Welcome to our series, Turning Clients into Creative Partners. Previous posts include Understanding Client Motivations, Managing Client Expectations during Project Intake, and Managing Client Expectations during Creative Execution.
For creative teams – those in marketing departments and in-house or external agencies – the review and approval process is a common stumbling block. It certainly is one of the creative/client interactions with the highest potential for friction.
Creatives are challenged by delayed feedback from their reviewers, vague and sometimes conflicting feedback from multiple reviewers, and too many rounds of revisions that push the approval cycle past deadline.
The clients who need review and approve creative work are also frustrated. These reviewers can find it challenging to provide feedback – many reviews take place over email, where it’s difficult to describe change requests and back-and-forth between multiple reviewers can quickly results in long, confusing email threads. These challenges are amplified when the content is motion or video files.
So what can creative teams do to resolve some of that friction?
In our earlier post on project intake, we championed the idea that you get what you ask for. The same holds true for the review and approval process.
Remember that for clients, the time between making a request and seeing a proof is days and sometimes weeks. Unfortunately, too often proofs are presented as just, “here’s the thing you asked for, tell me what you think.” But reviewers may have gotten fuzzy on the goals and details of their request in the meantime.
When soliciting feedback from clients, reiterate the goals and objectives of the piece. Restate the business drivers that prompted the project in the first place. Be direct.
Introduce proofs with communication like this:
You asked for a full-page ad:
- Appealing to adults age 25 to 35
- Suggesting the emotion of jubilation
- Driving traffic to the web landing page
- With the color scheme of red and white
- Using a front shot of the product
We call this “creative rationale.” Providing creative rationale means reminding clients of the context that their proof was created under, and it sets reviews up for success. It prompts clients to look at a proof through the same lens that the content was based on. Reminding them is being courteous.
Another common review challenge is getting proofs to the right reviewers at the right stage of the approval process. The review workflow might start with an internal group that proofreads, then passes the proof over to the client team, who hands it off to their compliance team. We have some retailers with so many product divisions that a single project like a catalog or circular can have up to 35 reviewers. How can a creative team manage such a complex review workflow?
Roles and Rules
There are two key elements that shape the review workflow: roles and rules.
Roles speak to the responsibility that reviewers have based on what they bring to the business. The proofreader’s role is to fact check and to approve spelling and grammar – but they don’t provide feedback on the messaging or design. Creatives need to be thoughtful about who gets invited into a review, and how that may change at various stages in the review process. Think about absolute necessity: every reviewer that’s invited has a potential to slow down a project. A best practice is to let reviewers know why they’ve been invited to review a proof. For example, “Product team, please ensure that the information is accurate. Marketing team, please ensure that the design and copy is aligned with your goals for the piece.” This prevents team members from weighing in on an element that’s outside of their expertise, which can unnecessarily delay the project, and worse, dilute the final product. For stakeholders who need to be kept apprised of progress but don’t need to review, consider providing proofs in a simple read-only view with courtesy notifications showing the piece and sharing the progress of the project.
Rules are the triggers that move proofs forward through the approval cycle. For instance, the proof doesn’t go to the compliance team until the client has approved it. One obvious best practice: only after all reviews are in and edits, modifications, and changes are made, should compliance be invited to sign-off. Inviting them into the review process while design and messaging are still being hammered out wastes everyone’s time. Think about other stages in your review process where this kind of rule applies – marketing team approves layout before the proof reader checks copy, product team checks pricing before brand team approves design.
What are the challenges that your team faces in the review and approval process? What tactics have you used to overcome those challenges? Share them in the comments!
Look for the final installment of our Turning Clients into Creative Partners series on building collaborative relationships with your clients coming soon.