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emily cohen
(732) 254-5025
jennifer miller
(972) 365-3552
Project vs. Account Management
by Emily Cohen
Many in-house creative teams have very important operational roles with traditional, industry standard titles
such as Project Manager and Account Manager. While both roles perform critical functions in the management
process, their specific responsibilities in that process, from project initiation through close out, are quite different
and require unique skills sets and responsibilities. In order to understand how these roles are different, Ive
developed the following table that compare the account vs. project managers overarching responsibilities at
various levels:
Account Manager Project Manager
Project Type Primarily responsible for those projects at
the highest level (those projects that are
strategically important to the company
and are complex to execute)
Involved with all types of projects
Project Initiation Brings deep brand knowledge,
understands overarching company
objectives, strategies and marketing
plan(s), and the goals/needs of each
business unit and target market/audience
Leads development of creative brief
across cross-functional teams
Conducts project kick-off meeting with
clients and creative team
Processes all project initiation
documentation (e.g. project brief,
work order, rapid request)
Ensures documentation is complete
and distributes to creative team
Facilitates project kick-off meeting
with clients and creative team
Proactive engages with clients regularly
to discuss plans
Advisory, consultative, strategic-level
Builds client relationships *
Generates awareness of in-house team
across organization
Works with clients and creative team to
align business objectives with creative
Responsive responds to clients
needs, both planned and unplanned
Tactical, daily project-level
Staff & Process
Strong advocate on behalf of clients and
staff alike
Mentors staff on client management
Assists in the implementation of
processes, systems, technology,
metrics and SOPs
Ensure a responsive, seamless,
on-time and on-budget process from
start to finish that adheres to
standardized work flow systems and
Manages project status and approval
If no Traffic Manager, develops
project schedules and estimates
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Develops case-studies for representative
projects to demonstrate value and
effectiveness of internal/external
Conducts post-mortems on strategic-level
Conducts post-mortems on select
Issues project summary reports on all
Analyzes data to report on key
project-level metrics
Preferably, trained in meeting facilitation
Consultative, dynamic and engaging
Experienced in:
creative brief development
client management
communicating and building strong
connections with executive leadership
and clients
championing both clients and creative
Preferably, certified in project
Detail-driven, organized and tactical
Experienced in:
estimating, budgeting and
scheduling procedures
staff, client and project
developing and utilizing
workflow/project management
technology, processes and
* Traditionally, within an agency environment, an account manager is also responsible for new business
development. In an in-house environment, this translates to building client relationships and generating
awareness of the in-house team throughout the organization. I often find that account managers within an
agency-environment rarely transition well when hired within an in-house environment, because they dont
have experience navigating all levels of an organization.
At the highest level, the account manager provides strategic, big-picture insight and is relationship-driven while
the project manager performs an equally important but different, more daily, tactical and project-level
management role. Both roles are important and without them a team can greatly suffer.
The challenge many in-house teams have is how to differentiate these roles without blurring the lines. Because
these two positions require different skill sets and experiences, it is often hard to combine them into one
position. Yet, unfortunately, that is often what occurs. In this case, the project and account manager are one and
the same position because the account manager position is considered non-billable or overhead which, in turn,
impacts the teams utilization rate an important metric that drives the teams financial model and organizational
structure. Thus, the Catch 22. A team may need dedicated account mangers, yet they cant afford them. Still
other teams may have project managers but lack dedicated account managers.
Those teams without dedicated account managers often struggle to demonstrate their value and have difficulty
allocating enough time and resources to building productive, consultative relationships with their clients. In such
cases, the creative team is purely reactive and tactical. This impacts the teams capability to provide
value-added strategic advise to clients and this is a service most in-house teams need to provide in order to
compete with external agencies and provide the necessary insight most clients value above all else.
Similarly, other teams dont have enough resources to hire dedicated project or account managers and often rely
on designers to manage clients and projects alike. While this dual role does have some benefits, most designers
dont have the necessary skill sets required and their time really is best suited to creative areas, where their
experience and passion can be best utilized.
The best teams are constructed around the needs of the organization and clients and include dedicated, trained
and skilled account and/or project managers to truly fulfill those needs.
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