It’s a typical Wednesday, and you’ve just received another email from a stakeholder who wants to know the status of their creative project. On top of that, they’re wondering if there’s any way you can deliver their collateral by Friday. Meanwhile, you know your creative team is struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for content. You’ve already touched base with them on behalf of this stakeholder several times. You know they’re making good progress, but also know there’s no way they can complete this project by Friday.
As a project manager, you want to add value to the creative process. Yet too often, you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels while keeping track of endless details and running interference between stakeholders and creatives. If that’s the case, it’s time for a change.
Good news: You have the power to make improvements to your process that will give your stakeholders a just-right, strategically focused end result in less time. What’s more, you can do so while simultaneously improving the morale and productivity of your creative team.
It all comes down to communication.
Communicate Strategically to Reach Alignment at Project Kickoff
All creative teams have some process for gathering information. For example, a request intake form might ask stakeholders to check boxes for the types of collateral they need. Need a video? Complete this section of the form. Want a large banner? Tell us when you need it and for what purpose.
This information gathering is important and necessary, but true communication relies on deeper conversations. Effective, two-way communication leads to alignment between stakeholders and creatives, which in turn streamlines the content lifecycle and improves content outcomes.
Follow these guidelines at kickoff to truly reach alignment.
Understand Your Stakeholder’s Strategic Business Goals
Kick off your engagement by having stakeholders complete a creative brief that thoroughly lays out their business objectives and serves as a guide for the creative team.
Stakeholders may not have thought their project all the way through from a big-picture perspective. The creative brief should answer questions like:
- What is the vision for and purpose of this project?
- What are the goals you are trying to reach through this piece?
- How does this collateral fit in with other projects you’re currently working on?
- Have you defined what a successful outcome looks like? If so, how will you measure success?
- Who is your intended audience?
- Have you created anything like this before? Is there anything we should know about how that went?
- How quickly are you expecting to receive a final product?
Help your stakeholders clearly define their needs and expectations at the onset. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know — and they also don’t know what you need to know! Proactively draw out the information you need.
Establish Realistic Expectations
Just like you need information from stakeholders, stakeholders appreciate having a clear sense of what to expect from your creative team. Use the kickoff meeting to provide an overview of your creative process, set realistic workflows and deadlines, and educate stakeholders about their role in reviewing proofs and providing feedback.
If you are using a robust workflow management system, this is the time to train your stakeholders on how to use the system and provide them with access to their project so they can track progress as needed.
Evaluate Ongoing Project Requests Before They Reach the Creative Team
Sometimes clear communication begins with a simple yes or no. That’s why it’s important to evaluate ongoing project requests before they are assigned. Whether you are the one to review each submission, or whether you appoint someone else to serve as a “traffic manager,” someone needs to vet requests to determine if they are feasible, reasonable, and well-defined.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but in reality, most workflow management softwares skip this step and go straight to assignment. This can lead to wasted time and added frustration for your creative team, particularly if a request is submitted for work that doesn’t merit their limited time.
Keep Stakeholders Informed throughout the Creative Process
When a project is underway, you’re likely to face two extremes. Stakeholders will either ask you for constant progress reports and updates, or you’ll have to chase them down to obtain the answers or feedback your creative team needs to keep the project on track.
Obviously neither is ideal, but you can achieve balance by providing stakeholders with an appropriate level of access to your team’s creative process. For example, you might create a virtual Kanban board that gives stakeholders a visual overview of live statuses for each piece of the project. This quickly shows viewers what is in process, what has moved into a later stage of production, and whether the entire project is on track.
For the stakeholders you are always tracking down, set automated reminders within your workflow management system to alert them when they are behind on their part of the process.
A flexible and scalable workflow management system can keep stakeholders engaged while also protecting creatives from receiving too much input or oversight (you don’t want stakeholders weighing in on early drafts, for instance). Software features such as defined roles, review tiers, and levels of access give stakeholders right-timed, need-to-know information and free you up to focus on keeping the project moving forward rather than answering endless status requests.
Closing the Communication Loop During Review and Approval
If you’ve communicated openly and clearly along the way, your team has created high-quality work that is strategically focused and aligned with overarching expectations. However, that doesn’t mean the proof will immediately be approved with no changes. Therefore, it’s important to ask for thoughtful, actionable feedback that moves beyond a simple “love it” or “hate it” response.
To make this part of the process efficient and effective, use a workflow software that eliminates the need for back-and-forth feedback via email or Slack. Good software should offer the ability to react to a proof directly on the asset. For instance, if reviewing a video, stakeholders should be able to timestamp the exact 30 seconds they want to alter. Likewise, when evaluating messaging, they should be free to comment, edit, highlight, and move paragraphs around quickly and easily.
This kind of direct, clear, tangible feedback will enable creative teams to deliver a final result that meets your stakeholder’s overarching objectives — and because they have had the opportunity to provide valuable feedback throughout the process, there will be fewer misfires along the way.
Manage Your Project Toward Communication-Driven Results
Successful, impactful creative projects start with you. As a project manager, you have the responsibility and opportunity to create processes and workflows that effectively serve all the players involved. It begins with communication, leads to alignment around the strategic objectives and goals your stakeholders are trying to reach, and ends with tangible results.