Oct 12, 2009

Producer, Project Manager... What's in a Name?

Margot Merrill's picture
Margot Merrill
Director, Content & Brand Strategy

Recently the Producer Group at Hot Studio re-examined our label. "We're producers... right?" we asked ourselves in a heated internal meeting.

I fully recognize that no one outside of the design industry would understand why some interactive producers cringe when referred to as (God forbid!) a "project manager," "account manager," "production manager," or any number of unrepeatable terms.

Who cares? Well, we do, mainly because we are so service-driven. We want to be sure that our clients, as well as the designers and technologists we work with, know that we are on their side. Wait! Whose side? Both. That's the point. To get to the root of why we care about these labels, here's an over-simplification of some of the roles for managing interactive accounts:

A project manager creates a schedule and comes up with a budget by multiplying Resources (humans) by the inflexible unit of Time. Perhaps because they're not empowered to do a lot more, project managers dig saying "No."

An account manager understands the client's desires. He or she takes them out for drinks. (If you watch Mad Men, as I do, you understand that account people also smoke lots of cigarettes and have beautiful modern furniture, which must end up on their clients' bills somehow, right?). Account managers say "Yes"—regardless of what's really possible.

A producer acts as both Project Manager and Account Manager. Producers like to say "Maybe"—and then figure out how to make "No" meet "Yes" in the middle.

Hot Studio doesn't have Project Managers or Account Managers. We have a team of super-seasoned, veteran Producers. In partnership with our clients, a Producer's job is to manage all of the business details so our creative teams can concentrate on being creative. A Producer's job also includes making our clients happy. In Hot Studio's style, we do this by being honest, friendly, clear about expectations, and occasionally ordering sushi.

To be responsible for both the project's budget and the client relationship is a balancing act. It's a challenge we want to have, because it empowers us to make strategic choices. There are "maybes" involved (and that's natural given we are continually inventing as we go), but a Producer's job is to quickly uncover and articulate many different options for "yes." "Yes" is in our DNA; we just have to figure out exactly how we'll make it happen with the budget, deadline, and all of the amazing personalities with whom we're working.

There is a beauty in it (a producer's high, if you will) when we deliver something amazing. When our clients smile and virtually slide us a check in return for all of our hard work, everything seems right in the world.

So there we have it; in all internal and external documentation, we shall remain—even more consistently so—"Producers." Let's produce something amazing together!