The advertising industry is over 150 years old and over those years many different models have come about to create a better product and service experience leading to greater success and market differentiation.
Most of those models have come and gone with the associated agencies. One remains which can be found in almost every agency today: the model that breaks the agency into functional competencies that include Creative, Client Service, Project Management and Strategy. If the agency is big enough, it may include a Technology competency (sometimes referred to as Digital Development or Coding) and/or a Production competency (that often includes video production, television production, etc.).
From that model, there appears to be a prevalent regional distinction between the East Coast and the West Coast that we wanted to explore a bit in this post.
The distinction is in how the Project Management competency is handled. On the East Coast, Project Management is a competency in and of itself. These are the U.N. Peacekeepers of the agency. Their main objective is to make sure the agency stays solvent, but that objective includes many critical components:
- Make sure the agency prices its deliverables appropriately so the agency can make a profit
- Make sure the agency doesn't commit itself to work that it lacks the resources or capability to do
- Make sure the teams have sufficient time to get the work done that they're tasked to do
- Make sure the work is staffed appropriately and that everyone is kept busy and billable
- Make sure the various agency competencies work together successfully to get the job done on time and within budget
It's a BIG job and as you can tell by the objectives above, the focus of a PM's role is internal. The clients benefit from the actions of the PM, but the PM's priorities all lie within the agency.
Contrast that with Client Services (or Account Management as it's often called). Client Services is all about the client. They win when the clients are happy and doling out more budget to the agency. They live in their clients' world, speak the client's language, feel the client's pain and find more and more ways to help the clients win. When the clients win, the agency wins (theoretically). Their priorities are keeping the clients happy and their focus is external (on their client's business) in order to do so.
As such, it's no surprise that you often see tension (we like to think of it as "healthy tension") between Client Services and Project Management. Client Services is focused on growing the business, continually pushing for more and greater types of deliverables, while Project Management is pushing back with capacity and capability constraints. Client Services wants the work done ASAP to meet the client's (usually ridiculous) timeline which would be a win for the account and probably unlock additional work from the client - while Project Management is juggling all the work currently in the agency and wanting to make sure everyone has enough time to do a quality job while still getting 8 hours of sleep a night.
The list goes on and on, and you can easily see why there would be (and are) some tense discussions around almost every project that comes into the shop.
Obviously, this is a significant over-simplification of the Client Services role, but you get the idea.
And then there's the West Coast...
Always prone to doing things differently, it's a common practice to merge the Project Management capability with the Client Service capability and just call it Account Management. This has the obvious benefit of potentially reducing the number of people in the agency, which in turn reduces the agency's cost structure and could translate into cheaper work for clients - though that's actually driven by many variables so you'd be hard-pressed to make a case on that alone.
There's a good possibility that the merging of these competencies (despite the inherent conflicts of interest) arose from the startup influence that pervades the West Coast. Because startups are forced to work as lean as possible, it's common for everybody to wear a bunch of different hats regardless of whether that creates conflicts of interest or not. It's also possible that the more laid-back culture of the West Coast allows for such a combination whereas trying to make that work on the East Coast wouldn't work in any but the smallest of agencies.
Another contributing factor may be the West Coast's greater reliance on technology. After all, when you're surrounded by cutting-edge tech firms, you tend to have a much more aggressive technology stance within the agency than offices located elsewhere. With Advantage's agency management system being capable of automating so many of the time-intensive Project Management tasks (even resource scheduling!), Client Service can successfully do both jobs without jeopardizing the client or the agency's best interests.
Whatever the reason, it's a regional difference that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so as far as we can tell.
Are you interested in seeing what a cutting-edge agency management system could do for your agency? Are you curious about how many of the time-intensive, error-prone tasks within Accounting, Project Management and Media can be automated to save time, increase throughput and lower your operating costs? Schedule a free online demo of the Advantage agency management system and see for yourself!