Adland is full of interesting job titles. Lots of ninjas, gurus, rockstars and the like. There are also the more conventional roles: copywriter, designer, account manager. One group makes you wonder what on earth they do, the other tells you clearly. Then there’s the creative producer.
It seems to tell you what it is. A producer, someone who helps make things…but also has that creative edge.
It’s also one of those jobs that people can’t seem to sum up very easily, and there’s a good reason for that. We do a lot. Don’t believe me? Read on.
The difference between a project manager and a producer
I’ve worked at agencies where I’ve been a creative producer, and in others where I’ve been called a project manager, but I’ve basically been doing the same job. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, and experience in one role definitely carries over to the other. But there is a difference, or at least I think so.
Both roles require oversight of a project, both need a thorough understanding of timings, budgets, how to spin a lot of plates, balancing the demands of different departments, the agency, and the client. Where they’re different is how the creative producer may approach the task compared to a project manager.
A producer sits right in the middle of the project, dabbling in all areas, sourcing props, finding contractors, booking flights, running a shoot, handling the client. They need eyes in the back of their heads and fingers in all the pies. Producers love the creative work and seeing a quality product is what really matters to them. That’s not to say we’ll flush cash down the toilet in pursuit of perfection, but the end product is really important to us and it matters that everybody is happy, not just the client and the bottom line.
A project manager may keep some distance from the creative itself, and is often more focussed on the logistics. Project managers operate more as a coordinator, and concentrate on running the project on time and to budget.
It’s classic good cop bad cop for all creative producers.
Generally, if a project is creatively focussed it will benefit from a producer, if it’s a more functional based build or similar then a project manager will probably be a better fit.
As I said, there’s a lot of overlap, but in a nutshell that’s how I see the difference between a project manager and a producer.
What does a creative producer do?
So what do we do exactly? It’s not uncommon for some people to think a creative producer isn’t really worth having on a team. Because it’s a role that has such a broad range of skill and responsibilities, the results of which aren’t always easy to quantify, people can see producers as an unnecessary overhead. A few people also think this about account managers, but in the same way a good account manager will make a client relationship stronger, resulting in a happier client and increasing the likelihood of retention and growth. A good creative producer can turn a project from a messy, clunky journey into a successful project, with a great creative outcome that everyone has enjoyed working on.
You might wonder how we do this. I could list out all the jobs a producer does on a day-to-day basis, but that in itself wouldn’t really explain it. The easiest way to clarify what a producer does is boil it down to its barest fact:
A creative producer runs a project so it is successful for the agency and the client.
We do this by removing complications from the rest of the team so they can focus on doing exactly what they need to do to deliver the absolute best work possible.
Multi-tasking is something everybody has to do from time to time, but we know that it kills the quality of work when you have a million and one things to do. The creative producer steps in to take on all those jobs that need to be done, so others are free to do what they need to do,
A project without a producer
A good way to illustrate what I mean is to look at what I do on a fairly simple (on the surface) project, and see what the effects might be if a producer wasn’t on the job.
I’ll use a photo shoot as an example. We’ll use a simplified team for it, of:
- Creative team (art director and copywriter)
- Account manager
- Finance (for the budgeting, invoicing and all that other necessary stuff)
A photo shoot seems pretty simple right? Some products or people turn up, a photographer sets equipment up, the creative team have the concept ready and away we go. Easy.
Here’s an idea of some of the things a creative producer will do for each team member to allow the shoot will run that smoothly.
The photographer needs to focus on the shoot itself. They need time before the shoot and on the day itself to do things such as planning the overall compositions, lighting, mood, develop a rapport with people on the set, all of these things to allow them to get the best outcome possible. Can they do that if they also have to do all of this:
- Research, recce locations and apply for permits
- Find a studio
- Cast and hire models
- Sort usage
- Arrange travel for everyone involved, this can often be a mix of planes, trains and automobiles
- Source props and products from far and wide and getting them on set
- Arrange catering. Ranging from late night delivery food for the hungry, exhausted creative team pulling an all-nighter to 3 course lunches for a large shoot crew
- Planning wardrobe for models and working with stylists
- Source hair and MUAs
- Handling all communications with suppliers including negotiations on rates and contracts, dates, logistics and travel
- Run the actual shoot on the day
- Manage last minute requests and changes while production is under way with a smile on our faces at all times
- Oversee all post-production between the client, the creative team, and the retouchers
- Push back on the client if they try to steer the shoot away from its agreed approach
The creative team
These guys will have been working on the concept for weeks, ideating, drawing, writing, and generally trying to accomplish the best creative solution to the brief. On the shoot they’ll be on hand to provide creative direction, and after the shoot they will be involved in the post-production and final assets.
But how well would they manage that if they were also bogged down with:
- Sourcing photographers, illustrators, directors etc.
- Quoting up the shoot
- Keeping the client brave and true to the creative vision
- Fighting off requests and interruptions from the client and account team so that they can focus on the creative
- Dealing with direct client comms on areas that aren’t really necessary for the creative
- Maintaining objectivity throughout
The account manager has the thankless task of balancing client expectations with demands from within the agency. Their role is to keep the client so happy that more business comes the agencies way, but that can be tricky if they are also busy:
- Having to set out timings and ensure they are kept to
- Estimating budgets, getting sign-off and ensuring that budgets are followed
- Ensures that all parts of the team are communicating well
- Arranging the PPM it and running it
- Attending the shoot
- Booking taxis to move creative teams from casting session, to the stylists, to the agency etc
This might seem an odd one, after all the finance department initially seem pretty far removed from photo shoots and the like, but it can be hard to keep on top of the books if you’re getting stuck with:
- Researching and negotiating costs for all aspects of the project
- Generating and sending quotes to the client and chasing sign-off
- Raising POs for all expenses
- Signing off invoices
- Submitting invoices
Thus, if there are any agency directors and managers out there and you’re thinking you can save some money and not use a Producer on your next campaign, then please think again. We really do help the project run a lot smoother, on time, in budget (it might even save you money) and everyone will enjoy working on it much more.
So, that’s it really. Agency producers do all the stuff that’s a real backache so the rest of the team can get stuff done. It sounds like a thankless task (and it can be) but it’s one of the most exciting and varied jobs in adland.