When it comes to managing creative work, there is often a lot of confusion about what different job titles actually mean. Many creative teams also wonder whether they need any or all of those job positions to manage their work effectively.
Perhaps two of the top job positions that cause such confusion are Traffic Managers and Project Managers. Many in-house creative teams wonder:
- What is the difference between a Traffic Manager and a Project Manager?
- Does a creative team need both a Traffic Manager and a Project Manager?
Let’s start by taking a quick overview of the roles:
Traffic Manager vs. Project Manager
- Traffic Managers manage the workflow for the entire creative department and touch every project at key points in the project lifecycle, like intake.
- Project Managers manage individual projects for their entire lifecycle.
- Traffic Managers have a bird’s eye view of the workload for the entire department, so they can route work to keep the department’s workload balanced.
- Project Managers usually have client-relations responsibilities that include managing expectations, limiting scope creep, and keeping clients and stakeholders happy by producing high-quality work on time and under budget.
- Traffic Managers are focused on the “behind the scenes” creative work, like managing the creative workflow platform, pulling reports, and administering project components.
A Closer Look
Now that we understand what both Traffic Managers and Project Managers do at a high level, let’s take a deeper look at how each role contributes to the creative team.
Project Managers are all about an individual project’s ROI. They live in their projects and are familiar with every detail, and their primary goal is producing high-impact work. Sometimes their compensation may even have a performance component. When it comes time to send proofs for review, project managers are the first on the route. When the client wants to add “just one thing” to the project, the project manager makes sure they know how that change will impact the budget and timeline.
Traffic Managers, on the other hand, are all about team efficiency. They keep the whole team running smoothly by managing team resources and stepping in at key points in the project lifecycle to complete important administrative tasks. For example, at the beginning of a project they make sure all the necessary information has been submitted by the client, and then assign the appropriate resources and people to the project based on project needs and resource availability. During the project they may be in charge of collating status reports for all active projects to maintain transparency across the team. When projects are complete, they close out the work, make sure files are stored appropriately, and that all final administrative tasks for the project are done.
Do you need a Traffic Manager or a Project Manager?
So, do you need a Traffic Manager or a Project Manager, or both? The ideal answer is both – as you can see each has a unique role that is important for the success of creative work. However, for many smaller in-house creative teams, two new positions may not be a reasonable ask. So if you can only hire one new person, which do you pick? Here are some things to consider:
What are your team’s biggest challenges?
If your team is struggling with overall capacity challenges and just trying to keep up with demand from clients, then a Traffic Manager is going to make a bigger impact for your team. However, if your having trouble managing clients or hitting project deadlines, a Project Manager can make a real difference.
Could another team hire a Project Manager?
Depending on how an organization is structured, the Project Manager might not even be on the creative team (and thus coming out of the creative budget). It’s not uncommon for a cross-functional project that needs creative work, but also needs inputs from other departments, will be managed by someone not on the creative team.
Additionally, Project Managers tend to be more senior positions, and the best project managers usually have several years, or even a decade plus, of experience. This showcases just how important good project management is, and how much value Project Managers can add, but that can be a big hire for a small or even mid-size in-house creative team. If project managers can be cross-functional and sit under another department, it probably makes more sense for the creative team to focus on hiring dedicated resources.
Can you make the Traffic Manager role bigger?
Traditionally, the Traffic Manager position is thought of as a fairly entry-level position. It’s mostly administrative, and with modern creative workflow management software, it’s easier than ever. On the one hand, an entry-level hire might be more accessible, but on the other hand you don’t want to find yourself with high turnover as your Traffic Managers mature out of their role. You can combat this by combining or transforming your Traffic Manager position into a Creative Operations role.
Creative Operations covers a lot of the same areas that Traffic does but is a more advanced position as it is all about setting up systems and processes that make the creative team more efficient. This can cover everything from building intake forms, managing the creative workflow system of record, and reporting on creative operational KPIs. Again, larger teams will benefit from breaking out roles as much as possible, but for smaller teams looking to get the biggest bang for their buck, hybrid roles offer a better ROI.
Traffic Managers and Project Managers each offer unique value to creative teams, and both contribute substantially to improving creative operations. Another way to streamline creative operations is with a compete, end-to-end creative workflow management solution like inMotion ingite.
Elise Hauser is a product and content marketer with a passion for telling brand stories. She has produced inMotionNow’s annual In-House Creative Management Report for 3 years, webinars, content sessions for major industry events reaching audiences of 1,000+, and of course, countless blog posts. When Elise isn’t writing about the marketing and creative industry at inMotionNow she is teaching economics and hanging out with her cat, Tucker, at her home in Raleigh, NC.