Rugged Agency

Balancing Efficiency and Creativity in an Agency Setting

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In a fast-paced and demanding creative agency, efficiency is often seen as the key to success. Deadlines are tight, clients are demanding, and there is a constant need to deliver high-quality work. However, strict processes that work in most applications can fall apart when applied to highly-creative environments like creative agencies. How can project managers and ops professionals maintain efficiency without stifling the creative spirit? In this article, we will explore techniques that can help your creative team excel in a high-pressure agency environment while preserving their creativity.

Embrace the Constructive Parameters of Project Plans

Without fail, the words “Gantt chart” will put your graphic designers into a deep slumber. However there’s no denying that, when executed appropriately, these kinds of project management tools can boost both efficiency and creativity at your agency. Project plans allow you to take a potentially overwhelming end-goal and break it down into its component parts. You can show how these components are dependent on one another, how much time each step should take, and who should own each piece. 

It’s apparent how this kind of organized prioritization of tasks would benefit efficiency, but how does it support creativity? Well, for the same reason writing prompts are helpful. Creativity doesn’t thrive on a completely blank slate, so although you don’t want to throttle it with micromanagement, you also can’t tell your designer to just “go build a brand identity” and expect them to do great work. Lean on project managers to feed your creatives the one or two specific objectives of the day and your team will be less overwhelmed and far more inspired. 

Foster Open Communication and Decisiveness

Maintaining open and transparent communication is vital to balancing efficiency and creativity. Project managers and producers charged with maintaining the timeline for production should consult with those executing the work regularly, especially during initial timeline development to make sure expected turnaround times are truly attainable. If your creative team cites reasons why the current deadlines may affect the quality of the work, you shouldn’t be afraid to address this with your client and ask for more time unless you know the dates are immovable due to an impending event or campaign. 

Most importantly, this process should include a clear, final decision-maker (perhaps an account manager or creative director). It’s easy to lose days going between your creative team and client in an attempt to make everyone happy. Once all voices have been heard, a single person should make the final judgment quickly. As long as the rationale behind this decision and the contingencies of the approach are made clear to all internal and external parties, the transparency will allow the creative team to feel they’re being set up for success.

Encourage Collaboration and Feedback From Across the Agency

By encouraging teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration, you can leverage the collective expertise and perspectives of your team members. Don’t just have a quick internal review before important creative goes to the client. Set up several, 10-to-15 minute critiques throughout the creative process and invite anyone from the agency to attend. 

Now, the most operationally-minded readers are thinking, “I didn’t scope time for everyone in the agency to be a part of this. What about the margin?!” Bear with me! These check-ins will be quick and their value will deeply outweigh the cost in the following ways: 

  • They will get your creatives very comfortable with receiving constructive feedback. One of the biggest bottlenecks for creatives is a fear of failure. Letting them “fail” early and often will remove the fear and they will naturally become more efficient.
  • These moments are an opportunity for everyone to feel some ownership over the creative process. Your project manager is going to feel pride if the idea they had ends up contributing to the final product, and your creative is more likely to build a report with that PM. This camaraderie breeds efficiency because people want to work harder for peers they care about!
  • Bringing diverse perspectives into the critique process will inevitably reduce the rounds of revision from the client. There is such a thing as getting too close to the creative. If someone from finance has only read the initial brief, but otherwise brings entirely fresh eyes to this critique, they may catch the simple mistake your creatives have gone blind to. 

This process also requires a final decision maker. An influx of feedback, which can often be conflicting and subjective, requires a strong filter. One person who knows the creative brief like the back of their hand should guide the feedback-implementation process.

Create an Environment and Culture that Supports Creativity and Learning

The physical environment plays a crucial role in nurturing creativity. Provide a workspace that inspires and energizes your team members. Incorporate elements such as natural light, vibrant colors, comfortable furniture, and designated areas for creative thinking. These principles can be implemented in remote organizations as well by encouraging your team members to get outside during their breaks and having dedicated online channels for sharing creative inspiration. 

It’s also important to encourage continuous learning and growth within your creative agency. It can feel nearly impossible to pay for your employees to spend time NOT contributing to client work, so it’s ok to be selective about which professional development opportunities you allow. However, when you do find great, value-adding workshops, conferences, or online courses, it’s vital that you encourage the right team member or members to participate. By staying up to date with the latest industry trends, tools, and techniques, your team members can enhance their skills, improve efficiency, and bring fresh ideas to the table. Not only that, but when team members feel their company is willing to invest in them, they are more likely to invest back in their company. 

Efficiency and creativity are not mutually exclusive in an agency setting. By embracing effective project planning, fostering open communication, promoting collaboration, and creating an environment and culture that supports continuous learning, you can strike a balance between productivity and creative innovation. When executed correctly, these two things that are often considered at odds can actually serve one another and make for a truly inspiring workplace.