Best Tips for Managing ‘Many Hats Syndrome’ in Your Creative Ad Agency

“We wear many hats here.” I hear it all the time from people at creative ad agencies. To an extent, it makes sense. You’ve got tons to do, your resources are limited, and your people are multi-talented.

Maybe your Principal is a brilliant designer, and has to be involved in the creative process or he thinks the agency’s work will suffer.

Maybe your Account Executive spends half her time snapping a cat o’nine tails at the creatives because she’s convinced it’s the only way anything will ever get done.

Whatever the situation, it’s preferable to have one person per job, according to Anthony Mikes. He’s the Founder/Managing Director of Second Wind, a company that advises small and mid-sized advertising and creative agencies. I was lucky enough to attend his “Certified Operations, Workflow and Efficiency” seminar this month, and one of the key tips for creative agencies was that people should stop hoarding hats.

It Starts at the Top

“I hate Agency Principals,” Mikes said, and everyone laughed because they knew he didn’t really mean it. He expressed genuine frustration, though, at their tendency to spend more time than they should on the nitty-gritty of design and production. “Principals should manage, not do,” he said.

What does that mean? It means creating an overall plan for the ad agency. It means strategic meetings with key clients (while leaving Account Executives to take care of routine interactions). It means fostering the kind of culture that attracts and keeps good people. Principals don’t have time for such higher-level work when they’re knee-deep in briefs and mock-ups.

Leave Account Service to Account Executives

One of the seminar’s many benefits was the opportunity to interact with people from a wide variety of agencies. I got to witness a lot of “Here’s what we do … what about you guys?” conversations, many of which were as enlightening as the content of the seminar itself.

Over chicken sandwiches and quinoa salads in the cafeteria of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, I listened as women from two different agencies made a passionate case for role specificity while a third nodded in dismay.

The beneficiary of the advice was from a 10-person agency where the Creative Director spent half his time interacting with clients. Because he was often on the phone, he was rarely available when the creatives – or anyone else at the agency, for that matter – needed him, which meant missed deadlines (and the clients, no matter how lovingly he coddled them, were consequently pissed). He didn’t want to stop his interactions with clients, though, because he wanted their direct input.

One of the other women was from a similarly-sized creative ad agency, but in hers, they had a dedicated Account Executive. To ensure buy-in and understanding on the part of the creatives, the Account Executive always invited them to one client meeting before they started work, but that was the extent of the interaction. That way, the woman said, everyone understood each other, the designers became highly effective and the work got done.

The third woman was from a 40-person agency. When the first said she didn’t think her bosses would agree to a more rigidly-defined structure, the third touched her arm and said, “Give it a few months, and if it doesn’t change, then run, girl.”

What About Traffic and Production?

In addition to arguing that Principals should devote themselves to managing and Account Executives should devote themselves to clients, Mike made a strong case for having a Traffic Manager to enforce schedules and a Production Manager to deal with vendors. It’s a full-time job to track progress and ever-shifting deadlines. Which is why it’s important to have an agency management system to help streamline and manage tasks. But if the same person also has to do production, she might not be able to negotiate the best possible deals.

Hats Off to Doing Your Own Job

If your agency has 5 or 6 people, you can often get away with a more fluid structure that works than in one with 10 or more, because there’s less to keep track of. When your agency grows bigger, though, it’s worth considering which hat you’re really meant to wear, and then putting that one – and only that one – on.

So if you wear too many hats or everyone in your agency doesn’t know which hat to put on or when, it might be time to consider using some productivity tools to ensure your agency is operating as efficiently as possible. Function Point is an all-in-one cloud based project management software system.

Function Point Productivity Software provides CRM integration, timesheets, task scheduling and tracking, real-time financial and management reporting. It manages the whole creative process from the moment you first talk to your client, to the final invoice and onward.

Using an integrated agency management system will allow you and your team to have more control, and know where to focus their energy. Is your agency ready for a project management system? Chat with one our software experts in a personalized demo to find out.

Marissa Ho

Brand & Product Coordinator

Marissa was raised on a steady diet of mountain and ocean activities. She’s a product marketer by day, reader by night, and human being by day and night.

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