Multiple Agencies, One Brand: What to Do about Review & Approval?
Managing a brand is the number one most important function for any marketing team. Having a robust workflow system can really help with this, as it allows you to control the approval process in a more systematic way. One of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced as an operations lead is trying to control the workflow and brand management when multiple agencies are introduced to the mix. Perhaps you can relate!
Here was my experience:
We had an internal agency that was responsible for everything other than broadcast. That included all print, store design, collateral, digital, internal communications, CRM, automated marketing, etc. shared across over 35 individual strategy leads and “clients” managing these products across multiple channels. So the approval process was already complex. Then we added InMotion as our workflow system and were able to construct templates for each product line with controlled approval workflows. We were able to pre-set the tasks and milestones based on the client’s behavior and history. We were managing over 350 unique projects at any given time and keeping them all on time and on budget. But just when I thought we had it all figured out we made a drastic change to our marketing plan.
We introduced not one, but four unique advertising agencies to the mix, not counting our already established internal team. Imagine what that can do to your workflow and more importantly to your brand management! At first it was like a three-ringed circus. Jobs were flying in from everywhere and clients were dealing directly with the agency reps, making requests and approving art. It was crazy and nearly impossible to keep up with. After about a month of the wild wild West, we pulled the team together and said “this has got to stop.” One company, one voice, one brand. Period.
A group of us formed a committee and did an extensive three day brainstorm to put a process into place that would keep the right people on point at the correct time, and not hinder our ability to get things done, fast. As anyone in the creative world knows, the more approvers, the slower to market. We couldn’t have that as our need for fast action was greater than ever. And managing the brand was a critical role that needed to be played by our creative leads, not by our individual clients. At the end of the three days we had a good working plan, but it needed to be tested and there was no time to waste. So we tested the plan on a live project – it couldn’t make things worse, right?
At the core of the idea for controlling this situation was clearly defining who was responsible for what in each step of the process. We walked out of the room with a spreadsheet full of data that nobody other than an operations person would ever look at. But it was a start. A good start, because it made it very clear that we had too many steps in the process and too many people involved.
The key to running a tight ship is to have a light crew. We simply had added too many people to the approval process and the cross functional nature of the projects made a single voice impossible.
The bigger the company the harder this concept is to communicate. Everyone wants to have a say. Everyone wants to be in charge. Especially when they control a portion of the budget. It took a few tries, but we ended up with a streamlined process that stayed close to the original process flow with a few modifications to allow for multiple opinions.
Here’s how it panned out:
- Assign Strategy Lead
This person is on the client side and is responsible for:
- creating a robust input brief that defines the scope of the project, the goals and objectives, message guidance, budget constraints – as well as who owns which parts of the budget
- identifying who the channel owners will be for the project and what should be their role
- acting as reviewer and approver from the strategic side (they will partner with channel owners, but ultimately it is their role to review and approve the creative for all of the channel owners from a strategic stand point)
- Assign Internal Creative Lead
Regardless of which agency is involved (internal or external), an internal creative lead has to be responsible for making sure whatever is presented is on brand and meets the brand standards and guidelines for the company. This role is usually played by a Creative Director or VP of Creative Services
- Assign Agency
We determined that one person from Operations would be responsible for assigning the agency. In order to do this, they need to have a solid knowledge of the areas of specialty for each agency and the workload. Capacity management is a very big part of how work either gets done on time or goes badly off track. With no central point of contact for this, it can get out of control very fast.
- Assign Project Manager
For these types of projects you cannot have individual account managers trying to keep their clients happy. You must give up on that idea and allow a seasoned project manager to run the show. It’s a hard concept to get across, until it’s done correctly once. Then everyone is bought in!
Now you have your team and it’s pretty simple. One client, one creative lead, one agency team, one project manager. The hard part is now on the PM to put together the project plan.
It’s really important in order for this process to work that you have a workflow system that is flexible and allows for customization. Projects are not jobs. They are way more complex and require a totally different type of workflow. It requires a PM to analyze which job has to be in market first, what the timeline needs to be for that job, and make sure that the creative for that gets done and approved first so everything else can fall into place. It’s a puzzle that takes a lot of care to put together. And you need a system that will help you with this.
Lucky for us we had inMotion and had established historical data of how long each type of job would take.
This helped us build our Project Plan, establish our lead times, and build a campaign template around it. Creating the project plan was still a very manual process, but it was made easier by the fact that all of the data could be pulled from the workflow system and exported to an Excel spreadsheet. Its main purpose was for weekly status updates with the team. The workflow system allows clients and creatives to see where the jobs are at all times and to communicate with each other through the system with questions and changes. Brilliant! We even added the agency team leads to the project flow so they could import art and copy themselves.
In a nut shell, when you are faced with creative workflow challenges the best thing to do is pull a team together, brainstorm some ideas, try them out, refine them, try again until you get it right. It isn’t black and white and every company requires a little different process, but it can be done and it doesn’t have to be highly complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Remember, we are dealing with creative minds here and the more complex we make the process the less likely that they will be to follow it.
Keep it simple, no matter how tempted you are or others are to make it complicated, and you’ll be just fine!
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.