Working with clients in the digital sector gets you used to change moving at a fast pace. As consumer habits evolve, as new platforms emerge, as technology shapes and creates trends, job titles and skills have to adapt to the times.
One area where digital and creative agencies seem increasingly unsure is over the role of digital project managers and digital producers. Some think they need one, when after going over project details and aims, the other is more suitable. It can be too easy, when writing job descriptions, to blur the lines between the two roles and hope for the best.
That’s never the answer. Being clear on the title, job description and person specification is the best way to ensure recruiters find the right talent for you.
This post is about understanding the differences between digital producers and digital project managers, to ensure you have the right people on your team to drive success.
The Emergence of Digital Producers
The word “producer” comes from creative industries, particularly the TV and film sector, where producers shepherd projects to completion.
In media terms, a producer “often hires the director, supervises casting, and assembles a crew. Additionally, the producer oversees the budget and then coordinates the post production work—everything from editing to commissioning music, to encouraging the film’s stars to plug the movie on talk shows.”
In the digital sector, this role has emerged and evolved over the last ten years along similar lines, with a widening divergence between those with producer credentials and the more traditional, project manager backgrounds.
Now, this doesn’t mean that project managers are old news. Project managers are often crucial to the workings of digital, creative agencies and numerous kinds of internal projects within larger companies.
However, assuming you need one set of skills when you need the other is a recipe for confusion, mission creep and missed targets.
How to spot the difference: Digital Project Manager v Digital Producer?
1. Financial Control
Project managers assume full financial control of client-facing digital projects. The quote given to the client, with all the relevant line items, is normally the same set of figures they will monitor and police internally and with service providers. Keeping a project on time and budget is, in their mind, critical.
An experienced project manager should rightly be proud of their ability to manage these figures.
Digital producers, on the other hand, don’t always have full budgetary control, depending on the size and scope of the project. This partly depends on the size of the agency, too. Some are recruiting or re-tooling project managers to be producers, whereas others have producers report to project managers.
Digital producers, when they have budgetary control, manage finances differently to most project managers. They are more invested in the end-product and client needs, but because they are “hands on” they are more likely to have a nuts and bolts understanding of the various project areas, so are more flexible at juggling budgets accordingly.
This means, for producers, it’s more about managing people than Excel spreadsheets.
2. Specialists or Generalists
Managing people means digital producers are, more often than not, channel agnostic. They can work, with skill, across a wide range of specialist areas, including taking a deep dive into newly emerging technical areas.
Producers aim to find answers to hard questions, therefore creating value for a client with new technology, platforms or strategic approaches, providing these fit within the brief and project aims.
Project managers, however, are more skilled in specialist areas. Managers will enhance these skills, over a number of years, complete with pursuing additional qualifications and training, which many will proudly display on CV’s, LinkedIn profiles and websites.
We don’t advocate either approach. In this sense, we are skills agnostic, and would never counsel using a project manager vs. a digital producer, except when there’s a clear need for one instead of the other. In writing this, we are hoping you can think clearly about the skills you need for your next digital project.
3. How they adapt to change
Whether you need someone with a high tolerance for change ultimately depends on the project, client and technology involved.
For agencies working with larger, corporate clients, change generally takes pace more slowly. Internal stakeholders and managers need buy-in, long before they outsource to an agency to make change happen, especially where digital transformation or web/mobile projects are concerned.
Project managers, given their preference for strict budgetary control and skills specialism, prefer to manage change more smoothly, slowly, within clearly defined parameters.
Digital producers, as a consequence of their hands on approach and skill-hoping abilities, are more able to break the rules and write a whole new rulebook, when a project needs a change in direction. Producers are often more comfortable with fast-paced change.
4. Measure of success
Naturally, whether you work with a digital producer or project manager, the core measures of success come down to whether internal customers and the client is happy with the digital project.
For digital project managers, the project coming in on time and on budget is a key component of how happy they are with the finished project. That’s mission complete for a skilled project manager.
Digital producers consider themselves the centre of a creative team, empowering and enabling their team to produce brilliant work. Therefore, the quality of the end-deliverable is an essential success benchmark for them.
• Budgetary: On time, on budget are the ways project managers measure success. A strict policing of line items is needed. Digital producers are more flexible but keenly aware of the budgetary significance for clients and service providers.
• Specialists v Generalists: Project managers are often specialists, whereas digital producers are skilled generalists, often quick to adapt.
• Adaptable: Project managers are like field generals, capable managers of the troops, giving marching orders and keeping budgets in line. Change can be managed within that framework. Whereas, digital producers are on the field of battle, so they can and will adapt to change more readily, even throwing out the rulebook when the rules don’t apply to changing circumstances.
• Measure of success: Both want the project to succeed and the client to be happy. For a project manager, happiness depends on the project being on time and budget. For a digital producer, this means them being satisfied with the quality of the final deliverable.
Still unsure whether you need a Digital Producer or Project Manager or want to discuss a role you are recruiting for? Give me a call or email and I will be happy to help. Phone: 020 3116 0000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org