When you ask Julie Andrews, Executive Production Director at R/GA — a #1 innovator on Ad Agency’s A-List — what led her into the world of project management, her answer is simply that she was born this way. Yet, it was never in her original plans.
Instead, the talented producer combines a natural ability to lead with strengths in content production and account management to enhance the creative process, despite having clients all over the world — and a team that’s now based in multiple area codes too.
So, we sat down with Julie to hear about all the skills that paved the way to her success at R/GA, how they’ve helped her overcome today’s challenges in production to embrace a new definition of teamwork.
Tell us about your background and experiences that led you to your role as Executive Production Director at R/GA?
Julie’s journey to production started long before she even realized it — and her siblings can attest to that. “I’m the oldest of three,” Julie explained, “so when I told my brother and sister that I was starting in project management and what that entailed, their reaction was ‘wait, so you don’t actually do the work yourself, you tell other people what to do and when to do it by — ok yeah, you were made for this,’” she laughed.
But in all seriousness, this take-control attitude is what made project management such a natural fit for Julie. “It was serendipitous. I started as an admin at an internet startup, and I basically just started taking over the office in different ways. This was back in the day where software was still on CDs, and so I created a whole check-in, check-out system. The president was like ‘ok, how about instead of that stuff, let’s have you take on this project.’ I took the same organization skills I learned there and this leadership mindset and was on my way.”
What skills do you think have helped you excel as a leader in production?
Aside from her natural prowess to lead, Julie credits her success in production to organization — not only in regard to the process, but to people too. “For me, the biggest thing is getting people to do things together and grow in the same direction. My degree in psychology allowed me to play with this a little bit — like what are group dynamics, and what happens when there are various pressures and timelines; how are people working differently? It kinda became my own little study on how people perform best.
“Especially when you have all the responsibility as a PM and none of the control,” Julie continued. “I can’t just grab the laptop and do all the coding from front-to-back like my developers can. So, it’s humbling as much as it is fun.”
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that production teams are facing today, especially now as a result of the pandemic?
This answer came easy for Julie — and in the form of just one word: motivation. “Right now, there’s this ambient stress in the world between the civil uprising and the pandemic; at first people were using work as a way to escape and the more they do, the more they’re cracking under the continuousness of this stress that we’re all under.”
So then how do you continue to promote wellness and positivity within your teams with these new stresses?
Well, it starts with the simple reminder that we’re all human. “I think the key right now is radical transparency. We’re all seeing each other’s apartments and homes; there’s this deeper level of intimacy right now, and so just letting it be what it is naturally.
“And our motivation is around higher purpose. We just had a meeting across all accounts that talked about the vision, giving people something to strive for and focus on, knowing we are all in it together. It almost felt like everyone sort of lifted a bit. From the discussion, we would get questions about individual challenges team members are facing in regard to longer hours and less bandwidth, and our response was letting them know their leadership team is dedicated to making whatever adjustments or tradeoffs necessary on our end to alleviate this stress. We want to make sure people feel supported and don’t feel additional pressures by giving them the time that they need and creating this sense of team — whether that’s cross functional working teams or department teams. Just making sure people are helping one other and taking care of themselves.”
What types of projects are you most excited to work on, and why?
Julie prefers unfamiliar territory when it comes to new projects. And she jokes that this interest led her to two projects in her career that may have ‘ruined America’ in the process. “For me, doing things that haven’t been done before or are hard to do are what excite me the most. In one of my previous roles, I worked on getting internet on airplanes for the first time, so that basically none of us are able to hide from work while traveling.”
“And then there was another project while I was working in commercial real estate software. I was actually watching the Big Short and was like why do I understand all these terms? I realized the software we were building was accelerating the demise of the US economy,” Julie laughed. “So I was like I really need to be careful when I take on these avant-garde projects!
“But in both cases, it was doing something that pushes the boundaries, which I like. In the case of the software building, it was the first time you could trade documents online through a super secure environment. It was complex and creative, and that’s what really excites me.”
What do you think the future of production will look like and how can we best prepare for it?
While she wishes she had a crystal ball for this one, Julie did offer some great perspective on preparing for whatever the future may hold. “I think if I were going to say something it’s that we really have to focus on human-centered project management. It’s about getting our soft skills up, so that we really understand what it looks like when people are about to crack. It has to be something we constantly pay attention to.
“Overall, I think the people part of the job is more important now and needs to stay more important. We’re no longer just checking in to make sure things get done by a certain date; we really need to extend ourselves to take care of people. I think this is leadership’s responsibility, or anyone managing work, because we are the ones best suited to give them what they need — whether it’s ‘ok, we need to expand the team a little bit’ or ‘oh, we need to negotiate something with the client to make sure it stays within the scope.’ We need to be sure the teams don’t have more pressure that they can stand.”