Never mind the agency-client challenges — the great agency wars can happen within studio walls between the creatives, the project managers and the techies. This is nothing new, and I assume the same heated debates are as prevalent now as they were in the first digital agencies of the ’90s.
Agencies are full of the world’s most passionate people. I truly believe this. The money isn’t always fantastic, and the hours tend to be long and stressful, but people are driven to create the best solutions because of the inner passion they have about what they do. Iris, a top global agency, defined itself as having “frustrated ambition.” I first thought it was motivational nonsense, but I soon understood and agreed. Agencies are always striving to do more, be better and be the best.
What happens when you have a studio full of passionate and ambitious people all looking to achieve the best solution? The best agencies find ways to channel all viewpoints to create a mind-blowing final solution that encompasses everyone’s expertise. The worst agencies are not too dissimilar from a school playground, with creatives throwing their toys out the pram, project managers stamping their feet and the techies calling everyone else idiots. The result is a mismatch of ideas, an incoherent message and something that no department is happy to put its name on.
The biggest challenge of it all is that we’re not only talking about social differences between agency teams — we’re talking about fundamental differences in biological makeup. We have the left-brain techies, the right-brain creatives and the project managers that flip between the two sides trying to bring them together. For PMs, it’s a bit like having argumentative parents: you can see both sides of an argument and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but because you are trying to satisfy both sides, you end up satisfying no one.
So how do you get all of these talented parties to work together effectively without stifling the raw talent that makes them so brilliant as individuals?
You can probably tell from the tone of a peacekeeper that I have a background in project management, but in the spirit of diplomacy, the collection of ideas below is a combination of left-brain and right-brain thinking.
Don’t Rely on Google to Prove a Point
With the vast amount of information at our fingertips, we can always find an article, a comment or a research document that proves our point and disproves an opposing opinion. One of the biggest letdowns of the Internet is that your challenger (the person disagreeing with your opinion) can do his own search on Google to find articles that support his argument and disproves yours.
The fact is we see what we want to see on the Internet, and we search for what we want to find. To fight your point effectively, you should research for and against your argument.
You will have a more balanced view, and your team members will be more receptive if you understand where they are coming from.
Creatives and Techies Working Together From the Outset of a Project
This may sound like an obvious one, but it is surprising how many agencies don’t understand this fundamental truth in project management: get everyone involved at the beginning, and the project will run smoother as a result.
Even if the project doesn’t touch the tech department for weeks, if the techies are part of the team from the outset and understand the objectives, they can add to the discussion constructively. Designers fear that techies can stifle creativity. Far from it — they can push creativity in new directions.
Communicate Scope, But Keep Discussions of Budget and Time Scales to a Minimum
A project has been sold; everyone is pumped and raring to go. A PM can quickly suck the enthusiasm dry by letting everyone know how little the budget is or how ridiculously little time there is to work on the project. No one needs to dwell on this – the focus should be about getting the best work delivered within the time and budget that the project allows.
Concentrate on the must-haves: how the project will be deemed a success and what is expected. Everyone wants to do the best work and push boundaries, but if all parties know the scope from the outset, they can keep their ideas within budget and timing.
Encourage Knowledge-Sharing Sessions
People are much more receptive if they understand what makes another person tick. Through many long days of working together, a team develops an appreciation for other team members, but the process is slow with many bumps along the road. One of the best tactics for speeding this up is to hold agency knowledge-sharing sessions and encourage team members to give talks on hot topics within their own departments.
It gets people up from their desks and mixing with other departments. It allows them to forget about client work for an hour and, best of all, everyone learns. The speaker gets to shine, and everyone else will be blown away at the complexity and intricacy of her work. Let’s face it: everyone always thinks his role is the hardest!
We get paid to do what we enjoy. It’s tough going sometimes, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are working in one of the most dynamic, creative, entrepreneurial and exciting industries on the planet.
A good creative agency is one that delivers more than the sum of its parts. This can only be achieved by working together effectively as a team while keeping both your staff and customers happy. Allow individuality to thrive, but always maintain control. Add process and structure so that it feels warm and cozy, not smothering, and above all, have fun!
At the end of the day, without these simple and seemingly obvious elements in place, the quality of your product, staff morale, customer satisfaction and your brand reputation will inevitably suffer.
Originally published May 29, 2013 1:00:00 AM, updated December 03 2014