Harrison Tolhurst, studio manager at digital agency Tangent Snowball, gives us his tips and techniques for avoiding conflict between clients and creatives.
People make the party. That is my opinion on an agency. Clients can be awesome, offices, amazing and projects, brilliant; but it is the people – all the individual pieces that make up the jigsaw and, as with all good jigsaws, these pieces need to fit together. That is where the studio manager comes in.
The role of the studio manager is to bridge the gap between client side and creative; it’s all about balance – balance between getting the work done and getting it done in the right way.
The project manager is a tricky beast. Having a determined and headstrong project manager is great, but having a lot of them can be tricky to handle.
It's hard for project managers to remember – when they have a client breathing down their neck, a deadline looming and a website that keeps falling over – that their problems are relative. They will do whatever is in their power to appease their client, meet their deadline and get their site back up (for now). However, who is to say the person sitting opposite them isn’t trying to do the same – and that their needs aren't greater.
Creative and client handling tips
Here are a few simple – but far-from-easy – tips to remember that can make everyone’s life a lot easier in those stressful situations (especially this studio manager).
1) Take it with a pinch of salt
Hands down my favourite characteristic in an account manager or project manager is humility. It makes the whole process much easier when AMs and PMs understand that they are not the only person in the building.
In our WIP request template there is a field to state whether the work is critical or not. So far every piece of work we have done since December 2013 has been marked as critical.
2) Keep it simple, stupid
Make sure to keep processes simple otherwise people will ignore them. The same goes for systems; often people will look for an all-singing, all-dancing resourcing tool when Google calendars can do the job just as well. Don’t make things harder for yourself than they need to be.
3) Be confident and make notes
People try and pull a fast one on a daily basis; again, this is not personal, people are just looking to get their work done. A key trait of a studio manager is confidence that you know what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, unless you have a photographic memory – which I don’t – making and referring to notes is vital. So make sure you have a pen and paper handy, and jot down everything you need to.
4) Level the playing field
In order to run a successful studio, you need to be able to speak to an account executive in the same way as the CEO. There is no point in having a process in place unless everyone follows it and it's the job of the studio manager to ensure that happens – this is no easy feat, but a challenge that must be overcome to keep things ticking over smoothly.
Great satisfaction comes from knowing everyone is on the same page and heading in the same direction. With these few things nailed you can achieve a lot, to a very high standard, and in the most cost-effective way possible. This results in a happy agency, happy clients and, most importantly, a great party.