Are project managers client-facing?

Are project managers client-facing?
Written by: Karl Sakas

A client recently asked me: “Are project managers client-facing? Do they typically liaise with clients, or is that something account managers do, and project managers are about internal communications?”

The answer depends on agency size and account workload (both dollars and number of accounts).

Mostly-Internal PMs at Bigger Agencies

At 20+ people, agencies start making PMs mostly internal (coordinating resources, including managing budgets) and AMs mostly external (assessing and communicating client needs to the PMs, and upselling clients more work).

When agencies add that account management layer, they also need to create a process (creative briefs and other specs) to accurately transfer info between the various roles—clients, AMs, PMs, and subject matter experts (SMEs).

This is especially important when PMs—and SMEs—aren’t speaking directly with clients. If you can’t figure this out, it will be an impediment to your growth.

Frequently-External PMs at Smaller Agencies

When an agency has fewer than about 12 people, a PM is probably doing both internal and external communication—there aren’t enough extra people to handle a specialized workload. When you’re hiring PMs at this point, you need someone who has a PM mindset, yet who also has client service skills.

However, you should keep in mind that a PM can handle more projects and retainers if someone else is handling most day-to-day communications—where the PM is primarily handling budget checks, resource allocation, project plans, and sales support on proposals.

Either way, the Account Manager is the expert at making the client feel special (and at ensuring the agency’s work is on-strategy), while the Project Manager is an expert on getting work done profitably.

Question: Are your agency’s PMs internal, external, or both?

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