SoDA Learning Academy: Big Thoughts from a Small Agency

Earlier this week the Society of Digital Agencies held their annual Learning Academy – this year at the Museum of the Moving Image in Long Island City. The two-day conference is built with the idea in mind that as senior staff at agencies we hold one of two roles: Maker or Manager. For some of us, we’re both. As Head Producer at Kworq I am one of those people falling into the “both” category. The SoDA Conference is unique in that they give us a choice on which track we’d like to follow. There are options from Account Management to Agency Leadership to Finance and Talent Acquisition – then we’re broken into small classes throughout the day to cover various topics through hands on workshops.

Most of the workshops involved some soul-searching and discussions on where our strengths and weaknesses lie as individuals and companies. Because we’re a small agency, we all wear a number of hats. It would have been beneficial for me to go to any one of the tracks SoDA was offering,  but I settled on Project Management. As Producer a good chunk of my role involves seeing to the management of all client projects. That doesn’t mean that I just make sure things get done – I make sure I’m scoping and scheduling projects correctly, managing client expectations, delivering a product that clients are happy with, and making my company a profit.

Once not so long ago we were a production company working with the big agencies. Now we are a client-facing creative agency that continues to produce all projects in-house. Our workflow and structure has changed – as have our priorities and goals. I attended SoDA’s Learning Academy so I could learn how to identify inefficiencies and fix them, create processes our staff can get behind, and learn from other intelligent people in my industry.

Below are five of the biggest takeaways from my favorite workshop on Project Management with Wesley ter Haar from MediaMonks:

  1. It’s SCOPING & ESTIMATING & MANAGING not SCOPING -> ESTIMATING -> MANAGING. As a producer or project manager, the three things need to be thought of in tandem. If you don’t understand what you need to deliver (scope) you’re going to be bad at resourcing the time and talent (estimate) and that’s going to make it really hard to deliver (manage.) Apparently, the consensus is that as an industry we’re pretty bad at this stuff. That should change.
  2. The “triple bid mechanic” has led us to be an industry that creates budgets and estimates to sell competitively instead of saying “This is what you need to buy in order to be successful.” If you have the lowest price you’re desperate. If you have the highest price you’re a rip off. But if you happen to hit the number right in that middle you must be the perfect agency! We all do similar things, but we are not all the same. We need to figure out how to translate the value of our work to the people who are buying it.
  3. You don’t necessarily have a happy client if you deliver your project on scope. Managing expectations is half of the battle. Relationships and transparency are key.
  4. Digital projects are prone to both human error and human excellence. We should be happy it’s difficult to automate our jobs because it means the robots aren’t taking them away from us…yet. Producing/Project Managing is an art – deny it or not. There will always be a mountain of tools for us to use but none will ever do the whole job.
  5. There is no silver bullet tool or process. As a small creative agency we’re still figuring this out. What works for many probably won’t work for us. What works for us others might call complete chaos.

And one more: stop worrying and embrace the chaos. Lean in to change. Get uncomfortable. Be stressed (but not too stressed.) This creative industry we’re in is messy – but that’s why we’re in it. Do what you can to create processes and structure – and then accept that perfection is an illusion.

 

Written by Producer, Robin Baudreau.

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