Ad agencies have to deal with a lot of moving pieces.
You have graphic artists and designers working side-by-side with writers and analytics experts. If you’re at a smaller agency, you might switch between some of these hats yourself.
Either way, keeping all the players in motion and working toward your goals while tending to deadlines and client expectations requires careful planning.
Project management is an essential skill for any business, but ad agencies often make mistakes along the way. Here are five tips for keeping your projects running smoothly and avoiding the most common pitfalls.
1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It almost goes without saying, but clear and open communication is at the heart of any successful project.
“All projects require constant communication to their stakeholders,” say William Dow and Bruce Taylor, authors of Project Management Communications Bible. “Project managers who fail to communicate effectively negatively affect their projects; and in some cases this can lead to failure.”
Every member on the team needs to know:
- What’s expected
- When elements are due
- How their contributions fit into the big picture
You should be transparent about the goals and process as much as possible.
You might also establish a routine status report system to keep track of what various team members are working on and what stage every piece of the project is at.
2. Know When to Offer Freedom
Some things aren’t negotiable:
- Projects must be completed by the deadline.
- Certain milestones must be reached in order.
- Specific deliverables need to be made to fit a client’s expectations.
Outside of these requirements, however, you should offer some freedom to your team members to tackle challenges in whatever way they’re most comfortable with.
Allowing for individualized approaches opens up creativity and invites unique perspectives.
Whenever possible, encourage collaboration and brainstorming to help facilitate the sharing of ideas and experience among team members or across departments.
When members of your team can get a glimpse at the big picture, they will be more invested in the final outcome. When they are allowed to approach problems in their own ways, the solutions will be more effective and likely more innovative.
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3. Learn to Embrace Failure
Failure is something that’s rarely talked about in project management circles, which is a shame because that sets up false expectations.
The truth? Everyone is bound to fail at something.
You will inevitably have some plans that fall through and ideas that don’t pan out. What matters is what you do next.
Jack Ferraro, author of The Strategic Project Leader, stresses that the best project managers “do not fear failure, but rather learn from failure and rebound with even more confidence.”
The ability to learn from failures and apply that knowledge to future endeavors is what sets successful agencies apart from those that can’t cut it in the real world.
So, remember these things:
- Put all of the analytics data you collect to good use.
- Identify problem areas and come up with ways to fix them next time.
- Be open and honest with your team when things go wrong.
- Learn how to stop problems before they get bad next time.
4. Don’t Neglect the “Why”
When you’re establishing a project’s parameters, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. For best results, though, you need to look beyond the surface and explore what’s underneath.
Start with an in-depth discovery process with your clients. Work with them not only to learn what they’re looking for but also what their ultimate business goals are and what is driving those goals.
When you understand why a business approaches problems and opportunities the way it does, you’ll have a more intimate understanding of the brand and have better odds of producing what the client is looking for the first time.
Carry this “why” principle through to every aspect of the project itself. Be sure that team members understand why things must be done in a specific way—when they have the full picture, they can make judgment calls and smarter decisions that will lead to better results.
5. Invest in Project Management Software That Matches Your Needs
Good software won’t replace a good project manager, but it sure makes your job easier.
The key role of project management software is keeping things organized and providing a central hub for communication and workflow. It’s a tool that is only as effective as you allow it to be, which is why picking the right program is important.
If the program is too complex, includes too many unnecessary features, or otherwise just doesn’t mesh with your style, you won’t use it. Take time to review its capabilities and, if possible, take it for a spin.
A lot of the problems that ad agencies face with workflow and project management can be solved with careful thought and consideration. Simply taking the time to approach your problems systematically and focus on the essentials, such as solid communication, can make all the difference between success and frustration.
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