A project manager’s perspective.
You never know what will come your way when you work in advertising. The most painstakingly coordinated tasks and schedules can become little more than color-coded scrap paper when the perfect opportunity pops up out of the blue. When a shot too good to pass up comes our way, it falls to the project managers (PMs) to be the eyes in the sky. They’re the ones rearranging the pieces so our clients can make the most of every opportunity.
In the words of Tim Gunn: “Make it work.”
We’re can-do kind of people ‘round these parts, so when we have the chance to make national impact for a worthy organization, we take it. That sometimes means putting the pedal to the metal and generating all the creative collateral in two days. Organization is the make-or-break factor for any high-stakes undertaking, and our PM Riley gave us some tips for how she approaches a project where every minute counts:
- Get organized and make a plan of attack to avoid any snags that come along. And trust us, there will be snags.
- Detail! Be meticulously detailed when you write up the expectations for each deliverable. This is majorly important when it comes to facilitating an efficient project.
- Most important: communication. Over-communicate with your team. Even when there’s only a short amount of time allocated to a project, you need to work in tandem with your designers, copywriters, developers, etc. Being overly-communicative with your clients will also help alleviate any confusion that pops up along the way.
It takes two to tango and four to pull off a campaign.
The collaborative nature and tight schedule of the World Ovarian Cancer Day fundraiser meant there were a lot of parties with a vested interest in making sure it was successful. TJA was the creative agency (and center of communication), Colleen’s Dream Foundation was the recipient nonprofit organization, seven Pacific Retail locations across the country hosted murals made by the Butterfly Effect, which was the nonprofit agent that facilitated these flash fundraisers. In addition to these main players, there were print vendors and overnight shippers to keep in touch with. Riley shares how she keeps communication straight between everyone involved for seamless handoffs and no missteps:
- Make sure everyone is on the same page across the board: the clients, account managers and team members should all have identical expectations of the outcome.
- Clients should receive consistent updates on the status of each deliverable. Radio silence never ends well.
- Identify and address any potential hiccups as soon as they occur. It’s easier to solve problems when they’re small than once they’ve exploded. Frequent communication is the key to troubleshooting.
A recap is worth $1,000.
The fundraiser was a success. All the collateral arrived in time at the Pacific Retail destinations across the nation, and lots of posts went on social media featuring pictures of people posing against the Butterfly Effect murals. All told, about $1,000 was raised during World Ovarian Cancer Day for Colleen’s Dream, and the campaign won a 2019 PRSA Phoenix Award of Merit. But the most crucial part of any project is reflecting on the results—what went right and what can be improved upon next time. What are the most important aspects to include in a review? Riley’s so glad you asked:
- Compare the goals of the project to the outcomes. Provide explanations for how these goals were met and identify opportunities for improvement.
- Highlight any eye-catching issues and successes so the team can remedy or replicate them next time.
- Memorialize successful processes so they can be employed in the future. Share these internally with the team so everyone can benefit from the knowledge.
Give your PMs some love (and take a page from their book).
We know we’d be lost without the scheduling savvy of our PMs and their on-top-of-it-all-ness. Just for fun, we also asked Riley to share what would make a PM’s life easier as well as what we can take from her process and apply to our everyday lives.
- It’s important that the team communicate with the project managers, of course, but it’s also vital that they communicate amongst themselves. If you’re working on a project, explain your thought process, and share any suggestions you have before you hand it off to the next person.
- We know it’s no fun to admit you’re struggling, but it truly makes everything easier in the long run if you’re upfront with any issues that arise. Your team won’t judge (at least not too hard), because everyone is working toward the best possible outcome.
- It’s corny, we know, but have fun with your tasks! It makes work interesting, it keeps you engaged with the projects and, oftentimes, clients will end up loving adventurous takes on their brand.
I’m going to take a wild guess and say that if you are reading this blog post, you aren’t planning on retiring any time soon. Chances are, you are a young professional looking to get a leg up on the competition by reading some quality insider content from those in the know.
That’s where I come in: I’m a college senior finishing his first agency internship at TJA. It’s been a great leap into the big leagues, and I can say that I learned quite a bit about what it means to be a bona fide agency professional. Here are my top five takeaways:
- Work without borders
There is a time and a place for silos. Bountiful fall grain harvest? Get a silo. Making some beer? Consider a silo. However, in the world of advertising, nothing happens in a vacuum. If you want to put out quick, quality work, it is important to familiarize yourself with every step of the process. My official title is Media Intern, but I made it my goal to learn and work with each department and ended up learning a heck of a lot more than I would have otherwise. A puzzle is always easier to put together when you can see the whole picture on the box.
- Fail gracefully, recover tactfully
Everyone always says “Oh don’t worry about failure, it’s a part of learning!” which is true; it’s good advice. However, it doesn’t do you much good in the moment when your clients and superiors start asking you why your work was subpar or why you missed an important deadline. Anyone can mess up, but what separates amateur hour from the big leagues is how you recover. Apologize sincerely, correct quickly and move on. Don’t fight it, fix it.
- Embrace the things you’re bad at
I spent the first two years of my marketing major thinking that I could get by solely on creative prowess and intuition like some 18-year-old Don Draper. I was afraid of data and was generally clueless as to how one uses it meaningfully. It wasn’t until I had to work with survey data for a marketing research class that I realized my disdain stemmed purely from a lack of understanding and fear of messing up. With that revelation, I dove in headfirst and haven’t looked back. Now, I work with data on a daily basis and have found that I actually enjoy using it to tell stories quite a bit. You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get in the water.
