs, this team needs this before this can happen. And so they can, they can figure out how to work those things through. And they also can help the teams figure out priorities, because every client team always thinks that whatever they’ve got is the top priority, right? So I mean, when I oversaw a graphic design team for a larger agency, as one of my many shops underneath me, I would have people come in and say, Well, you know, this is I need this tomorrow.

I’d be like, Okay,

Chip Griffin 

great. But they’re working on this for this larger client, that’s, you know, and it’s for their board or something like that. So that’s going to have to be a higher priority. And so project managers can help sort those things out. So they figure out what a real priority is for the team versus what the priority is for that individual who’s just hearing from the client. This needs to be done yesterday.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And you know, as you’re talking about this, I’m remembering back to my ad agency days when we had a traffic department and lavon. And Marsha, they were, they were in charge of making sure that if you had an ad campaign or a, you know, we did all sorts of events, and, you know, PR stunts and things like that, if you had something like that, that you had a date in mind, and they would work it back. And they would say, Okay, well, you need this for production by this date, or it’s, this isn’t going to happen. And they would give you all of that, and then they would stay on top of you to get that stuff done. Because if you didn’t deliver your part on time, then it screwed up the whole process, right. lavonne and Marcia?

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, and it’s in different kinds of agencies call it different things. ad agencies tend to call it a Traffic Manager. You know, digital agencies call it a project manager, PR agencies probably just call it an account manager and stick someone with the job. Right. So it’s, again, that goes back to titles not really mattering. It’s really the functionality that matters. I will say one of the questions that was asked, should the project manager be client facing or internal? The best project managers I’ve known are not good with clients. Yeah. Because to be a good project manager, you need to be much more methodical logical, more of an operator. And you tend to shy away from diplomacy, because you’ll simply say, you know, that I’ve got, you know, this team has this bandwidth, or this contractor has this bandwidth. And so this is how we’re going to use it. You can’t tell that directly to the client. So so the account manager or the client service team has to figure out how to take what the project manager has told them, and somehow massage it into something that’s not going to make the client say, I don’t care that you have other clients, because the reality is, all of your clients know that you have clients other than them. They just don’t believe that they should matter. Right? Right. Right. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a, and they’ll and they’ll pay lip service to how we, you know, we know you’re busy, we know, you’ve got other clients, you know, they don’t mean it. No, I mean, they, that whatever it is, they want they want, and they don’t really care what it’s going to impact on other clients. And so the good client service person knows how to try to work through that and make them feel like they are the most special client in the world, understanding that if all of your clients were the most special a, it wouldn’t be true and be, you’d never make money.

Gini Dietrich 

Right? That is true. That is true. I remember when I started my agency, the very first client, I had said, I understand that you’re going to grow this business. And I understand that you will have other clients, but I am your first and I always want to be treated like that.

Okay, and he still is

Gini Dietrich 

still treated like our first client.

Chip Griffin 

Well, so you see my smartass answer to that would be well, you know, you’ll learn a lot. And so generally, after the first client, we get better. But if you’re going to always be our first client, we’ll give you that same level of service that we we won’t take into into account all that other knowledge that we’ve we’ve garnered,

Gini Dietrich 

is helped us growth tremendously.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And look, I mean, every agency needs those clients. And there are clients who are, who have been helpful to you as an agency, and you’ve got a good relationship with, and you’ll always find ways to bend over backwards for them, and it’s appropriate. But the reality is, you know, project managers help you to figure out how to keep all of your clients as happy as possible. You know, by by keeping all of the trains moving on time. And this is not easy. And the larger you get, and the more particularly as more agencies are adopting this thing that I’ve heard of called the PESO model. I don’t know where I’ve heard of it. But it’s this thing where apparently you use like, paid, earned, shared owned. And, and so that requires a lot of different expertise and, and team members and contractors and all that. And so in order to be able to pull it all together, you need to make all those moving parts fit together. Project Managers can be really helpful in doing that, whether that project manager is full time contractor or part of someone else’s responsibility, whatever, but you need to figure out how to get that done.

Gini Dietrich 

Amen.

Chip Griffin 

And so on that note, I think I’m going to write this episode up as a success because our third co host has been mostly mostly behind the scenes.

Gini Dietrich 

I mean, you can hear but

Chip Griffin 

you can hear Yeah, but you know, I mean, if you’re listening on computer speakers, you might not hear her as much You know, I’ve got earbuds in so I, I obviously can hear her but that’s okay. And when we didn’t see the hamster, the dog didn’t make an appearance. So

Gini Dietrich 

the hamster is about to make an appearance, so we should end it now. On that

Chip Griffin 

note, then, I’m Chip Griffin, and I’m Gini Dietrich, and it depends

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