Overcoming Creative Workflow Challenges
Anyone who works in the creative field these days can tell you, digital advertising has changed everything. The concept of reaching people in their space and pushing messaging out to them isn’t new. What is new is how fast that messaging needs to be produced in order to stay relevant. Anyone who works in the creative field these days can tell you, digital advertising has changed everything. The concept of reaching people in their space and pushing messaging out to them isn’t new. What is new is how fast that messaging needs to be produced in order to stay relevant.
A typical print creative job, for example, has a two to six week turnaround time, depending on production. The creative time alone is usually at least two weeks. The normal workflow for a print job goes something like this:
- Client opens a job request using an input brief
- A kick-off is scheduled with client, account team and creative team to review the input brief and set a timeline
- Account team assigns resources and milestones
- Copy begins
- When copy is complete, design begins
- Creative manager reviews art/copy and provides feedback• Copy and art are updated
- Client reviews copy and art either online or in a touch point meeting
- Client provides feedback• Creative is updated and re routed for approval
- Once approved, art is prepared for vendor
- Vendor sends proof for approval
- Product is delivered and, if necessary, installed
To move a job through this process faster than two weeks can be a challenge. But in most cases timelines are set around a delivery date and it is simply a matter of backwards planning on the account team’s part to get a timeline set and approved.
With a good workflow system you can manage high volumes of work with a lean team and still meet your deadlines. In a digital environment, however, two weeks is a decade long. And by the time you launch your project, everything has changed.
So, how can you manage a creative workflow in a digital pace? After trial and error, here is a system that I have found to work for my large in-house agency.
The first key to success is to do your homework upfront with a solid input brief and spec sheet. Make sure you have the specs; all digital banners are not the same. If you are using tabloid skins, make sure you have all the dimensions and size options upfront. If you are using animation, make sure you know the timing requirements and if it needs to be in html or flash. When the jobs are opened, have someone on the operations team complete a grid with all of the specs and attach it to the job. Make sure you indicate how many of each concept is required for each size. In other words, make it as clear as possible for the creative team what you are expecting from them. This really helps them as they go into design phase to know what they are dealing with.
Next, it’s very important with a fast turnaround requirement to get all of the information you can from the client upfront. What is the message guidance? What audience are they trying to hit? How many rotations are they buying? Understand the burn out rate so you can offer enough options to rotate and prevent quick burn out. Digital has a much shorter shelf life than print so it’s best to over produce and give the client plenty of options.
Once you have a solid input brief and a solid spec sheet, have a quick kick-off with the client and creative team to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s tempting with a quick turnaround to skip this step; trust me, it isn’t going to save you time. In fact, you will waste time if you don’t have this touch point. No matter how clear you think you are being, there is usually something that has been missed. Better to address that in the beginning of the project rather than run into issues when you are trying to get the files to vendor.
I have found with these types of jobs the best process is quick, frequent touch points with the client and approval team. This is a combined waterfall and agile process. The creative team does what they do best, concept and create, but the clients are not left hanging. Once a day for 15 minutes get everyone in a room for review and feedback. When the art and copy are approved by client, you can route your files in your workflow system for legal, proofing and final client approval. This will save you so much time, compared with waiting until you have final files to share with the client. For some reason, digital is much harder for the clients to “see” in their heads so it isn’t safe to keep them guessing. They need to see comps in iterative fashion so you don’t go too far down a path that they don’t like in the end. You can still use your workflow system, in fact you must in order to ensure proper approvals and signoffs, but it’s more for final approval than for iterative feedback. Do that in person with clients and creative in a room together and do it often.
One great thing about the inMotion workflow system is it allows you to create unique project templates for each job type.
For digital jobs, I create a very simple task and milestone schedule with just the Creative Manager and Account Manager reviewing the creative. The Account Manager is responsible for notating all client feedback made in the touchpoint meetings and ensuring that the creative is updated each day prior to the touchpoint. Then for the approval process I include Proofing, Legal and Client for final review. It’s simple but includes all required steps and saves tons of time.
In summary, here are the steps to take to ensure you digital jobs stay on track and on point:
- Do your homework upfront – Have all of the information the creative teams needs, messaging, strategy, and specs, up front and available when the jobs are opened.
- Have a kick off – Skipping this step will not save you time; it can, however, cost you time if you don’t have it.
- Know who the approvers are – Often with digital jobs there are people in the approval process that aren’t usually involved in the creative decision making. Find out before it’s too late who these people are and include them in your touchpoints.
- Have daily touchpoint meetings with clients and creative to make sure you are on the right path.
- Use your workflow system for final approvals – You still need to follow your process with proofing, legal and final review. Skipping steps in the process only causes you to have more pain in the end.
- Have a dedicated Project Manager – You need a strong, persistent PM on digital jobs. If everyone isn’t constantly in the loop you are at risk of missing deadlines.
What are your key steps for managing quick turnaround digital work? Share them in the comments!
Debbie Kennedy is a career advertising and marketing professional with over a decade of experience leading the Operations team for an in-house agency at a Fortune 500 company. Her background in the creative field, as a copywriter and creative director, provides her with a broad perspective on creative workflow and processes.