Multiple roles: Can agency employees do more than one job at a time?


Can agency employees manage multiple roles at once? Sometimes…

As your agency grows, you and your employees tend to become more and more specialized.

For example, a designer might stop managing a project in addition to their design work. Instead of managing accounts and client strategy, you will only manage one of these areas.

All the agency role falls into one of the six categories– and your choices have an impact on the structure of the team, profitability, etc.

Finally, you could choose to delegate the daily work entirely, so you can focus on working “ON” the business. But in the meantime, you and your team may have to compromise.

What is “normal” for agencies? I have identified six combinations to consider… and a specific order when you “give up” your extra tasks. What do I recommend? Read on!

Can agency employees fill more than one role at a time?

In a small agency, employees will often fill 1 to 3 roles at a time. It is common practice, but it is not always a good idea. Here are some common “wear multiple hats” combos that I see in agencies:

  • AM + Strategist: Here, the day-to-day customer contact (AM) also creates the customer’s long-term strategy (Strategist). Clients like to have ongoing access to their strategist, but it can make the strategy less interesting because you know them so much.
  • AM + PME: Here, the customer contact also does the execution work. This is the norm in PR agencies, where the MA also performs SME work such as media relations, copywriting and issuing press releases. I also see this in many PPC agencies, where the person running the campaigns is also the direct contact with the client. Clients love access, but agencies tend to compromise: an AM-oriented person may not be a large SME, or an SME may not like it customers keep interrupting their “Maker” time.
  • AM + PM: Here, the daily customer contact (AM) also coordinates everything with the internal team (PM). This is efficient because there is less “translation waste” between client requests and internal task assignments. But it’s not always effective– Since employees tend to want to satisfy customers (AM) or to perform compliant work (PM), they tend to be good in one role and bad in the other. I highly recommend splitting this role as soon as possible, to avoid creating profitability and / or customer retention issues.
  • MP + Assistance: Here someone does the internal coordination (PM) and operations (Support). This tends to be a good match, as PMs and operations people tend to have the same “detail-oriented” profile. I did this as an agency operations manager, where I reduced my client work and increased my internal operations work. The risk is when the client’s work leads to neglect of the internal work, or vice versa.
  • AM + BizDev: It is normal for MAs to focus on upselling with existing customers. But in this combination, MAs also make sales for new business. The biggest risk is that employees ignore current customers in favor of sales opportunities, or vice versa. Pay close attention to the alignment of incentives if you choose this combo.
  • AM + PM + Strategist: I held this position as director of customer services in a small agency. Since we didn’t have dedicated strategists, I did strategy… and I was an AM in direct contact with the client… and I did the internal coordination of PM. After hiring a Junior Account Coordinator, I reduced my clients’ workload so that I could focus on helping larger clients (AM) and improving our profitability (Support).

These combinations are often more out of necessity than desire – you know it’s “better” to have specialists, but currently you can’t afford to hire more people.

As you grow older you will increasingly want to “split” roles so that people can specialize, from three to two categories and two to one. It helps people focus on what they do best, which helps you grow your agency.

What about the agency the owners? Where could they (or “should”) focus their time? Read on.

Why is there no “Agency Owner” role category?

There is no “Agency Owner” category in my list of six – because as the owner you get to choose what are you doing. Your ideal role usually combines the work of 1 to 3 role categories. Here are some common combinations for agency owners:

  • AM + PM + PME + Strategist + BizDev + Support: When you created your agency, you did everything. Ideally, this is no longer the case.
  • Strategist + BizDev: I call this ambitious combo the “Don[na] clothier. As Mad Men character Don Draper, you do high-end sales and client strategy, but your team takes care of the day-to-day client details and SME execution.
  • Strategist + AM + PM: You have entrusted the self-marketing and sales to a business partner and you are focusing on the client’s job including strategy as well as AM and PM coordination.
  • AM + Strategist: You are the customer contact and strategist, and your team helps with PMs, SMB invoices, and operations. And someone else is doing the marketing and sales, hopefully competently.
  • Support + BizDev: You’ve offloaded all billable clients, your team is handling AM and PM, and you’re focusing on agency strategy and sales (and potentially self-marketing). This is especially useful if you want a Equity-focused agency—To prepare for a future outing — since you are more and more optional.

Order of priority: how to delegate daily work

Speaking of making yourself ‘optional’ at work, if you want to reduce your day-to-day involvement as an agency owner, consider dropping things in this order:

  1. SME (since you can usually hire or outsource work from SMEs without affecting customer relationships)
  2. PM (even if you are detail-oriented, there are more important things to deal with … and if you’re not detail-oriented, delegate that ASAP as you’re probably not doing a great job at PM)
  3. A M (customers love to come to you with requests, but that won’t change; introduce a backup contact first, then move to them over time)
  4. Strategy (It’s hard to find qualified strategists who are not you; in many agencies the owner continues to be the primary strategist, having first delegated the non-strategic SME work, PM work and labor from AM to other team members)

What about BizDev and Support? It’s up to you; I would certainly delegate the lower-level support work, but you’d probably hang onto some aspect of BizDev (especially thought leadership marketing and the role of ‘closer to sales’). But if you don’t like them operations, marketing and / or sales, you can certainly delegate them sooner.

Question: How do you approach multiple roles and other “combo” jobs in your agency?

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