Hire The Perfect Project Manager for Your Marketing Agency
Agency managementProject Management
Read time: 16 minutes
Marketing agencies in the digital era often struggle with juggling too many different tasks and deadlines. To be cost-effective and successful, a marketing agency should be effective in handling its resources and team members to ensure it achieves its objectives using as few resources as possible to stay within budget.
This can be easier said than done, and this is where the project manager role is increasingly becoming very important in marketing agencies. In fact, according to a very recent report, more than 60% of project management jobs at the moment come from the marketing sector.
In this guide, we will discuss the role of a project manager in a marketing agency, and especially how to hire the perfect project manager according to your agency’s unique needs, budget, and preferences.
Marketing Agency: Roles, Tasks, and Responsibilities
Before we can understand the role of a project manager in a marketing agency, it’s important to first understand what a marketing agency does.
In a nutshell, a marketing agency works to plan, develop, and implement marketing tactics and campaigns for clients. A marketing agency can work exclusively for a single client, but in most cases, it handles multiple clients in parallel.
A marketing agency can specialize in a single field of marketing (i.e., an agency specializing in SEO.) Yet, there are also all-in-one marketing agencies offering a wide variety of services, including:
- Branding development and implementation
- Content (inbound) marketing
- Email marketing
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
- Social media and influencer marketing
- Website development and hosting
- PR and media relations
- Event planning
- Graphic design, video creation, etc.
And so on.
As you can see, today’s marketing agencies need to handle a lot of different projects for multiple clients with different moving parts, rendering the role of a project manager a necessity.
Project Manager in Marketing Agencies
Since marketing agencies work for and interact heavily with clients, the main role of a project manager in marketing agencies is to ensure project deliverables are received and approved by clients within budget and within the agreed timeline.
However, in practice, achieving this objective involves a lot of work and a wide variety of details.
A typical project manager in a marketing agency may be responsible for the following tasks:
- Defining, establishing, and managing the scope of a project
- Regular meetings with clients to understand their requirements and objectives, keeping them updated about the project’s progress
- Scheduling and leading project meetings with team members, starting with a project kickoff meeting and regular check-in meetings
- Establishing a project budget
- Planning a project calendar/schedule
- Assigning tasks and responsibilities to team members
- Monitoring the progress of each team member and department
- Problem-solving throughout the different phases of the project
- Double-checking project deliverables to whether they fit the client’s requirements
- Regularly sending progress updates to clients, collecting feedback, and relaying feedback to relevant team members
- Delivering the final deliverables and project report to the client
Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list. Each project is unique with its unique needs, and a project manager may be required to have different roles and responsibilities. Nevertheless, the main principle still applies: a project manager is responsible to make sure the project stays on track according to the client’s requirements, deadline, and budget.
Two Different Types of Project Managers
Every marketing agency is unique, and the clients they handle are also unique.
This is why different marketing agencies may need their project managers to fulfill different roles and be responsible for different tasks. However, we can generally divide project managers in marketing agencies into two basic types: strategic PM and operational PM.
- Strategic Project Manager
This first type of project manager is more focused on planning the strategic approach on how the project (or projects) should be executed, building a working framework the marketing agency can use to run their future projects, even in the years to come.
In short, this type of project manager builds order out of chaos: establishing methodology and framework to effectively handle projects. However, this type of PM often struggles with organization and delegation.
This type of PM is more suited for younger marketing agencies that never had a full-time project manager role in the past, especially those without clear templates/frameworks on how to manage projects at the moment.
- Operational Project Manager
Having a strategic methodology to handle projects is important, but once the framework is already in place, there’s still the challenge of handling day-to-day execution.
This is where having an “operational” project manager can benefit your marketing agency: schedule day-to-day tasks, estimate budget and monitor budget usage, track tasks, and progress, keep clients updated, and so on.
This type of project manager can help your marketing agency if you keep missing deadlines and important project requirements due to disorganization. However, operational PMs may not have the expertise to perform the strategic planning work (i.e., creating templates for project handling). So, to make the most of hiring operational PMs, make sure you already have a project management framework/methodology in place.
Skills Required in the Marketing Agency Project Management Role
A project manager must be able to work effectively in a team with different types of individuals, and must possess adequate leadership and organization skills.
The role required a good balance between soft and technical skills, which we will discuss below:
Soft skills required in a project management role
- Communication (internal and external)
- Time management and scheduling
- Organizational skills
- Leadership skills
- Conflict resolution
- Strategic problem solving
Technical skills required in a project management role
- General knowledge (preferably experience in) of marketing strategies
- Budgeting and financial projecting
- Using popular agency management tools and other solutions
- Data analysis
Why and When Your Marketing Agency Should Hire a Project Manager
While it’s quite obvious hiring a project manager will offer many important benefits for the organization, many companies (including marketing agencies) make the mistake of hiring a project manager when it’s already too late.
