There’s a well-known secret in show business: the superheroes of any television production are not the marquee names you might expect—writer, director, actors—but actually a little-known role called "showrunner."
These polymaths are the ones who coalesce all the different talents on a TV set and keep the whole thing, well… running. They’re involved in all the pieces—the planning, writing, wrangling, creative direction—and they have the final say on day-to-day decisions that ultimately shape the end product. You may know them by their more common billing: executive producer.
At RocketAir, we produce exceptional creative that helps our clients Win by Design. And our producers play a critical role in making that happen.
The design process is about coming together to solve a problem—it requires close collaboration within cross-functional teams and with our clients … and that’s what a producer makes possible every day. While many agencies may have project managers who just focus on timelines and scope, our producers are not passthroughs, juggling schedules and playing hot potato with other people’s creative and strategic deliverables; they are actively involved in the process from end to end and serve as project leads. One part account manager, one part traffic controller, one part project manager, and one part diplomat, producers have the hardest job at our agency. And arguably the most important one.
Says Stephanie Curridor, Executive Producer at RocketAir:
Honestly, producers have a really, really hard job. There's a whole mix of different things that you need to have as a person that isn't super straightforward. You have to have some sort of strategic thinking. You have to have problem solving. You have to also understand creativity and the creative process. You also have to have somewhat of an eye to recognize when something looks a little out of place. And then you also have to have interpersonal skills to build longevity with the client because the relationship is worth more than anything.
So, what makes a great producer? It’s hard to describe, exactly, but as Justice Potter said about obscenity, you know it when you see it.
In short, the je ne sais quoi might be "versatility." Producers need a heavy dose of organizational skills with a flourish of interpersonal panache. Curridor lists "spidey sense" as one of the important skills. Not to mention the million secret talents from audio design and integrative nutrition to apparel design and wedding photography (these are actual side talents on our producer team). And no matter how obscure the reaches of their previous resume, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll put all of their talents into play at some point or another because the job is vast. Producers often end up applying their diverse backgrounds and experiences in unexpected ways to advance strategy or creative for clients. These pros are organized, driven, charismatic, and chameleon.
Producers at RocketAir serve as advocates for the client, lobbying for their best interests in internal meetings. They then have to turn around and lobby for the best possible design solutions from the team in client meetings. Problem solving, over communicating, and active listening are critical skills as they whip back and forth being simultaneously wholehearted partners to both our clients and our internal team.
Producers keep projects on track—creating timelines, assigning tasks, and tracking progress toward goals. Curridor says:
In contrast to how other agencies operate, where they have an account manager and a project manager and then they have that strategy person, we expect that our producers have the ability to look at the larger need and the value that is RocketAir as a whole. Producers bring so much to the table that we cut out needing three different people to do one thing, because we have this one person who has the ability to consider the schedule but also to think beyond the schedule and put all the pieces together.
On top of this, producers provide strategic value, zooming out and understanding the end goals, the core business problems, and keeping track of the clients’ personal aversions to things like "photos of piggy banks," or “the word ‘utilities.’ "
RocketAir’s Managing Director, Danielle Solis explains:
Our producers are uniquely suited to see both the forest and the trees. They’ll zoom out for a holistic view of the project and gut-check design decisions against the client’s broader goals. This helps prevent the tunnel vision that can sometimes happen when designers are really close to the work. Then, producers will zoom back in to focus on design operations and execution—helping fuel creative ideas alongside our strategists. A producer is a connector, investigator, explorer, navigator, innovator—all in one critical role.
Beyond owning both the big picture and the minutiae, producers are responsible for corralling and interpreting client feedback and communication and presenting it to the internal teams in a concise and helpful way to be able to move projects forward. Producers help each function of the team do their personal best work—sometimes that’s providing structure to moor flighty creatives in space-time and sometimes that’s pushing back on beloved ideas in favor of what will best serve the client.
This clearing the playing field is one of the most important aspects of the job. Says Ami Murphy Iannone, Brand Strategy Lead at RocketAir:
As a brand strategist, my producers are like my partners in a buddy cop movie—we’ve got the witty banter, the inside jokes, the occasional disagreement that makes us both better at our jobs, and, of course, we’ve always got each other’s backs. Producers clear the playing field so that I can focus only on what I love to do and what I do best.
At RocketAir, we have a unique approach we call Orbital Design, in which we iterate, ideate, and pivot as needed to achieve the most important goals for our clients—not just a standard set process. And producers are the arbiters of Orbits. Because they understand both the client’s business goals and the creative team’s strengths, they can use those aforementioned "spidey senses" to identify perfect opportunities. They handle the project planning to solidify how we’ll spend each 2-week Orbit as well as quarterly planning to make sure we’re aligned with clients’ priorities in the long run. They’re the intermediaries who ensure that we don’t just hide away in a black box and come out the other side with some surprise deliverable. They foster transparency and enable close collaboration with clients, making sure we get feedback on work-in-progress along the way.
It’s this transparency that leads to trust and ultimately builds enduring client relationships. Producers are responsible for maintaining that magic element of trust that allows us to take creative risks and produce exceptional results.