Your Agency's Dark Horse: How Project Managers Can Unlock Account-Level Insights

By: Craig Higdon

The best digital products and services are the result of a client-agency relationship that’s based on trust and a deep understanding of your client’s strategies, needs, and capabilities. But to create the most value for a client takes the effort of experts from nearly a half-dozen disciplines.

Coordinating those efforts is a job in and of itself. Actually, sometime’s it’s two jobs:

  • Owning the long-term vision of success for a client generally falls on account managers.
  • Ensuring day-to-day project progress and tactical success is the purview of project managers.

While this isn’t an uncommon operational structure for an agency, Citizen has a slightly different approach. We know that successful account-level client engagement requires an authentic, solution-oriented approach. Which is why our PMs are our secret weapon.

Our PMs adapt the traditional PM position from being an important support role to an invaluable resource. No one knows the day-to-day realities of a project, client stakeholders, or their company better than a PM does.

PMs are regularly up to their elbows in what clients need from a successful partnership. On a daily basis, they respond to challenges like:

  • Technical bottlenecks that cause delays
  • Client staffing issues that spread teams too thin
  • Personality quirks and personal stressors
  • Strategy shifts that require rework
  • Budget issues that constrain opportunities

Good PMs take these types of hiccups in stride. They quickly smooth over rough spots by reallocating resources, guiding reprioritization exercises, adjusting schedules, or sending deftly written emails.

But a savvy PM sees every challenge as an insight and asks the bigger question: “Is there an opportunity for my company to help?”

By viewing these challenges through a longer-term account lens, PMs can help your account managers, and your agency, be a better partner to your client.

For example, when faced with technical bottlenecks, try bringing in your tech staff for a short consultation that could generate some productive advice. This provides an opportunity for improved problem identification, initial discovery, and the fresh perspective of an outsider.

Project staffing issues and personal stressors sometimes arise from a misalignment of business strategy and product definition. So explore the source of the stresses by workshopping alternatives to shift product priorities and bring them back into alignment with the business goals and strategy.

Budgets are tight all over, but agencies are in the perfect position to recommend strategic partners. Suggest bringing in a valuable contact from a different part of the client’s company who might be able to help fund the project. Or try introducing clients from a different company that has complementary goals. This can create a strategic partnership that advance everyone’s goals.

Each of these solutions is only possible because of one thing: a deep, reality-based knowledge of your clients. When it’s time to strategize about how to better serve your clients, recognize that organizing and elevating invaluable PM knowledge is an amazing opportunity to build long-term relationships based on trust and client success.

Illustrations by Citizen visual designer Hana Hiratsuka.