Not long ago, I attended a Second Wind seminar in Chicago, IL. The seminar was geared toward account service people and the question was posed, “Do you think the role of Traffic Manager is disappearing?”

It took every fiber of my being, as a former Traffic Manager and die-hard proponent of the role, not to run screaming from the room like the apocalypse was upon us. The mere thought of Traffic Managers no longer being necessary sends chills down my spine and the OCD-D-D portion of my personality into a full-blown panic attack.

Deep breath.

OK, let’s talk seriously about the possibility for a moment.

Over the past two to three years, I’ve witnessed a gradual shift away from having a designated Traffic Manager (TM) toward having Account Executives (AE) serve as their own project managers. This requires the manager to shepherd his/her own work through the various agency departments. What I’ve also seen is that, while this works well for some agencies (<10-12 employee), it doesn’t work well for others (12+).

The primary responsibility of an AE is to maintain daily contact between the agency (or other creative service firm) and its clients. S(he) works to establish project objectives and obtain background information through said contact. The AE has major input in the development of strategic marketing plans and is responsible for their execution. S(he) also attempts to gain new business from existing clients.

Internally, an AE interfaces with various departments, on a daily basis, to move projects forward — creative, media, PR, interactive, et. al. For a complete list of recommended AE responsibilities, click here.

The primary responsibility of a TM is to improve agency communication and ensure job consistency by carefully monitoring workflow. S(he) is also responsible for aiding upper management in evaluating its ability to absorb additional business from creative, production and account service standpoints.

Other responsibilities of an effective TM include:

• Opening Job Numbers

• Opening and distributing (paper) job jackets (if applicable)

• Counseling the Creative Director (CD) in job assignment

• Establishing (and revising) project timelines

• Expediting the inevitable “crisis” job

• Monitoring stalled jobs and moving them forward

• Providing continuity in times of employee vacation, termination, etc.

• Obtaining spec, closing and delivery details when not otherwise provided

• Obtaining sequential sign-offs on all work moving in and out of the agency

• Routing materials to the appropriate person for shipment to Vendor(s)

• Maintaining an electronic archive of all jobs

If an AE is fulfilling his/her account service duties to their fullest, how can s(he) also fulfill the role of “traffic?” It’s impossible to do two jobs equally as well; one always suffers.

I have to ask:

How can an AE counsel the CD regarding job assignment without an understanding of what every other AE has in the work pipeline?

How can an AE establish realistic due dates if s(he) has no “big picture” of every job in circulation (a report in the agency’s project management system isn’t enough… what about verbal and e-mail communication taking place outside the system)?

What keeps every AE from declaring “my job’s hotter!”? Who determines what’s really hot and what’s not?

Does an AE who yells the loudest get his/her work done first?

Is an AE responsible for physically walking each piece of his/her project creative through the agency for sequential sign-off?

Wouldn’t an AE’s time be better spent on the phone with a client or pitching new business?

Perhaps George Fuller said it best, “In a world where account people and creatives hug and selflessly embrace the interests of others over their own, we won’t need Traffic Managers.”

The role of a separate “empowered facilitator” — a Traffic Manager — is critical to the success of an agency. What are your thoughts?