The Producer: An Overview

Posted by on Mar 3, 2009 in Producer, Production | Comments Off on The Producer: An Overview

This is the first in a series of posts about interactive producers & interactive production. It reflects my viewpoints after years of doing this work in various agencies, in two cities.

I’ve heard the role of producer described as the most thankless task in an agency. Certainly, there are times when it is. If a project goes well no one really knew you were there and the creative team gets the credit. If the job goes badly, the producer (and also the account team — the most thankless job in an agency if you ask me) takes some major blame. The goal, obviously, is to avoid bad jobs and only deliver good jobs but advertising and marketing being human endeavors, perfection is not always possible.

Good producers go a long way to mitigate the risks inherent in any engagement. The earlier a producer enters the creative process the better they are able to identify the risks and required resources, shape scope and schedule and come to an accurate estimate for execution and delivery of a proposed project. One would think that anybody in an agency, with a certain amount of experience under their belts, could do these things. However, there is a difference between estimates, schedules and staffing plans created by an account person or a creative director and those created by producers. The reason for this is that producers own the work. Account folks own the relationship. Creative directors are brand stewards. The motivations, biases, and pressure affecting each of these players is different and affects their viewpoint on how a job should be executed.

As owner of the work, the producer’s number one job is to tell the truth. This is not to say that account folks and creative directors do not, but the producer, relying on experience, and the maxim to tell the truth can define what he or she thinks should be done, when, by whom and how much it will cost. Once stated, internal negotiations ensue and all parties come to an agreement by which the team, the agency and the client can abide. Once the job is under way, producers (should) roll up their sleeves and get down in the trenches with their teams to ensure successful delivery of the project.

This typically requires in-depth knowledge of every possible project detail, client goals, agency goals, potential risks, and knowledge of team personalities. In the end, this last point is often the most important. The producer is sometimes a task master, though, more often an encouraging friend, a therapist, arbitrator and ombudsman. Working with creatives is a must, and knowing how to do so is very important, but not always apparent. Creatives are driven by different things than others in the business world and they do no react to the same incentives as others. There have been many jobs done in by poor relations between creatives and producers who are not creatively focused.

So what does all of this mean?

In an agency setting:

  • Define the role and responsibilities up front to ensure the best match as you staff the need (there is an incredible discrepancy between agencies of how the role is defined and the expectations around it — if they even exist)
  • Staff the right type of producer for the job. If it’s a creative deliverable, staff a producer versed in the management of creative projects as opposed to software development, or IT implementation (in which case they will more likely be PMs, more on this in a later post)
  • Producers should be brought in as early to assist on a new business pursuit — in this market it’s imperative to define your projects as rigorously as possible, up front, since revenue isn’t flowing like water, and it can get expensive to bring in a producer to fix a job

On the client-side:

  • Ask if your project will have a dedicated producer (or PM, depending on the project type)
  • Find out how your agency defines the role, and what the agency’s expectations are of this person and how they align with your own
  • Ask to meet this person