Has the Traffic Manager Role Hit a Dead End?
The creative services industry is in a constant state of flux. In-house agencies are constantly looking for “magic bullets” when it comes to effective and efficient project management, tracking productivity and improving customer service. All of us in the creative business have heard the title “Traffic Manager,” however, some external and in-house agencies have opted to eliminate this role altogether. Here are two reasons why:
- Ongoing budget cuts —Having a Traffic Manager is sometimes a luxury that an in-house organization can no longer afford because it is often unfortunately viewed as an administrative function.
- Technology—As marketing and creative services organizations adopt and implement sophisticated project management and collaboration software tools (such as MarcomCentral, Function Point and Workamajig), they are often seen as a replacement for the traffic function.
- It would require exceptional communication and close attention to schedules and priorities among all employees. For example, multiple AMs couldn’t request work at the same time from the same resource.
- Daily production meetings can be used to establish priorities and may eliminate this type of workflow bottleneck. This, however, would require that all staff members be in-house or accessible simultaneously if some members work remotely.
- Potential for every job becoming a priority.
- A breakdown in communication among employees causes huge problems.
- Inevitable conflict when there is more than one AM vying for the same resources.
- The creative team is left to decide how to prioritize the work put forward by the AMs, which is an obvious drain on the creatives and distracts them from doing what they do best.
- The personal touch, experience and knowledge about individual creatives (their talents and temperaments) are lost without a live TM involved.
- Getting a project in the queue
- Creating estimates, timelines and tasks
- Routing work for internal and client approval
- Ensuring work is completed on schedule and on budget
- Tracking client changes
- Keeping full control over your data.
- “…on a small project it saves money by having less members.”
- “…very challenging for a small organization to fund a dedicated Traffic Person Role.”
- “…it comes down to how the organization operates. Traffic can be shared among the team. However, rarely a long term option.”
- “…after 14 years, we have our first ‘traffic’ person.”
- “…it certainly can be done, as evidenced by many successful agencies and design firms having gotten by without a traffic/project management equation—but it's usually painful and morale and turnover end up being unnaturally high because every project is a tiny little nightmare…Anyone who has worked with a fabulous traffic person knows the positive difference they can make, and would be loath to ever work without one by their side.”
- “…it's expressly stated that "no traffic person is there" and Account Manager and Creative team share the responsibility for that role, then perhaps it is acceptable. But is it effective? No.”
Traditional Job Description
The primary function of a Traffic Manager (TM) is to work as a go-between that connects Account Managers (AM) to other departments within the agency that produce the products the AM has sold.
TMs coordinate and ensure the on time and orderly flow of all projects from job initiation to product completion.
The New Trend
A new trend shows an increase in the number of external and in-house agencies eliminating the TM function and allowing their AMs to serve as their own traffic managers. The AMs are allowed to open their own jobs in the agency’s project management system, assign tasks to employees, track their respective jobs, route materials accordingly and oversee the jobs for their clients.
How would work get done without a dedicated TM?
What are some of the potential pitfalls of this new trend?
When conflicts arise due to lack of a TM, the in-house department leader will be forced to step in and play referee; this of course keeps the leader involved in the daily operations of the organization and away from his/her role in employee development, strategic planning and monitoring the organization’s bottom line. Likewise, when AMs assume the traffic function, they cannot dedicate 100% of their time to generating and bringing in additional or new business.
Can an on-line project tracking and collaboration tool replace the Traffic function?
Managing the day-to-day workflow effectively is an important factor of any in-house department for a variety of reasons. One advantage to a workflow management system is improved efficiency within the department. By automating the workflow processes within your department and establishing procedures that are consistently followed, unnecessary steps are eliminated and every member of your team is fully aware of his or her responsibilities.
If your department does not have a Traffic person, make sure the automated system you choose has been designed to include this role. Simply put, these are some of the key features of an automated system:
What Others Say
I recently posted the following question on The Business of Creative - For Creative Agency Management LinkedIn group. “Can an agency operate effectively without a Traffic person? What are the pros and cons?”
This group has approximately 600 members. Following are some of the comments I received.
In summary, there are many equally valid pros and cons to consider when you consider the TM function. Your personal decision will be based on a careful evaluation of them all in the context of your organization’s needs, resources and preferred manner of working.
Cella Consultant Ceil Wloczewski is a communications veteran in the IT services industry. Managing annual budgets averaging $12+ million and local and virtual teams of 100+ for two Fortune 150 companies. Ceil’s primary focus is marketing collateral, branding, Web/interactive and proposal support. Since 1990, Ceil has actively contributed to companies’ growth and success. She transformed an in-house communications department into an award-winning, industry-lauded in-house agency and key strategic partner in sales and new business development, customer retention, staff recruitment and training. Most recently, her focus is helping public and privately owned companies with their re-branding, brand re-fresh and brand integration initiatives. In addition, she is advising companies on the inclusion of marketing and branding in the RFP life cycle from pre-RFP marketing through post-award communications.