The marketing leader’s case for arming creative teams with technology
Creative teams and marketing don't need to be at odds with one another. Contributor Alex Withers explains how marketing technology can strengthen collaboration and improve your organization's creative process and workflow.
Twenty-seven. That’s the number of reviews it took to get a creative project finalized, approved and into the hands of a marketing manager who could use it for a campaign to drive leads.
The process seemed to drag on for an eternity. The discussions around edits and changes were both heated and prolonged, with seemingly different stakeholders every time and no idea whose feedback trumped whose. While the project did eventually get out to market and performed well for the business, no one on the team was happy.
The situation had created a leadership distraction, too. The marketing director and the creative director were always at odds. In addition, the review process was the source of a workflow bottleneck that slowed other projects — and was drawing undesirable attention to marketing from around the business.
On one side, the marketing team struggled to understand why creative couldn’t execute effectively on a simple request. On the other side, the creative team fired back that the initial brief was woefully inadequate, the deadline unreasonable, and the review process alone took longer than the project itself.
Marketing automation exasperates the creative challenge
This anecdote is fairly common, especially in larger organizations. In the past, skilled leadership, process re-engineering and perhaps some form of a service level agreement (SLA) would keep things moving along smoothly. But that’s no longer always possible.
This is because the modern digital marketing environment has increased the demand for creative content. Software automation has proliferated across nearly every function in sales and marketing except creative.
Business has augmented sales and marketing with sophisticated technology that’s boosted efficiency — but also increased the need for more content to match the swell in channels and nuanced stages of the buyer’s journey. Consequently, the creative team, tasked with fulfilling that demand, is often stuck managing exponentially growing workloads by sorting through emails and spreadsheets to make sense of more requests on tighter deadlines.
Creative teams are in dire need of marketing technology, too. This means providing a little automation to the administrative aspects of the creative process — and the opportunity to eliminate those frustrations affecting both creative and marketing alike. More importantly, this empowers creative teams to spend more of their time actually creating, which is good for everyone.
3 process challenges between creative teams and marketing
For many stakeholders, the creative process lacks collaboration, transparency and accountability. It’s important to note that this exists on all sides; it’s not just a creative problem or just a marketing problem — it’s a business problem.
If we unpack this, we’ll find we can break this business problem into three primary challenges:
1. The creative brief and project kickoff challenge
No one likes completing creative briefs. If a standard request form even exists, it’s usually a cumbersome document with a long list of requirements that are not applicable to a sizable percentage of project requests.
Once complete, these requests are often submitted to creative through a centralized email inbox, which is generally considered by marketing to be the equivalent of a black hole.
This isn’t fun on the creative side either — and for several reasons that are important for marketing to understand because these affect their campaigns:
- First, someone has to manage those email requests, which can easily number in the hundreds. The task here is redundant: copying the information from emails into a spreadsheet for assessment — which means valuable time wasted by a project manager or member of the creative team.
- Second, management by spreadsheet means projects inherently have the same level of urgency — regardless of whether it’s a nice-to-have flyer for internal communications or graphics supporting a six-figure sales proposal.
- Third, these requests often lack the clarity or detail necessary to begin work. This leaves the creative team in the unenviable position of chasing down details instead of pouring that energy into creativity — not to mention lengthening project timelines because of delays at the onset.
2. Creative resource allocation challenge
The creative team usually has more work than resources, but because creative teams serve so many different internal customers, no one except creative sees the entire list. For marketing leaders accustomed to hearing “we’re busy” from a creative director, it’s often eye-opening to see a creative workload detailed in metrics, charts and graphs.
These metrics also provide visibility for senior marketing leaders, enabling them to do something vastly more important: establish priorities, alleviate resource constraints, eliminate bottlenecks and increase creative bandwidth.
That means answers to critical questions like:
- How many requests have been submitted, and by whom?
- Are there repeat offenders on the “rush job” list — can the planning or SLA be improved?
- How many requests are in motion?
- Who is assigned to the project?
- What is the status of the project, and what is the next step?
- What is the estimated timeline for completion?
- What are the averages and analytics around all of these measures?
This data enables creative to show definitive measures of productivity and utilization to the business. For marketing directors and other internal customers, the data provides transparency and predictability for project optimization and completion.
3. The prolonged, confusing and ad hoc approval challenge
As most marketers and creatives alike know, the approval process is often just as arduous as the project itself. This can lead to scope creep and hard choices between quality and speed.
For marketing, the top frustration here usually stems from challenges around providing clear feedback, so creatives get the context they need to act on changes quickly, without it being a huge time-suck for marketers.
Feedback is typically the top pain point for creatives, too. Creatives often say a lack of clarity or consensus and confusion over next steps are chief contributors to project delays.
Typically, edits and suggestions are provided through ad hoc mechanisms — often isolated emails or sidebar conversations — to which a broader team does not have access. Routing for approval is often unclear, which produces out-of-sequence interjections and duplicative feedback — or worse still, critical reviewers not getting the opportunity to review content.
The bigger creative benefit to the business
Collaborative marketing technology, including workflow management, can help creative teams navigate challenges like these with greater agility. For marketing teams, it provides a mechanism to capitalize on the efficiency of process standardization, without sacrificing flexibility and quality. (Disclosure: inMotionNow, my employer, provides workflow management software. Other vendors in the related collaborative marketing technology space include Workfront, Workgroups DaVinci and FunctionFox.)
Automating the creative process can also reduce miscommunication, which in turn drives accountability on all sides, ultimately strengthening the strategic partnership between marketing and creative. In addition, the detailed metrics help prove the value of creative to the business, while also offering new transparency into the creative process for marketing counterparts.
Most important of all is the larger benefit for the business. Efficient workflow is the key to producing more of the high-quality content that fuels the successful campaigns that marketing teams must continuously deploy to keep driving results.
The friction between marketing and creative teams might seem like business as usual — especially if your process involves 27 cycles of review. But marketers can disrupt the status quo by improving creative process and workflow.