Many marketing agencies think that they only need to hire a project manager when they start to land bigger clients or retain more clients. However, it’s quite common that by this time, the agency has already been suffering inefficiencies, often resulting in overworked and disgruntled team members, which will hinder productivity.
It’s best to start hiring a project manager before you feel you need one. While it may seem unnecessary or too expensive, integrating a project manager into your workflow early can help your whole team get ready for when the role is finally necessary.
To more accurately assess when your marketing agency should hire a project manager, you can first evaluate at what stage your marketing agency is at the moment, which we will discuss below.
At what stage is your marketing agency?
Stage 1: Early beginnings
Marketing agencies typically start as a small team of up to 5 people, or even a one-man or two-man team. Probably the marketing agency still struggles to find and retain clients and doesn’t handle too many projects.
In most cases, hiring a project manager in this early stage isn’t viable.
Stage 2: Early growth
The marketing agency starts to handle more clients and more projects, probably with around 5-9 team members in total. This can be an ideal time to start looking for a project manager if your budget allows so you can get your team ready for the next stage. If you can hire a project manager at this stage, you can use this time to learn and adjust your workflow to work with a project manager.
Stage 3: Established agency
The marketing agency retains bigger clients, and at this stage, the marketing agency may diversify its services and start evolving itself into a full-service marketing agency. This means more projects, more hires, and more resources, and at this stage, the role of a project manager (or even multiple project managers) is critical.
Stage 4: Full-service agency
At this stage, the agency probably has up to 50 employees and ideally has at least two project managers. A proper managerial structure with more managers (creative director, art director, finance director, etc.) is crucial to maintaining the marketing agency’s quality service and keeping the clients happy.
Step 5: Big agency
Once the marketing agency has more than 50 team members, the marketing agency can be classified as “big,” and by now probably has multiple offices. At this stage, one of the key challenges is hiring top talents while keeping your existing team members happy. The role of the project manager(s) is increasingly becoming more crucial
As discussed, it’s better to hire a project manager early, ideally at late stage 2 or early stage 3.
At stage 2, it’s quite likely that the project manager may not have too many responsibilities, but you should treat it as a long-term investment even if it hurts your profitability a bit. Trust your company’s ability to grow and make your team future-proof by starting early with a project manager (or more.)
A common misconception is to think that project managers don’t directly add to revenue, but that isn’t true. A project manager can help you successfully finish existing projects within timeline and within budget, which will, in turn, help improve client satisfaction and may win you more projects/retainers.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Project Manager?
According to the latest (2022) data by Glassdoor, the median total pay for a project manager is $92,000/year.
Most marketing agencies hire in-house project managers on a salary model, and the national average salary at the moment is $73,000/year. However, there are several models for paying project managers you can consider according to your budget:
- Salary model: as discussed, the most common model. Salaries for project managers range from $50,000 to $100,000+ per year.
- Flat rate (per project): the project manager is paid on the completion of the project, regardless of hours spent.
- Commission: companies may choose to share commission fees after the successful completion of projects. For projects under $500,000, a 5 % commission fee is common, and it’s 3.5% for projects above this threshold.
- Hourly rates: depending on the experience and complexity of the project, the hourly rates for project managers range between $45 and $60/hour.
Should You Hire an In-House or Freelance Project Manager?
Hiring an in-house project manager does have its benefits, but it’s typically more expensive than freelance PMs. This is why it’s not always feasible for marketing agencies to hire an in-house project manager, especially during the earlier stages of the business.
With that being said, another viable and potentially more affordable option is to outsource to a freelance project manager or an agency.