- Find your calm
At a recent quarterly meeting, lifestyle coach John Beck of Leadership Embodiment, gave us his advice for finding our calm in the face of stress. His technique was as easy as inhaling while sitting up straight, exhaling while relaxing the chest and thinking of something that makes you smile. It is simple, yet solid advice. After a few attempts at this myself, I started to realize just how often we tend to rush into a problem without fully thinking it through. Never underestimate the value of facing a situation with a level head.
- Follow through
Life moves fast in an agency and it’s often easy to lose track of deadlines or outright forget them all together in the face of larger projects. Be the person who does what they say they will do, when they say they will do it, even if it means writing down every deadline or staying late to finish a project, there is great value in being a person that others can depend on. After all, a person is only as good as their word.
So there you have it
Above all, make sure you enjoy what you do. If you are having a good time, the rest is sure to follow. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and never stop learning. Be the kind of professional that you would enjoy working with.
Written by: Harrison
As a project manager, one very important aspect of getting the job done well is being organized. With the fast-paced environment that is an advertising agency, staying organized is harder than it sounds; without a few go-to organizational tips, things can fall apart quickly. Here are a few ways I keep myself and our clients organized throughout the week and achieve maximum efficiency.
CREATE A TO-DO LIST
I am a huge fan of writing a list of items that I need to get done within the workday. This list could be handwritten or just a document typed up on your computer. I am a big fan of the simple Notes app that is already installed on Mac computers. When I am creating a list, I typically start first thing in the morning to get my day off on the right foot. It is impossible to remember every little thing that needs to be completed, so having a written/typed place to remind yourself is a great way to stay on track. Not only do these lists help me recall tasks, but it also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I get to check off an item. By the end of the week, I can go back and see all the crossed-off items and truly feel good about all the work I did.
DON’T MOVE TOO FAST
Staying organized in a swirl of opening jobs, checking in on projects or generating reports for the week can seem overwhelming. Being overwhelmed can cause people (myself included) to try to work faster and not smarter. When I have extra-busy days, I sometimes find myself moving too fast. This often leads to missteps that could have been avoided if I had just slowed down. Taking a slow and steady route tends to keep my work life more organized. This step is easier said than done when there are piles and piles of tasks awaiting your attention. When I get frantic about moving too slow given the amount of work I need to complete, I go back up to tip one and write down a list of to-dos. With that to-do list, I do my best to prioritize with what is most important and time-sensitive. This is a great way to calm your nerves of all the items swirling in your brain.
BLOCK YOUR TIME
Another great way to stay organized is to block out times of the day to focus solely on a big item that needs your attention. It is standard in an agency to have multiple moving pieces for various jobs. It can be very easy to start one task, stop, and pick up another due to urgency or just plain old distraction. I find that when this happens to me, I get overwhelmed because I have six things half-done and nothing actually completed. Try to find a room with no distractions. If needed, you can also turn off notifications for email and any work chat that may pop up on your computer. From there, set the amount of time needed to achieve the task at hand and focus 100 percent on it. I find that more often than not, I complete the task much faster than expected because I haven’t been distracted by other requests or actions happening around me. Not only does this keep me more organized in the long run, but it makes my workday more efficient.
All in all, these three tried and true steps really keep my work day sane and manageable. Sometimes all it takes is to go back to basics and remember what is most important.
I was supposed to write this blog 3 weeks ago. Then I got busy and all that time just drifted away because something more important, more urgent or more fun came up.
Here’s the thing about time management, you have to make the time to put it into practice, otherwise it’s always going to feel like just another thing you have to do. It’s like many other personal practices that make us better human beings; we have to first recognize that we have a problem before we can make the changes needed to improve.
So here’s some tips to help you build your own time management practice:
- Decide what’s most important to you: It’s hard to make priorities when you don’t know what the most important thing is. Here are some options for prioritizing that I’ve used:
- Value of client relationship – clients with long-term standing or potential for future work
- Relationship with client – clients who are kind and lovely and appreciative
- Job responsibilities – how is my boss evaluating my success? Those things should be my priority
- Personal values – what are the most important activities for your own personal growth
- Accept that you have a problem: Like I said, the first step to self-improvement is acknowledging that you need to improve. So assume you have a time-management problem and be more aware and pro-active about how you approach it.
- Start saying no: Start with admitting to yourself that you can’t do it all, and be honest. If you are in a position where you have the option to say ‘no’, don’t sign up for more than you can do well in the first place. If you’re not in a position to say ‘no’, then at least try to be honest with others about the reality of the other work on your plate, the turnaround time or the quality you can achieve.
- Use your calendar: block off time in your day to accomplish important tasks. This not only serves as a reminder to work on those tasks, it also prevents others from pulling you into meetings.
- Put on blinders: when you’re working on something else that’s important, minimize windows and turn off notifications from other programs that are only going to distract you. You might even consider physically moving yourself to another workspace, if that’s possible, to eliminate distractions.
- Take breaks: I know this seems counterintuitive, but research shows that taking a break to stand up, take a walk and talk with others really makes a difference to help your brain focus. If you’re struggling to stay on task, maybe you need to give in and take a five to ten minute break before you jump back in.
- Look at cute photos of baby animals online: No for real. This is a thing. A scientific study showed that productivity increased when participants were exposed to cute photos of baby animals online. Thank you, Science!
There’s an endless amount of research and articles around productivity online. Just make sure you don’t spend so much time researching that you forget to actually be productive.