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What makes a good studio manager?

Have you ever noticed that all agencies describe themselves as ‘fun, dynamic and fast-paced’ in job placement ads? While some of these agencies may actually be fun and dynamic, as a Studio Manager you’ll be expected to lead the ‘fast-paced’ bit. Studio Management, which includes aspects of Production and Traffic Management, is not the most glamorous position within an agency. You probably won’t be going on free overseas trips, or getting tickets to client functions, but you will be expected to ‘grease the wheels’ of the agency, meet deadlines with the highest standard of work possible and ultimately build a profitable, creative machine.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first – you are a highly organised individual who has impeccable attention to detail and excellent communication skills. If you’re not, save yourself some time now and click over to some funny cat videos. You are also a ‘people person’, which brings me to the point of this article. Although there are a number of production management, planning and job tracking tools that are essential to your role (jobbag, Briefcase et al), I would like to explore some of the more personal, cognitive and intuitive aspects of studio management – things you may not necessarily come across in a job description.

Follow these simple steps below and you’ll never have to use phrases like ‘help me help you’ and ‘work smarter, not harder’ – after all, you’re a Studio Manager, not an H.R. consultant.

1. Horses for courses.
Put simply, you want to marry the right people to the right job, however, there are other considerations when deciding how to allocate work. Get to know the talent in your studio. You don’t have to take them out for a romantic dinner, followed by a movie, but you do want to find out what interests them – what are their strengths and weaknesses – what are they good at – what ambitions do they have. If they are realising their potential, you’re more likely to have a motivated, efficient and productive team, all of which are ingredients to a winning agency.

2. Know the tools.
Whether you’re a hands-on Studio Manager or not, you’ll need to know the tools. This doesn’t mean you have to be proficient with every piece of software out there, but you’ll need to know enough to set realistic deadlines and meet budgets. This can be challenging as most Studio Managers work within print and digital environments, and we all know the break-neck speed at which technology changes. If you’re unsure, ask the specialists in your team before committing to deadlines. Keep finding new ways to do things efficiently, accurately and profitably – being ‘prepared to learn more’ is part of your job description!

3. Get the brief right.
Without sounding too dramatic, the future of the world depends on getting the brief right. As a Studio Manager, you most likely won’t be creating the brief, but you will be working with it until the job’s completion, so if it doesn’t look right, take the initiative and challenge it. You can always fold it into a paper plane and fling it back over to where it came from, but I’ve found that a more productive way of dealing with it is to work with the account service team until it’s right.

4. Be prepared to work with anyone.
A typical agency will require the coordination of a number of specialised areas – a delicate tapestry of professionals that may include Account Managers, Art Directors, Copywriters, Graphic Designers, Web Developers, Photographers, Illustrators, Finished Artists – both permanent and freelance, all with their own talents, quirks and egos. As a Studio Manager, you will require an intimate understanding of each of these roles and how they are woven together. A demeanour of composure will allow you to keep your head, when others lose theirs.

5. Can you ‘handle the proof’?
Larger agencies may have the benefit of a proof checker (you can normally spot them – they have a red pen tucked behind their ear and appear a little cross-eyed). In most smaller agencies, this often tedious task can often fall onto your shoulders. So check everything, then check again – if you send a business card out with a typo, how will the client trust you with bigger projects?

6. Spread the love.
It’s pretty obvious, the longer someone works on a particular client, the more they understand and contribute to the development of the brand – they get faster, smarter and more efficient. This can also bring you unstuck, after all, things happen – people take days off, they get sick, and although your agency is the best in the world, staff will move on. Try to spread a client’s intellectual property across the studio, that way things don’t fall in a heap when your go-to designer decides to find themselves, while trekking through the Andes.

7. Make regular check-ins. (I don’t mean at the local cafe!)
So you’ve briefed the creatives, you’ve established the deadlines, time to kick back and catch up on ‘Game of Thrones’ – right? wrong! To ensure jobs are running on schedule, you’ll need to make regular ‘check-ins’. Don’t overdo it (see point 8), use it as an opportunity to check that the brief is being answered, budgets are being met and everybody’s pulling in the right direction.

8. Know when to back off.
Don’t creep and hover behind the studio staff, hand in pocket while slurping on your coffee. Remember, it’s a creative agency and creatives need space and time to develop ideas. If you must use all that energy somewhere, use it to inspire, encourage and motivate.

So there it is, your survival guide to dealing with some of the trickier aspects of agency life. Apply these and who knows, your studio may even produce award-winning work – and guess who won’t get an invitation to the function?

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