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Agency Personality Types on the Job

WRITTEN by: Crystal Olig |
categories: Business Growth

Feb 2014


My coworkers will hopefully not kill me for this post. But after more than five years in agency environments, I (hope I) can safely generalize about what works and what doesn’t when working with my colleagues. Everyone is an individual, but I’ll guarantee you’ll find more extroverted Account Managers and more introverted Developers.

Why do you care? Well if you work with any of these roles or a whole agency of folks, understanding the people behind the work goes a long way towards creating open and collaborative communication flow that leads to the best campaign or output. We’re all just people at heart.

Developers are (surprise) very technically oriented. They think input and output, black and white, 1s and 0s. Seeing the gray area of marketing, when so much of development is the right way or not, is hard for them.

Top Tips for Working with Developers

  • Show don’t tell. Have you ever thought of how “over” and “under” can be interpreted on the 3D web? It could be vertically above or below as you scroll a page, or layers literally over or under each other. Taking screen shots, doing sketches or mockups, or even a short video of the piece of development you’d like to fix, will shave hours of back and forth off a dialog.
  • Focus on the problem to be solved, not the how. Common scenario, “Move the widget up and over, the graphic here and the banner here.” Instead, something like, “I’m afraid the call to action is not prominent enough. What could we do to help that?” Often specific directions can backfire, because that very clear set of directions, when followed, can cause a ripple effect of other issues. Let your developer be a consultant and a problem solver.
  • Plan for the unexpected. Building something on the web is like building a house. I asked in a recent seminar I gave, how many of the participants had led a website project. Nearly all hands went up. Then I asked, how many of those projects had been easy and launched on time? All hands down. Much like a physical building, there are layers upon layers of complexities, different specialists (your roofers, your plumber… I mean, your front-end dev, your UI team), and inputs required, and it’s a feat to get them all coordinated together. If you can plan for the unexpected, you will ensure you come out the hero.
  • Understand the difference between a little thing and a big thing. One of the key things I try to teach our project management team isn’t everything they’d need to know to be a developer, but how to understand context and scale. What can be small in print design (moving a column from the left to the right of the page) can be huge in web design and development. Most service organization work based on billable hours. If you don’t know if it is big or little, a great question to ask, is “How long would something like that take?”
  • Seek understanding of the result. Sometimes as marketers, we give ourselves a pass on the nerdy stuff. I’ve done it too, but I’ve learned that doesn’t lead to the best result. Technology is scary – heck, most marketers I know shy away from most science and math if we can help it – but today’s world is digital. We need to lead developers but to do that, we have to understand what we want and how we communicate. Developers love to talk about what they did and why. Let them.
  • Allow innovation. I’ll say this for every role we talk about today. By allowing autonomy with a purpose – clear direction and expectations – you can often get to something better together.

The Designer

Every designer I have ever met is an artist. His or her favorite medium isn’t always even digital – the art director at the magazine I worked at was a talented muralist who painted landscapes of ancient Greece in restaurants, and desert vistas in homes in Arizona.

Top Tips for Working with Designers

  • Remember it’s their art. When you talk to designers, realize they poured a little of their souls into what they designed for you.
  • Work hard to enunciate your vision or likes/dislikes. Even artists need inspiration, and they want to understand your point of view.  But if you just say, “I’ll know it when I see it,” they don’t have much to start from, and it usually takes longer to get you what you need.
  •  Phrase to memorize: “Could you show me another option?” If you’re displeased with a certain aspect of a design, it’s easier to get designers to continue their creative process, instead of shutting down one component entirely.
  • Respect the creative brief. Most creative types will go through an exercise with you where they ask all the critical questions about your market, tastes, branding, etc. This is crucial to get right and understand how this will play a part in the design. If you start out with a site meant for older adults, and later decide your target market is children of older adults, it can drastically change what a designer will do for you. Help them from going in circles by having a clear brief at the outset.
  • Be able to be convinced. Listening openly to why something was designed a certain way, versus simply reacting to what you see, is another great exercise. Most intelligent designers are great at explaining what a specific piece accomplishes.
  • Allow innovation. Bringing very specific directives is sometimes necessary, but when it isn’t, bring problems to solve. There may be something percolating that will be more and better than you’d dreamed – if you give a designer the room to innovate.

The Account or Project Manager

Talk about multitasking. Most AMs or PMs I know successfully juggle competing priorities from multiple clients every day, along with a robust calendar of meetings, status reports, high-level strategy and client firedrills. They live and die by their schedules – respect that and you’ll get everywhere.

Top Tips for Working with AMs/PMs

  • Be thoughtful and concise. If you are constantly changing your mind and directions, you’ll drive your team nuts – and we just want to do what’s best for you! Being thoughtful in your directions, whether that means gathering your thoughts before meetings, soliciting internal stakeholder feedback in advance, or asking for help to get those thoughts in order, will save everyone time and money.
  • No e-mail diarrhea. This may just be a personal pet peeve, but I hate one-word or one-line emails. Most agency managers deal with multiple clients on a daily basis and will love you forever if you can send one email a day with that day’s needs, feedback and next steps. The more organized you can be, the more efficient we can be with your projects.
  • Drive your vision. Your vision is so crucial to our success. We can make recommendations based on our knowledge of your market and vertical, but every company is in a unique place and your in-house team will always be full of subject matter experts. We need your opinions and directions  to keep us on track.
  • Be respectful and consistent with time. We know you’re busy, we get it. Being on time for our meetings, prepared for them and not cancelling at the last minute if you can help it, will give you more street cred with your AM than about anything else.
  • Be able to see the gray. So often, AMs are representing the hard work of everyone on their team. If you can listen to how a problem may have occurred or how a designer interpreted your need, you might be able to help the AM share back to their team what went wrong and ensure it doesn’t happen again. But if all you say is a black/white, “I love it” or “I hate it,” no one can learn.
  • Allow innovation. Maybe the AM is advocating for a design or development team. We hate to have to say no to our teams, but we understand if we do. Maybe the PM is challenging how you thought about executing a project, but they’ve done six projects like yours this year. Letting loose the reins a little can have splendid results.

In closing, we’re all just people. And we try to understand you, the client, too. We listen – what pressures you’re under, what competing needs your organization has that you have to piece through for us, whose boss is the hardest to impress. Even how many kids you have or what your hobbies are is fair game. We want to know who you are as a person, to help us do our best work for you.

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