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Mark Tungate 2019-04-29

They may not have the starry status of the creative folk you see on juries or on stage at advertising festivals, but without heads of traffic and the managers who work for them, large organizations could easily malfunction. As their title suggests, they ensure the smooth running of the operation.

We discovered that the term “traffic” covers a variety of different roles, depending on the agency or the business. Here we focus on three individuals, two working at agencies in France and Canada and one at a brand – the climate-friendly reusable water bottle brand Dopper – in the Netherlands. 

I am the gatekeeper for all the tasks within our marketing department.

What exactly is the role of Head of Traffic?

Valérie Maman, Head of Traffic, BETC Paris: Every agency is different, but at BETC it’s to organise, plan and coordinate the work of our creative resources. I organise the work of around 200 creatives. For that I’m helped by 18 traffic managers. They each work with one or two creative directors who have a portfolio of clients. There are about 100 accounts within the agency, so our job is to source the creative talents –internally and sometimes externally – who will work on them. You need to put the right person, on the right brief, at the right time, to make sure budgets and timings are respected. 

I’m not in contact with the clients: my contacts are the creative and account directors. At the beginning of the year the account director has a scope of work – that’s to say, all the projects that are due to be delivered – and I decide with the creative director which teams will work on which projects. But of course additional briefs and demands come along all the time. In a typical week a traffic manager can be overseeing between 300 or 400 projects at various stages.

Trish Bruce, Supervisor, Broadcast Traffic/Talent, Cossette (Canada):It can vary depending on where you work, but at Cossette, traffic managers help take commercials from script to air: securing script clearances, working with producers to manage performer contracts and payments, and providing stations and media agencies with clear instruction and broadcast-ready materials. 

How involved a traffic manager gets in each of these areas can be quite different between agencies. Some traffic departments are more media oriented, so the station trafficking plays the biggest role. In other, more full-service agencies, performer management and clearance may play a more equal part in a traffic manager’s day.

Emy Sloot, Traffic Manager, Dopper (Netherlands):I am the gatekeeper for all the tasks within our marketing department. This varies from internal requests to project-based and external tasks. I am trying to be the in-between person who makes schedule decisions, sets deadlines and leads the process in the right direction with efficiency in mind. 

The best thing about my role is its diversity: I work closely with the project owners to discuss activities and their feasibility, which allows me to also be involved in the message…Furthermore I check in with the creative department on a daily basis to discuss progress.

You need to be pragmatic, with an ability to plan ahead. You need to be resistant to stress, and immune to panic. You need to be diplomatic, yet firm.

What skills and talents are needed? 

Valérie Maman:You need to be pragmatic, with an ability to plan ahead. You need to be resistant to stress, and immune to panic. You need to be diplomatic, yet firm. I often say my traffic managers are wolves in sheep’s clothing. You have to be open to dialogue, and able to deal with different personality types – whether creative or commercial. Our president and chief creative officer, Stéphane Xiberras, often compares the traffic department to an airport control tower. Every day you have to make sure there are no accidents and that everyone lands on the right runway. 

Trish Bruce:Calmness under pressure. You are the last one to handle creative before it goes out the door and deadlines are almost always tight! Organization and attention to detail are also key – a missed date or incorrect commercial code can lead to very expensive mistakes. People in this role should have a solution-oriented mind and a love of problem solving. You are constantly working with restrictions, logistical challenges and regulations. 

Emy Sloot:The main skills needed are organizational, communicational and analytical skills. These skills make it possible to look critically at time estimates, achieve deadlines, keep the flows going and evaluate work-efficiency. 

What was your career path to the job?

Valérie Maman:I was on the accounts before, initially at RSCG, then at a smaller agency specialising in luxury brands…When I was hired as a traffic manager at BETC, my experience on the accounts side was useful, because I understood their point of view. I’ve been here 17 years.

Trish Bruce:I’ve worked both on the agency and TV station side of the business and this has given me a big picture outlook that has been very helpful. 

Emy Sloot:After my studies in 2017 I was looking to work for a young company with a societal focus. By chance I ran into a Dopper employee who I already knew and before I knew it I was hired as a Service Coordinator. In this period of time I came to realize how fascinated I am by organizational processes and the way companies react to fast growth. One of the ways to respond to this new reality was to create a Traffic Manager role.

Traffic managers become much more like project managers, following a project from start to finish. They’re integral members of the team.

How has the role evolved over the last few years?

Valérie Maman:There’s a much bigger workload for the creatives, because of course we no longer just work in film or print, but 360 degrees across all platforms, including digital. Paradoxically, although there’s much more work, the creatives are given less time. There’s a lot of pressure on them to deliver quickly. As for the traffic managers, they’ve become much more like project managers, following a project from start to finish. They’re integral members of the team.

Trish Bruce:The biggest change has been the evolving diversity of media. The way we contract and pay performers is constantly changing to keep up with ever-increasing digital marketing options. Another big recent change is how broadcasters and regulatory boards are moving forward with new products, like cannabis in Canada.

What is your background before starting this job? Did you study advertising/marketing?

Valérie Maman:I passed a literary baccalauréat (diploma), then studied advertising because it appealed to me, without really knowing what I wanted to do in the industry. I did some work placements, then I bumped into a neighbour, purely by chance, who worked at RSCG. I’d just finished my studies, she was hiring, so she took me on. 

Trish Bruce:I think if you polled advertising traffic managers, you’d get a different background story in each case! I have a bachelor’s degree in Communications and started my career as a production assistant at Vickers and Benson Advertising. 

Emy Sloot:I studied Sociology at The University of Amsterdam in 2017. This background gives me an advantage; it adds depth to the story you’d like to share. By managing the traffic flows within the company I create space and time for the creatives to step out of their comfort zone and think outside the box.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to the role?

Valérie Maman:You need to very quickly understand how the agency functions. There can be a lot of systems in a large agency like ours, simply because if we don’t have them in place things can very quickly get out of hand. But the most important thing is to appreciate the creative process. It’s good to have an understanding of production, for example,  because then you can compare a script to the budget, and determine whether the two complement each other.

Trish Bruce:Take every opportunity to learn. Read your performer’s union regulations cover to cover…Spend time with producers. Listen to their stories. It’s important to know your stuff, because when something happens, it happens quickly and people will be looking to you for answers.

Emy Sloot:Invest in getting to know the organization and your team: only then you can organize and estimate processes and deadlines. Look for the knots and create a safe atmosphere in  which you can go in with conversation to untangle them. Experiment with different ways of working to see what works and what does not. But most importantly, enjoy the process!

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