When Do I Get To Be Creative?
Here are four solutions to get your creative team more time back for creativity!
If you are on an in-house creative team or work with one, I’m sure you’ve heard this before:
“How am I supposed to focus on being creative when I keep getting interrupted with administrative tasks?”
It’s hard to focus on being creative when you are spending so much time doing non-creative tasks. This isn’t a new problem, but it is a challenge that continues to worsen. According to the 2019 In-House Creative Management Report, conducted by InSource and Lytho, 4% of creatives say they spend about one day a week or more on non-creative work – that’s up 14% from the same survey last year. 72% report that “obtaining the necessary information to get started on a project” is the biggest administrative task that soaks up time they could otherwise spend being creative.
I have spent an entire career trying to streamline processes to keep creative team members focused on being creative, so this is mind blowing for me. With so many advancements in workflow, creative briefing, and creative process management in general, I wonder why this problem keeps getting worse.
I have a few ideas of why I think the administrative task list keeps growing and why creative teams struggle to balance admin work with creative work:
- Digital Takeover
- Conflicting Feedback
- Unclear Job Direction
- Growth of In-House Creative Teams
Digital advertising, while no longer the new kid on the block, is still evolving. The rules keep changing, and there are many more complexities to the technical specs, format, timelines, etc, required for producing digital content. Because digital advertising can be placed and updated faster and more frequently than traditional media, clients are more likely to rush through the briefs and skip steps in the process, knowing that if they don’t get it right the first time, it’s fairly easy to change the content. What stakeholders often forget is that skipping steps in the process to “rush” jobs and adds more administrative work for the creative team, which ultimately slows down the process. When a brief is rushed, for example, and the stakeholder doesn’t include key information, the creative team has to go back to previous jobs to see what they did last month. Digging through job folders to find the specs takes time and takes away from their ability to focus on making the digital advertising the best it can be.
One solution for this is making it easy for stakeholders to pull up their old briefs for a similar type of job and copy and paste into the new brief. Workflow systems that allow you to create templates for jobs can also really cut down on the time it takes to complete a brief, and also prevent creative teams from having to double back to old job files to find the specs. It’s a win-win.
Unclear, conflicting feedback
If I had a nickel for every time I made a client’s change only to have it counteracted by the next reviewer, I’d have a lot of nickels! Creative is subjective in many ways, so one person’s opinion can vary greatly from another’s. Every time a change is made, the creative team has to go back through the process, wasting time, creating admin work, and guess what?…Not spending time being creative!
Having a process that allows for controlled review and approval is critical in today’s fast-paced world. Some workflow systems, like Lytho Workflow, actually allow you to create what I call “Ultimate Approvers” who have final say over the feedback, deleting what they don’t want done, so the creative team gets one set of approved changes, one time. Now that’s efficient! With this system, the creative team only sees one set of consistent feedback. This helps creative teams avoid the time-consuming back and forth that results from conflicting feedback.
Unclear job direction
All too often, the creative brief is viewed by clients as a means to an end – not a vital part of the process. They skip questions, use vague answers like “same as last month” just to get the job opened. Worse, creative teams accept the briefs that way. Faulty, incomplete creative briefs are the single most cited reason for unnecessary admin tasks and time waste, according to the 2019 In-House Creative Management Report. Creative teams are afraid to push back on clients to do better briefs for fear of not seeming “collaborative”. At the core of most creative teams is the desire to provide great customer service, but pushing back on clients is often viewed as being inflexible. The problem is by not demanding complete briefs, it’s not just the creative team who suffers – clients lose out too because deadlines get pushed back, there are more rounds of review to get it right, and sometimes the creative itself suffers.
Make the creative brief part of the job opening process in your workflow system. Create templates that don’t allow clients to skip questions. Explain the importance of the brief in the job process to your clients. For new jobs or projects that are complex, always begin the job process with a kick off meeting so clients and creative team members can discuss the brief and make sure everyone is on the same page. Spend a little more time on the front end to get all the information you need, and you’ll shave time off the back end and cut back on those pesky admin tasks.
More creative teams are moving In-house
Why don’t creative teams at agencies report the same challenges with time spent on administrative work that in-house teams do? One reason is that agencies tend to have more structure and dedicated roles to keep the process moving smoothly. For example, account managers handle the clients, traffic managers control the flow of work, and creatives are left with more time to focus on their core responsibilities. Another problem in-house teams have is what I like to call the “watercooler effect”. When working with an agency, clients tend to be aware of billable hours and make sure to be efficient to keep costs down. This sense doesn’t translate to in-house teams, because most of us are not used to seeing our coworkers as a paid resource. It’s much easier for a client to walk up to a coworker in the breakroom or at the watercooler and informally request work. It also takes away urgency around completing reviews on time, or worrying about too many rounds of review.
Maybe it’s time for in-house teams to adopt a structure that mirrors the external agency side. I am a huge advocate for account managers handling clients, so creative teams can avoid the constant interruptions. And letting your workflow solution support accounts, traffic, and creative teams to keep time spent on admin work down for everyone. I adopted a more traditional external agency structure for one of my large, in-house teams and there was a noticeable difference in morale as well as a higher level of creativity as a result. There is much to be said for hiring the right people for the right job and letting folks focus on what they do best.
It’s clear that administrative tasks are keeping your creative teams from focusing on what they do best. By identifying what non-creative work is eating up your team’s time, you can implement solutions like streamlined workflows, robust creative briefs, or clarify roles and responsibilities on the team to get more time back for your team to be creative.