A Director of Production Primer

In our last paper, “The Consultant Business Manager,” we made the argument that a role that is pure overhead, without any direct responsibility for client service or revenue generation, can still deliver a huge ROI for the agency even while not a member of the agency’s full-time staff. In this paper, we will be highlighting another role that some consider to be an “overhead role” and a “nice-to-have” while others have decided that it is critical to the success of their career and their agency, but which can only be done by a fulltime staff person: the role of Director of Production.


The Director of Production (“DOP) in a live event agency is probably the most important role for the agency’s success. In my experience, it is the center of the universe in the agency. It is where everything flows into and out from. Have an RFP? Talk to the DOP. Need a project staffed? Ask the DOP. Need a problem solved? Seek the DOP. They are the guide, the fixer, the peace-keeper and the problem-solver. They play an absolutely critical role in this crazy world of highly changeable, totally custom, live event work, made all the more difficult due to completely immovable deadlines.


And yet, many of the agencies that Tonic works with do not have a Director of Production. They have senior project folks who are responsible for running their projects, managing their project teams, and who are totally focused on getting their work done. Then they have senior leadership doing everything else: sales, marketing, employee management, resourcing, project pricing and budget supervision as well as running the entire business.  With some of our clients, senior leadership is also providing creative direction and client relationship lead support.




So, you know what happens. Project managers are left to their own devices most of the time until there is a fire drill…which likely happens often, which means all those other needs are not attended to. It’s a vicious cycle.


Now, in full disclosure, I was a DOP for a significant part of my career, so perhaps I’m a bit jaded here, but that experience also gives me a really good perspective on the job. The fact is, when I first became Director of Production there were only 7 employees on staff in the office I was working in – which is quite a bit smaller than a number of Tonic’s clients.  7 people. And yet the managing director at the time insisted on having a DOP on her team. Why? Because she knew it would allow her to do her job more successfully and help the agency as a whole be more successful. Ten years later, we were 125 employees.


It is clear from my experience that the role of DOP liberates and elevates owners and other senior leaders so that they can do their jobs with better focus and follow through. It enables sales folks to be more successful because they have a resource whose job it is to support their production needs – not run the entire agency. It allows production folks to have a coach, counselor and mentor which ensures project success and job satisfaction. And it gives leadership someone who can answer their questions, inform their business decisions with a “front-line” point of view, and ensure the agency is delivering on its promise.


And perhaps most importantly, in our experience, the position quickly pays for itself. When one person is tasked with ensuring top quality deliverables, maximizing project margins, optimizing time tracking and fee recovery, and ensuring all costs, including changes, are covered by the client whenever appropriate, the results are increased sales, increased efficiency, and increased profits.


Not bad, huh?


So, what is the role of DOP? It is at the center of the organizational chart. The DOP is the first point of contact from the bottom up and the top down. They know everything that is being delivered to clients but are directly responsible for delivering very little of it (they can, and probably should, still have some direct delivery responsibilities as it can help them know first-hand which processes are helping and which are hindering – but these need to be limited in scope and time demands so that they are available for emergencies). They have client relationships but at an executive level, and yet they can also be found on show site helping in any way needed. They know who is doing what, and where to find others that can help.


The skills needed to be a successful Director of Production are somewhat unique and often challenging for many individuals to fill. This is due to the fact that the project management experience required for the job does not necessarily equate to the leadership skills and attitude needed for the role. So, there is no “training ground” that covers all of the needs of the role. In fact, over the years I have tried to hire DOPs who did not have a project management background in the hope that they have the other skills needed in the role, but those experiments were generally not successful.


Accordingly, first and foremost, the DOP is a master of the discipline of project management. They understand intimately all of the processes, best practices, and tools that the agency utilizes. They can use them, teach them, and adjust them. Additionally, from their production experience, they are good at client management strategies, pricing and analyzing budgets. They are process-driven, and yet, they also understand that many processes go out the window when the sh*t is hitting the fan.


Which brings me to the second necessary skill: flexibility. I have seen DOPs crash and burn because they mandate certain procedures or tools no matter what. Our world of live events is never that black and white. The creativity and technological possibilities create a completely dynamic environment in which we are constantly pushed to “figure it out.” The DOP has to be able to lead people down a path that ensures success, good communication, and financial discipline, while also allowing for a quick right or left turn. And they have to do all this with a smile on their face.


That smile leads to the third critical element: they have to be a great people person. That does not mean they are always nice, but it does mean that they know how to get the best out of their staff. They understand how to motivate people; they inspire trust and confidence; and, perhaps most importantly, they are able to get staff to take on even more when needed.


If they have these skills: project & client management expertise, flexibility, and the ability to manage and motivate people, they will most likely be successful in the job.


So, think about your organization and how you do your job. Think about whether you could be more successful as a leader if you were elevated out of the production fire drills. Think about whether your staff would be more successful with someone whose primary role is to coach, manage and support them. Think about whether your agency would be more successful if there was someone dedicated to deliverable excellence and margin maximization.


Tonic can help you think through all this based upon our deep first-hand experience. We can also help you analyze your finances so that you can make an informed decision around the investment (more about this in our next paper). We can then help guide in the hiring, on-boarding, and training process – which we have found to be incredibly important in the success of this role within the agency and the person who is assuming the role.



Want to hear more or chat about the benefits of a Director of Production, let us know. We are Tonic Consulting Group (www.TonicConsultingGroup.com).

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