How To Create A Cooperative Relationship Between Account And Project Management

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There is an inherently difficult dynamic that exists between account and project managers.

Account managers represent the voice of the client, while project managers are the voice of the production team.  One wants the logo bigger; the other knows it will take 14 hours of layout re-juggling to do it. This post represents the first in a three-part series where we look at the AM/PM relationship and provide tips on bridging the gap between the two.

Let’s start with the basics.

Nothing is more basic than communication. It is the thread that connects people and allows them to co-create. Like a piece of thread, communication can be strong and hold everything together. On the other hand, it can also be fragile and break under pressure. In most cases, miscommunication or lack of communication is at the root of most conflicts.

Often times, miscommunication is at the root of hilarious family misunderstandings, but when it comes to business, miscommunication or the lack of effective communication can be extremely costly: in dollars, time and client frustration.  Being the keepers of projects and client accounts, it is of the utmost importance that communication between account and project managers is solid.

To help avoid these costly mistakes, we have compiled a list of five guidelines for account managers (AMs) and project managers (PMs) can use to create a cooperative relationship grounded in effective communication.

#1: LISTEN

There is a little anecdote mothers often tell their children, “You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionally.” Not to name names, but many of us ignored the lesson and continued our tirade anyway. Consequently, we missed the point of a valuable lesson: the art of effective listening.

We have all heard about the importance of good listening skills ad nauseam; Yet, most of us go through our workday only half listening. Emailing or texting while in meetings equates to half-listening. Thinking about what to say next instead of fully listening to the person who’s talking equates to half-listening. We could go on.

A great deal of important communication should occur between account and project managers. To avoid unnecessary mishaps, make sure you use your two ears accordingly and take notes.

#2: STATE OBJECTIVES

Meetings, whether formal or casual, often go awry when the objectives have not been clearly defined at the onset of the conversation. Not being direct about what it is you are looking to achieve is like setting out on a journey with no destination. Yes, it may be full of adventure, but expect for it to take twice as long.

If you have all the time in the world, feel free to have haphazard meetings with loose agendas. However, if you work at an agency that cares about their productivity, be clear and assertively state both topics and desired results at the beginning of the meeting. Having printed agendas or including your list of items to cover in meeting invitations also helps to keep your meeting on track.

#3: KEEP THE PM IN THE KNOW

Since account managers are tasked with owning the client relationship, they tend to be the filter through which client communication flows into the agency. If good communication does not exist between the account and project manager, details will be missed causing the project manager to be out of the loop. To avoid this scenario, it is a good idea to discuss communication guidelines at the beginning of the relationship and identify ways to maintain them throughout the life of the account.

Here are a few ways to keep your project manager in the know:

  • Schedule daily check-ins when news from the client is shared. These can be quick 10-minute meetings to cover what’s new, what’s pending and what’s outstanding.
  • Tactical Application: If most of your client calls happen in the morning, schedule your regroup meetings immediately after your morning rush to inform your PM of any important action items. This way the information is fresh in your mind and you have less time to forget or get distracted.
  • Include the project manager in all meetings that are related to the project.  A project manager can only be expected to lead a project if they are aware of what has been discussed from the beginning.
  • Tactical Application: Before a project is kicked off with the team, sit down with your PM and discuss the project to ensure you are on the same page. This will equip your PM with the knowledge to lead the project internally thereby allowing you to focus on growing client relationships.
  • Filter all requests and tasks to internal team members through the project manager. When requests are given to team members below the project manager’s radar, tasks are likely to fall through the cracks and miscommunication will certainly occur. This also reduces the ability of the project manager to lead, mitigate risks and have a good grasp of what is going on.
  • Tactical Application: If the client calls you with the request to change the font color in the comp, do not send the email to your designer directly. Loop your PM in and empower them to handle the situation. The more you handle directly, the less your PM will be able to assist in managing the project.

#4: KEEP THE AM IN THE KNOW

As is the case with project managers, it is important to keep the account manager abreast of the status of a project. If the account manager is not aware of risks or potential issues, they will not be able to effectively communicate these items to the client, manage expectations or assist the PM with finding solutions.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your account manager in the know:

  • Use the daily check-ins as a way to inform the account manager of questions from the team, pending assets or potential risks.  Be open.  If things aren’t going according to plan, let the account manager know.
  • Tactical Application: Prepare a list of items you want to cover with the AM prior to the meeting. This will ensure that any concerns you have are addressed and are not overshadowed by communication from the client.
  • Send email recaps to keep track of what was discussed in meetings with the team or with the account manager. We are all guilty of forgetting things. To guard against this, take good notes and send them to the parties involved. They will thank you for it.
  • Tactical Application: After conducting a development kick-off meeting with your Flash developers, send recap notes listing all action items and who is responsible. Having this list will keep all parties in the loop and aware of who is doing what.
  • When scheduling meetings with the production team, be sure to include the account manager. Considering the fact that they talk to the client multiple times a day, the account manager will probably have valuable information to share with the production team. Such items would include client expectations, creative mandates, legal considerations, etc. Starting a project without this knowledge can quickly lead you down a very unsuccessful path.
  • Tactical Application: AMs should be included in all briefing meetings. During these meetings, creative and development teams tend to ask a ton of questions, most of which your AM will be able to answer based on conversations they’ve had with the client.

#5: BE OPEN & HONEST

At the end of the day, communication will fail miserably if both parties are not open and honest with each other. If there are personal differences between you, have a conversation about it where you discuss ways to resolve the issue and rise above it. The business of the agency requires that you work together to run the account both internally and externally. Don’t let miscommunication get in the way of creating great work. Should a misunderstanding occur, acknowledge it, take responsibility and rectify it so that it does not occur again.

While these tips may seem basic, don’t take them for granted. Incorporating them into your working relationship will guarantee respect from your counterpart (AM/PM), team and client. Check back in the coming weeks for parts 2 and 3 of this series where we will take a closer look at the account and project management disciplines.