What percentage of time inside any marketing firm is really spent on being creative? I’ve done my share of operational consulting, and it always shocks me when I study how a so-called “creative agency” spends its time. When broken out by function, often less than 20 percent of staff time is creative. If you further divide the chunks of time into what we call value added and non-value added, the problem is even worse. Often half of the creative time is spent on non-value-added time (revisions, redos, admin, non-billable meetings and more). Most agency processes add up to more than 100 steps, with 50 percent wasted effort and unaccounted lost revenue. When you add it all up, most creative shops spend around 10 percent of their time on actually being creative. The agency is spending way too much time fighting fires and reacting to past issues.
We all have to fight fires, but clients really want us to spend more time being creative — developing business-building ideas, new strategies and new ideas. Think about it: If you have more time to be creative, you can generate new ideas and solve problems before they happen.
Think about your agency. Is it doing the right things in a timely fashion? Is your firm being as effective as it can be?
Stop. Do Not Pass Go!
It all starts at the top. Over time, changes in leadership, client demands, new staff and additional services continue to blur the organizational strategy of most agencies. New structures have to be established to serve the agency and its creative product — not just the client. In other words, what is the new mission for your agency, and what can you do about it? How can a creative agency free up more resources to be, well, more creative?
Develop a Strategic Process to Initiate Work
Most issues that crop up in any project can be traced to missing or incomplete data at the start. Every project, job or assignment must have a simple kick-off process. What staff resources are required? Are there opportunities for more business? Integrated marketing? Who is responsible for what? How can all the necessary information be collected and distributed within the agency? Following a clear project start process helps everyone downstream.
Develop a Common Approach to Execute Work
Gain more buy-in and consistency across internal operations by establishing a common approach to executing work. Create roles and responsibilities for quality control so that all staff understands what they need to do. Publish and communicate this. Differentiate work by type, and develop priorities and processes that reflect the nature of the work. Categorize and develop a process for each of the different project types so that, taken together, they focus agency resources where they can do the most good and allow the agency to make money on even the smallest of projects.
Evaluate, Motivate and Reward
Develop performance standards to measure and monitor the success of every project that is linked to your agency brand. If your brand stresses great creative, just how are you measuring that? Performance measures should be tied to creative ideas, smooth execution and effective use of time. Reward your staff for agency success by motivating people for the right reasons: for promoting and selling integrated work, on-time and on-budget projects, great creative, etc. There should be a direct path from your goals and mission to how you measure and reward each staff member.
Your staff is looking towards agency leaders for direction, inspiration and acceptance. If you’re not sure how best to get started freeing your staff to be more creative, more proactive, more efficient, there is help. It means creating a strong operational strategy. I recommend that you conduct a two- or three-day review of current processes, team work and operational effectiveness. The overall objective is to develop a new operations strategy — and to have your entire staff help. The schedule should include time for information collection, management Q&A sessions, process review sessions and time analysis. The planning session is designed to provide your agency with the inspiration and direction needed in today’s world:
- Generate understanding of the agency’s core values and objectives.
- Develop enthusiasm and commitment for a course of action over the next three to five years.
- Create a strategy that positions the firm for long-term success.
- Develop actionable and measurable plans for moving the operations strategy forward.
- Clarify the role of senior management and understand how it should evolve.
We call it an opportunity assessment. You will call it the day you were finally able to get ahead of the change curve — when everyone at the agency is finally on the same page.
I believe that successful agency change is not the result of something done to you. Change only happens when your people are actively involved in developing solutions they will own. Creating a high-performance creative organization requires top-down leadership and bottom-up participation.