To understand these options better, below we will discuss the pros and cons of both:
Pros and cons of in-house project management
- More freedom and versatility in implementation
- Easier time to run and manage internal projects
- More hands-on approach, more streamlined communications, and collaboration
- Long-term investment, more scalable and easier to control
- Typically more expensive, need to take benefits and insurance, among other fees into account
- More difficult to fire when things go wrong
- Can be negatively influenced by company culture and politics
Pros and cons of freelance project management
- Typically more affordable
- Flexibility regarding time, can work from anywhere
- Easier to hire and fire if things don’t go as planned
- Won’t be influenced by company politics
- More challenges in communications and collaborations
- More difficult to run and manage internal projects
- Lacking in scalability and long-term investment
Hiring The Perfect Project Manager for Your Agency: Step-by-Step Guide
In hiring a project manager for your marketing agency, there are two crucial challenges to tackle:
- Knowing your requirements for ideal project management according to your agency’s unique needs
- Being able to attract top talents that can fill your criteria
Even after you’ve found your ideal candidate, what can you do to attract this candidate? How can you make your offer more attractive? The step-by-step guide below can help you increase your chances of finding an ideal project manager for your needs:
Step 1: Evaluate your situation
It’s very important to first assess your agency’s situation and needs. If you don’t really know what your current situation is, or if you are not objective/biased, then it’s virtually impossible to find and attract an ideal project manager.
If, for example, you need to establish a strategic framework for handling projects, then you’ll need a project manager capable of doing so. Also, it’s important to get a project manager with the right level of expertise/experience according to your team’s current capabilities. Mismatches in these factors can instead make the introduction of a project manager counterproductive.
Here are some key questions to ask before you start evaluating project manager candidates:
- What are the exact problems regarding project handling/management that need solving?
- How experienced is your team? Do they have experience being under project managers in their previous jobs?
- Will the project manager need to interact with and manage multiple teams?
- Will the project manager need to face clients?
- Have you adopted any project management solutions/tools for marketing agencies?
- Do you need a jack-of-all-trades project manager or one with a specific skill set?
- What level of experience will you need from the project manager?
By answering these questions, you can establish clear requirements for the project manager role, which can help you in the next step.
Step 2: Develop and post a clear job description
Once you’ve established your requirements for this project manager role, create a written job description.
Be as detailed as possible, and include as much information as you can in the job description. If you’d require certification or formal education, mention it in the job description. You may also want to communicate the payment expectation for this role in the job description to filter out candidates and help you save more time.
Be honest and transparent. Value your time as a recruiter and the time of the potential candidates.
Step 3: Screening
You can either screen potential candidates via phone, or you can leverage virtual interviews (i.e., video interview) software solutions to assist you in this step.
Use the screening process to assess candidates’ social and communication skills, as well as other important requirements. You can ask preliminary questions during the screening process, like about their project management style and how they’ll tackle challenges.
The idea of this step is to filter out candidates so you only invite the high-quality candidates to interview.
Step 4: Interview
Invite candidates who’ve passed the screening process for in-person or virtual interviews, according to your needs and preferences.
Again, communicate general payment expectations in the job description as early as possible in the hiring process so you don’t waste time (and the candidate’s time.) Design your interview questions so you can evaluate the candidate’s management process, and if possible, ask for a demonstration of their project management process.
Actionable Steps for Securing High-Quality Candidates
- Know your requirement priorities
Above, we’ve discussed how you should evaluate your agency’s current situation and identify your objective requirements for the project management role.
However, finding the perfect candidate that fits your requirements to the tee is difficult, if not impossible, and you’ll need to make compromises.
Prioritize your requirements and divide them into three groups, for example, “must-haves”, “nice to haves” and “redundant.” The must-have skills should be non-negotiable, while you can compromise on the other two groups.
Here are some examples of “must-haves” most marketing agencies have in their requirements:
- Teamwork and team-oriented
- Good communication skills
- Leadership skills (natural leaders preferred.)
- Discipline time management
Carefully list your must-haves and use this list when evaluating your candidates.
- Know and give them what they want
Again, identifying the right candidate and convincing them to join you can be entirely different beasts.
It’s important to identify your top candidates’ expectations in a new company: higher compensation, more career path opportunities, and so on. If you can identify what they want and give it to them, you can increase their chances of joining you.
In short, know what your candidates want, and effectively communicate to them (i.e., via job ads) that you can give them what they seek.
- Publish optimal job ads
When posting a job ad for the project manager role in your marketing agency, make sure to:
- Focus on the project manager role, not on your company’s story
- Effectively communicate the job requirements so you can filter out candidates
- Explain the roles and responsibilities in detail
Also, make sure to provide clear instructions on how candidates can send their applications. If necessary, provide templates so these candidates can use them. This way, all the interviews would come in your preferred format.
Make sure to publish the job ad in channels and platforms where the relevant, high-quality talents gather.
Chances are, your marketing agency can already benefit from the expertise and experience of a project manager.
Marketing agencies are all about fulfilling clients’ expectations and ensuring projects are finished according to client’s requirements, within the deadline, and within budget, and this is where a project manager can help.
Investing in the right project manager can help your marketing agency solve problems, satisfy clients, and create more opportunities for your marketing agency to grow.