I have worked in digital agencies for the past 15 years in the client services space and have found a consistent theme throughout every company in this space: there is a constant internal struggle as to the role of account versus project managers, what each one does and how they coexist happily. My titles have included: Project Manager, Account Manager, Director of Client Services, Senior Project Manager, and Client Relationship Manager. And no matter what my title has been, my job has been exactly the same, the only difference has really been how much support I've had from junior staff. It is quickly becoming my belief that project and account mangers are largely one in the same at digital agencies, and that there is not a need to separate the two roles but to hire a team that has the ability to play in both sides (as traditionally defined). Further, every digital agency I have worked at that has tried to separate the two have done so unsuccessfully and ended up removing one role from the organization.
What I hear as people try to define these roles is that the role of the account manager is the "higher level, strategic thinking" while the project manager "is in the weeds." But I have found that in reality it is that person in the weeds who truly understands the client well enough to have the broader picture, to know what they need in the digital space that can serve the higher level strategic goals. It's the person who starts at the ground level who knows the organization better than any one else, knows what will work not just in theory but in actuality. Throwing out strategic ideas is something anyone can do, but suggesting strategic ideas that will work for a client in actuality can only be done with an understanding of the inner workings of an organization.
Interactive Account/Project Managers, let's say Client Service Professionals, are involved in every piece of the process. Whether we are developing a website or setting up an online marketing campaign, we take the project from beginning to beautiful. We manage and implement every phase of the project and must know our clients’ industries virtually as well as they do. Further, we stay abreast of the latest technology so that, through this process, as we learn more about the client, we are able to make suggestions that support the strategic goals of an organization.
So I'd like to propose that we stop trying to separate the two in this industry and start thinking of our account/project managers as well-rounded individuals who can handle the tactical and the strategic (with some junior support at times!).