Project Manager or Producer? How to Distinguish Roles and Value Creation in Event Production
Tom Stimson
October 14, 2022
A project manager, producer, and three other team members gather at a desk, looking down at plans for a live event.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when my clients were suddenly taking on streaming events instead of in-person events, they discovered that project managers assigned to these jobs were deeply involved for five and six weeks leading up to the event.

In the past, project managers only had minor pre-production involvement with typical live event jobs. But owners quickly came to realize that there’s a lot of work involved with the content production needed for streaming events.

The confusing part is that producers traditionally take care of delivering content, and project managers manage the internal processes of delivery.

This sparked a two-and-a-half-year conversation about roles and titles. Today, I’m getting very specific questions about the difference between producers and project managers, as well as questions about all the other roles and titles floating around out there and how they differ.

The Four Stakeholders in a Live Event

There are four stakeholders we need to look at in live events: the audience, the buyer, the technicians, and the administrators. The chart in the next section organizes these live event stakeholders according to the highest level of value.

Audience. In a live event, the AUDIENCE experience is the highest level of value. What does the audience see? Then, who is most responsible for what the audience consumes in terms of content and experiences in terms of design?

Buyer. The next level is the BUYER, because the buyer is the audience’s representative. The buyer is the person who engages your company with the goal of delivering the experience they want their audience to have.

At this point in the chart, we’d have a diagonal line running through the middle. Think of it as a curtain. The audience doesn’t see behind the curtain. The buyer sees back there a little, but they don’t live behind the curtain. You do.

Tech. The TECHNICAL CREW operates mostly behind the curtain, carrying out delivery. They have to know the technical elements needed for the project and where to get that information.

The technical crew might interact with the buyer, but ultimately, it’s the audience who sees what they do, or, more importantly, doesn’t see what they do — if they’re doing their job well.

Admin. Finally, there’s ADMIN — billing hours, paying workers, and accounting for charges and inventory. It’s the business of getting business done, and it’s almost completely behind the curtain.

The difference between a producer and a project manager is who controls what each of the four stakeholders sees (figuratively and literally). Who manages the funnel of information to each stakeholder?

Responsibilities Divided

It’s important to note that producers and project managers have a lot in common. They both serve all the stakeholders. The question is, what proportion of their output does each of the stakeholders see?

Infographic: ISL - 10/17

Producers spend more of their time influencing what the top of the chart sees, and project managers spend more time managing what the bottom of the chart sees.

  • The AUDIENCE and the BUYER are going to get the lion’s share of their information and output from the producer. The buyer will, however, get a portion from the project manager.
  • TECH is going to get more from the project manager side, but they’re going to get a fair amount from the producer as well.
  • ADMIN is going to get most of their information from the project manager side, and a little from the producer.

How to Use the Differences to Sell Production Services

We learned a big lesson during the pandemic: While many of our project managers were thrown into producer roles, not all of them were good at it.

Almost without exception, two separate people with two distinct skill sets should fill these roles. And you can sell both to clients.

Instead of merely extending the time availability of your project manager, sell the producer role. List the producer as a separate person in your package, a person who works all the way through to the final output. That way, the project manager can get involved in managing inputs — what they’re good at — at the appropriate times.

During your sales conversations, pull out a list of all the things that need to be done to create a successful event.

Begin with higher-level value items like theme, look, agenda, message, tone, and accountability. These are the outputs. Sell those first. If the client doesn’t have someone managing those already, it’s a golden opportunity to sell a producer.

Then detail the rest of the package — the inputs on the project manager’s side. These are probably why the customer approached you in the first place: logistics, tech, timeline, planning responsibilities, solutions, and controls.

Laying out the very distinct responsibilities of each role like this will help clients understand that they need both a project manager and a producer to be successful.

You have all the bases covered, and you have them packaged in a way that gets everybody on the same page.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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