Why do Account Manager and Project Manager roles often get confused?

April 16, 2023

The roles of account management and project management often get confused.

The reality is that these roles can and should provide very different functions in a creative agency. They will often be intertwined and work together, but they are distinct, with separate key responsibilities and skills.

In this post, we’ll discuss the difference between the two, as well as their importance within any growing creative agency.

What is an account manager?

An account manager’s job will be to deal with their assigned clients. Depending on the size of the agency and the client’s accounts, they may work with one or, more often, several clients at any one time. 

Their role will often focus on attracting new clients, as well as building good relationships with existing ones. The primary focus is ensuring that clients are satisfied with the service they’re receiving from the agency, and that the rest of the team meets their needs.

Key responsibilities of an account manager:

  • Client relationships. It’s absolutely vital for account managers to put much time and effort into managing relationships with clients. AMs need to ensure that clients are satisfied with the service the agency is providing them, which will greatly help with client retention. An account manager should be in regular contact with the clients they manage, and be on hand to address their concerns and work through issues with them.
  • Business development. Another key area for account managers to be involved in is bringing new business in. They should be able to identify new opportunities for business, and work on strategies to win it. Key parts of their role may include networking, market research, proposal writing, and working with others in the business to source potential new clients.
  • Portfolio management. An account manager should always be ensuring that their portfolio of clients are being properly managed. Thai includes making sure that their needs are being met as well as possible. A big part of this is looking at the performance and outcomes of the work that’s being done for the client, and making recommendations to improve where needed. 

Key skills for an account manager:

  • Communication. This should be the number one key skill for any account manager, in a creative agency or otherwise. A good AM can effectively communicate whenever and wherever they need to. This involves communication with clients, external stakeholders, and other departments in the business to build strong, long-lasting relationships. 
  • Sales. These skills are key for helping to bring in new business and keep existing clients happy.
  • Strategy. Account managers are often responsible with devising new strategies to help the agency grow and ensure clients get the best out of them. They should be able to think on their feet and see opportunities at every turn. 

What is a project manager?

A project manager’s role is typically more focused on the project itself. They are responsible for ensuring that the work is completed on time, on budget, and to the client’s brief and satisfaction.

So, if an account manager works primarily on behalf of the client, a project manager works more on behalf of the agency, ensuring that each project they work on achieves what it needs to do. They will usually see the project through from the beginning all the way through to completion, involving lots of planning and overseeing. 

Key responsibilities of a project manager:

  • Planning. Planning a project in detail is one of the most key areas for a project manager. They should be able to produce a plan that outlines the scope, timings, budget, and resources for each project they work on.
  • Execution of projects. A PM will also be responsible for overseeing the project and ensuring that it is executed on time, on budget, to the client’s satisfaction, and more. They should monitor the project, track key metrics, adjust the plan, and communicate about the project to other stakeholders.
  • Risk management. Project managers are also responsible for identifying and managing risks in each project, both before and during. They will also work to resolve any issues that do arise and develop contingency plans. 

Key skills for a project manager:

  • Organisation. This should be a key skill for any project manager, given they are responsible for planning projects and ensuring they run smoothly. 
  • Problem solving. Project managers are often faced with problems, both minor and complicated, that they need to work to overcome. Quick decision-making is also important here.
  • Leadership. Typically, project managers must take responsibility for the whole project, including overseeing the team. So, they should be skilled in people management, conflict resolution, and motivating a team. 

Why are these roles so important in a creative agency?

As we’ve already discussed, these roles are different but often work together to ensure that the work that’s being done meets the needs of both the client and the agency.

The roles are important in their own right. Account managers are needed to ensure that the agency builds and maintains strong relationships with their clients, existing and new. On the other hand, project managers are important because they ensure that projects are completed to a high standard and are delivered both on time and on budget.

However, the greatest importance of these roles comes when they work together in harmony. By working together, both account managers and project managers can ensure that the needs of both the clients and the agency are met. Clients are kept happy, whilst the agency does not waste time or other resources that are not being paid for. 

This can be a tricky balance to reach for any growing agency. However, if you do not already utilise separate account and project manager roles, now is a good time to start thinking about it. As you grow, it only becomes more vital to build solid client relationships whilst also ensuring projects are completed as they should be.

If you’re a creative agency looking to grow, scale, and reach other goals, I can help. With over 25 years’ experience in creative agency operations, I can provide a bespoke plan of action to help your business thrive. For more information, please click here or get in touch with me here

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