Production managers, also known as traffic managers, used to be everywhere in the agency world. They were responsible for plugging the gaps between departments and ensuring that creators, managers and clients all knew what to expect and when to expect it. Their timelines and budgets kept agencies running smoothly for years. And then computers replaced them.
The skills of production managers remained relevant for a while, but the more control computers gave agency owners over their workflows, the less they saw the need for full-time traffic controllers. Production management fell to the subject matter experts, leaving creative types to negotiate with their own print vendors and perform similar administrative tasks.
Budget cuts and technology make a compelling case for the elimination of organizational roles. When budgets get tighter, the people who keep projects in motion but don’t contribute tangible things — like leads and copy — fall first. However, budgets are not as tight as they once were. The recession has been over for years, and in our tech-first world, clients expect high-quality deliverables on faster deadlines than ever.
Now that speed is of the essence, agencies need more than creatives and managers to keep their businesses afloat. It’s time to bring back the production manager to do what technology alone cannot.
The Call For A Traffic Renaissance
When agencies abandoned their production managers in favor of tech-enabled, self-guided project management workflows, they inadvertently made life harder on themselves.
Managers alone cannot make unbiased decisions on which jobs should take priority over others. Employees are even less able to do so, and silos prevent relevant communications from helping workers on different teams bridge the gap. Account managers compete for resources, leaving creative teams frustrated and overwhelmed. Everything is a priority, which means nothing is.
Creative teams should not have to worry about the scheduling and management details that are outside their areas of expertise. Account managers should not be in charge of who needs what and when. Only production managers, with their unique insight into traffic, can handle these responsibilities and ensure everyone is working optimally to the benefit of the company.
Does Your Agency Need A Traffic Manager?
Our agency teaches workshops on this topic and helps agencies hire and train their production managers. From that, we’ve gleaned a lot of insights into what works and what doesn’t. For example, not every agency is large enough or diverse enough to need a production manager.
Consider the following questions to determine whether adding a traffic controller to the mix could help your company grow:
1. Do you have more than 15 people on staff?
The bigger the agency, the greater the potential for unnecessary holdups. As a longtime agency owner, I’ve found that a headcount of 15 seems to be the tipping point. A smaller agency can get along without a production manager, but once the room gets crowded, the business needs someone to keep operations running smoothly.
If the company reaches 20 people without a production manager, the necessity becomes an immediate concern. Without this role in place, the company will likely get back to 15 or even 10 employees as clients start looking for partners who can handle their needs faster.
2. Do your employees spend more time organizing than producing?
Creative directors, copywriters and account service managers are great at their niche tasks. Why force those experts to spend hours every week optimizing workflows? Production managers can remove the headache of short-term and long-term organization, leaving other employees free to make the most of their talents.
For instance, traffic managers can help agencies get more from their freelancer agreements. With one person in control of timelines and priorities, the agency can limit its spending on unnecessary hours by ensuring that every contributor is working at capacity. Production managers use their long-term forecasting skills to ensure that workloads never become unbearable for people with other concerns on their plate.
3. Is your otherwise competent staff missing deadlines?
Nothing kills an agency faster than pushed deadlines and excuses. When contributors deliver great work but take a little too long to do it, production managers can clean up the process to ensure that projects arrive on clients’ desks on time and under budget.
Traffic managers should keep everyone accountable while simultaneously taking stressful work off others’ desks. They should know when a quick-and-dirty job needs to go out within the day and when a more delicate project requires time. Even when production overseers don’t make anything themselves, they can empower the agency to deliver high-quality work on time and through a scalable workflow.
If your agency meets these criteria, don’t just throw out all that software you use in place of a traffic controller. Consider how the person in this new role can leverage your existing tools to streamline your processes. Do you need new technology to connect everyone? How do you tie your budget to your schedule?
Most importantly, don’t bring in some fresh-faced person with “organizational skills” at the top of his or her resume and expect production management to work out. The person who fills this role will take some time to become acquainted with your people, systems and processes.
Some employees might not appreciate the introduction of a new decision maker, so find someone with the charisma and leadership skills to manage pushback effectively. When the right person fills the role and everyone in the organization buys in, the agency is better able to meet the needs of clients, both current and future.