Tip Sheet: How Strong Management Connects to Creativity

For many PR agency people, management is something you endure—sort of like vegetables at dinner when you were a kid. We want all dessert, all the time. The magic of a high-voltage brainstorming session and the rush of watching all that creative and strategic brilliance become reality and move the world for clients.

Management—whether we are doing it or subjected to it—is something we perceive as completely different. It’s bureaucracy, mindless paperwork and administration, the stodgy PC guy in the old Apple ads, the TPS Reports from Office Space.

It’s the stuff that if we wanted to do we’d be working at a corporation. In short, it’s a giant distraction from what really matters in our work—client service.

Take it from an ex-managing hater: You’re wrong. The fact is that good management has nothing to do with these things. Rather, in an agency setting, it’s part and parcel of the process of delighting clients. In a corporate setting, it’s firmly linked to delighting stakeholders. One can’t happen without the other. The sooner we get right with that, the quicker we can move to the hard and important work of becoming better managers.

I believe that the first steps to doing that, whether we’re running an entire agency, an account team or a corporate team, involves focus on what I call the “three P’s”: perception, process and people.

• Perception: Good managers are made, not born. But the making requires a willingness to be made. Many people are stymied by the burden of their own stereotype about what the M-word means—the kind of things I mentioned above. But think about this: Just about everything we accomplish in our work and life comes from management. We manage our careers, our relationships, our time and our money. And what is creative flash without well-managed follow through? What is strategic brilliance without strong execution?

• Process: Process is nearly always a scary word for communicators. But like cholesterol, there is good and bad process. Good management always involves the former—policies and practices that facilitate client service and marshal the resources employees need to do their work well in a high-powered, high-stressed environment. Process always involves a tricky balance between too much oversight and not enough trust. But an organization can never compromise through burdensome rules and reporting a feeling of individual autonomy.

Let me give you an example how management process can drive a vision. An important practice group at our agency consists of a core group of account people supported by a team of global, independent and in some cases retainer-compensated specialists in research, writing and other important functions.

It’s a bold vision, but one that would be useless unless the practice leader successfully served as the essential conductor, delegating work to just-in-time teams to meet specific client assignments as circumstances require. Here is a case where strong management has given birth to a creative vision that improves work quality, client service and employee quality of life.

• People: Jon Katzenbach, a former McKinsey & Company director and expert on workplace performance, says inspired employees are what distinguish the world’s most admired companies. Maybe not a revolutionary insight, but for those of us who work in PR, it’s always good to be reminded of our most important asset: our people. This much is clear: When we manage in a way that inspires our employees, we are investing in our client success.

How, as managers, do we inspire employees? If the answer were money and titles, it would be easier. But Katzenbach demonstrates that people are motivated by much more than this. Status, for example, is important, but it increases significantly when people are given credible, informal praise for daily tasks rather than waiting for annual results. Pride is also crucial; today’s employees want to feel inspired about where they work—persuaded that the organization is transparent, fair and committed to the larger community where it operates.

Nothing that we admire and pursue in our work—happy clients, supportive colleagues, gratifying work, successful careers, professional recognition, an inspiring workplace and a balanced life—happens by accident. It is the result of goals persistently and creatively pursued. In short, they are the result of good management.


Matt Wolfrom is EVP, technology + energy markets practice at Makovsky + Company. He can be reached at mwolfrom@makovsky.com.