Every project manager strives for a more efficient process. And Caroline Garrett, Content Producer at Engine Group, is no different. But she seems to have it figured out. Her secret weapon? Ditching the “specialist mentality” and seeking versatility. Having a degree in digital video production followed by years in the field for both live action and post-production companies, she was thrown into the world of project management fully equipped with an understanding of the creative process from the other side.
Check out how she says it’s helped paved the way for her success in project management and what else she vows every PM needs to know.
How Did Your Experiences in Production Help You in Project Management?
Caroline first got involved in public access production in her hometown in Massachusetts working at a local level for a content studio, which allowed people to take classes and use their equipment for free. At the same time, they were working for hire, doing live auctions, filming soccer games, graduations, and more. “We were touching so many different types of media – and I really got my chops here. We were a small company, so I had to wear a lot of hats; being thrown into the deep end and being able to speak confidently on post production, as well as knowing the technical operations side of a live shoot, and getting exposure to creative development – it was really helpful.
“As scary and unnerving as it can be – for anyone looking to get into the field – if you have a speciality, that’s great, but you really have to be versatile. Having that skill set allows you to toggle between different workflows and really connect with creatives on a different level. Exposing yourself to a lot of different types of media outlets and touch points in the production process will allow you to have both creative and technical conversations which are essential to anyone in our field right now.”
How Do You Make Your Production Process More Efficient?
At Engine Group, Caroline works in somewhat of a hybrid role, specifically in the agency and content sector. And while her primary role is in head of production and meeting production, she does work on the project management for a few clients that have video-specific content, due to her background. But in either role, the responsibilities go very much hand-in-hand; like being very organized and building out processes different disciplines can easily digest. Which she says means being able to create a living document that you can give to a client, to a creative team, AND to a media partner, where all the information is relevant, and visible, and makes sense to every side.
“As a project manager, it’s so important to have those types of templates and processes in place because it just creates efficiency. We’re here to work with our teams – whether creative or client-facing – to build a process that is efficient and is successful for everyone.”
And having that experience in post-production is so beneficial; not just for her, but for all PMs, Caroline says. “This shared knowledge base of post-production is becoming more and more accessible to everything from banner ads development to social posting; being able to be versatile in post-production language and terminology is so helpful for PMs now.”
What Skills Do You Feel that Someone Needs to Excel in Your Role?
For Caroline, having the “organized mind” necessary for project management – which creatives often don’t and account managers often try to avoid – made her the default for the role. But it was certainly different than what she was used to. “The first time I saw an ADG (Asset Delivery Guide), I think I had a heart attack. I have to version 100 banners, are you kidding me? I was so used to being on the creative, output side; from a tracking and managing standpoint, it was so new compared to what I was used to. Having one variable with so many different deliverables.”
So she turned to other PMs she knew for help, specifically ones who became these producer and project manager hybrids that a lot of agencies and companies are now pursuing due to the rapidly changing landscape. “The way people are producing content, brands want to invest their dollars in shooting a bunch of stuff and then figure out the deliverables. They want to take one creative campaign and stretch it as far as they can. So going into those shoots knowing that I need this footage to work in 100 different places was what I had to adjust to. Having that support of these PMs, but also taking whatever post-production skills I had was very helpful.
“And I continue to work on it today. When a client comes to me with something they already shot and ask how we do we turn this into a parallax for Instagram, 4 different banner ads, etc. It’s invaluable having the producer mindset to know the legalities, usage, and rights, and knowing the outputs and specs for those channels, as well as having a project management brain to take a lot of completely customized assets and distribute them quickly. This efficiency is huge.”
How Do You Manage a Client, Media Partner, and Creative All in One Conversation?
It’s the question Caroline feels is the biggest challenge all PMs face. And yet again, it comes back to being versatile. “None of these people speak the same language, so you really need to be that fluid line of communication between all entities. It’s translating an argument to creatives – like instead of where is this going to live, let’s think about how is it going to live? And then having the same conversation with the media partners – we have one asset, how can we make it work in different ways?
“And in addition to being this core hub that answers those questions and is that support system, but it’s also knowing that for each of those entities, you’re willing to fight for the right thing and how to make it work. You need to be this line of communication, but also a filter that catches things that need to be changed or fought for is so important.”
How Do You Promote Wellness and Create a Positive Environment for Your Team?
“I tell a lot of jokes.” While Caroline admits she may not be that funny, she can certainly read a room. “We hold status meetings every day and client meetings each week and I like to bring an energy and stimulus into the room. I consider myself that thing that can light a cherry bomb that wakes everyone up. It can be such a monotonous process, and there are a hundred roadblocks on every production, and not getting bogged down on that is huge.”
Part of that spark is also empowering her team to always feel heard. “Sometimes they’re right; sometimes they’re wrong, but people like to feel valued. Treating them like individuals and listening to what they have to say is a really big thing.”
And last, but certainly not least, “I feed people.” Chocolates, candies, coffee. “I used to bring Rollos and little Dove chocolates everywhere when I first started in order to make friends, and now it’s become a thing. It’s funny; it’s something so simple, but it’s had such a crazy effect. I order coffee right when I get to a shoot. I carry a producer pack with bandaids, gum, bobby pins, and everything you could possibly need. We’re all human; we all get stressed, and adding that bit of humility to it all is so important. I’m not the one coming up with the creative ideas, but I am the one empowering those who are. Taking my team’s best interests to heart is important in any job.”
What Will the Future of Production Look Like?
We’re getting a good glimpse of it now. With Millennials redefining the way media is consumed, it’s completely rewritten the production process. “The younger population doesn’t care about being told, they want to be part of the narrative.” Which is shifting media into experiences.
“I see people who have been in the ad agency for a long time struggling with this because they don’t know how to speak the language of younger audiences. They’re used to these ad unit-based creative pieces, where now we’re seeing Tik Tok and Twitch. These are people digesting creative and reinventing it for themselves. So now for advertising, it’s more about what experience can I build that’s true to my brand and value structure that also penetrates an audience who is willing to take it and continue the pieces of the narrative.
“This translates into more experiential production companies – there will still be banner ads, print ads, and TV commercials – but finding stunts and then capturing content and translating that into a commercial is how you’ll penetrate that younger audience more effectively.
“And how that distills down to media units is really going to be video content more in the documentary space. People like to be served bit-sized things, so snippets and shorts are more effective than long-form stories. I think that will penetrate an audience more, being part of a conversation and an activation or experience. I think Media has a real challenge with how do you still make that while working in the confines and structure of how media and advertising has been produced throughout time.”