The internal battle between creative departments and everyone else is far too familiar. It isn’t personal. Right?! The disconnection is frustrating for everyone. But, if we pull ourselves out of the nitty gritty situational circumstances of it all, we can narrow it down to one thing: process, or, lack thereof.
The steps for a creative process can get sticky but hang with us and we will help break it all down for you.
In this article, you will learn
- The primary contributors to creative process chaos
- How to address your organization’s unique process challenges
- How to build and implement effective creative requests
- The benefits of creative sprint mentality and best practices
- How to ensure cross-functional creative collaboration
Problems to inspire creative process clarity
It isn’t personal. It’s process.
Without a dialed creative request and fulfillment workflow for content operations and creative initiatives, inspired energy is instead earmarked with stress and chaos. We can talk about burnout, workloads, bottlenecks, and our personal fav, holding the creative hostage, but these debates ignore the actual problem.
Creative systems and request processes often take a backseat to performance, creativity, and conversion. That is a reality. But, the backbone of consistent brand delivery and content efficiency begins with a solid creative process.
The Content Marketing Institute reported 66% of marketers are asked to do more with the same resources. That is, multiply output without providing additional investment to make that possible. What happens to creativity when you are asked to do more without additional support?
80% of people reportedly feel increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work.Adobe
It is hard to prioritize creativity when you are flush with creative requests and always behind. How is it even possible to do more and meet demand without a functioning and cooperative creative process to back it? This state of overwhelm creates that chaotic environment and, more often than not, creates tension between designers and creatives, and, well, everyone else.
Now, before you assume that the pressure to produce is more important than creativity, pause for a moment, and consider this statistic.
81% of marketers value creativity and craft in content creation.Content Marketing Institute 2022
The creative touch matters. If content reigns supreme and creativity adds value, then your designers need to not only produce content, they need to produce creative content.
The intersection between production and creativity demands a smooth process. A well-oiled creative machine supported and trusted by your organization.
Want to say goodbye to that chaotic creative process? Read on!
We know success for your business is more easily achieved when your teams are working in sync with each other. The kind that simply works with productive progress sitting front and center. The creative and cross-functional teams can’t just co-exist, they have to collaboratively function as one in order to meet demand and produce quality work.
Collaboration over competition.
This collaboration over competition mentality drives growth for your organization and ignites the kind of energy that inspires creative thinking. At some point or another, your team has likely suffered from creative process friction points. The good news is that it’s fixable.
Bring an open mind and perhaps a pencil sharpener. If you are like us, you love to write things down.
Why the chaos?
Dissecting the disconnections
Whether you are a creative director, designer, marketer, or content supporter, it’s possible you regularly suffer from stress dreams about the daily pain of design requests. We all have them, so let’s talk about them.
As a designer, you are buried, and the requests upon requests never seem to dissipate. No one seems to understand how much time it takes to do anything, and why should they? While you are spending your days in Illustrator and InDesign, cranking away at production design requests that empty your creative cup, your team thinks you are scrolling through Pinterest.
As a Creative Director or Marketing Manager, you are fielding complaints about slow turnarounds, while trying to support your team members that seem to be working double time to meet demand. You asked for visibility and are constantly interrupted to answer questions on project status and estimated timelines. To make matters worse, resources are limited, and uncertain economic environments mean less budget to hire or outsource. Visibility feels impossible and you want to support your team when they say they are working hard.
Marketers and sales teams have pipeline initiatives and sales goals to meet. They need content and creative collateral that will stand out and attract new buyers and customers. They submit a request (assuming your organization has a formal process for that) and are met with the question they hate the most, “when is this due?” If they answer candidly, it would be, right now. It is always due, right now, but instead, they respond with “how much time do you need?”
Now, you may not have a creative request process in place at all. This is a safe space. No judgment. Sometimes other priorities take precedence. Or, maybe your team is small, and a process hasn’t seemed necessary?
53% of organizations have small (or one-person) content and marketing teams.Content Marketing Institute 2022
This means that creative production to support content and marketing initiatives for half of organizations falls on the shoulders of small teams. It may seem obvious but we’ll say it anyway. Successful teams have to function as a team in order to get s*** done! The steps of the creative process may not have been top of mind when you got started, but with high demand and that dysfunctional chaos we mentioned earlier, it is necessary.
So, how do you help a creative and design team of one or a few from fielding request after request? How do you stop the scrambling and the constant struggle to prioritize? How do you make time to produce effectively?
How do you fix the mess?
Let’s start with the basics.
- Understand the roles of your team members and their level of ownership of projects
- Define the types of projects that require a creative request
- Build the creative request form and establish a process for request submission
Process efficiencies abound when you start with the basics. It may seem elementary but role clarity and responsibilities make it so much easier to deliver on requests more effectively. Let’s walk through it, step by step.
STEP ONE: Define roles and responsibilities.
Understand the roles of your team members and their level of ownership of creative requests.
Creative requests often vary in scope; the responsibilities and level of involvement of requesters and designers will change from project to project. This has to be communicated clearly and everyone has to be on the same page.
Here are some questions for you to ask as you are determining who should own the project and how to filter responsibilities throughout your team.
Who is driving the project? Who is delivering the strategy? Who owns which pieces and parts, and ultimately, who is responsible for getting the project launched?
Some questions to ask:
- Who is responsible for communicating a creative request?
- Who needs to receive the information?
- Who is responsible for setting deadlines and communicating expectations on the project?
- Who drives the project direction?
Ownership can vary from project to project and as your team thinks about who owns the project as a whole, you should also be thinking about how these roles and responsibilities could shift per project.
Requests will come in with project details, but that does not necessarily mean that the requester will own the entire project or visa versa.
Here are a few examples of projects and how the areas of ownership could vary:
STEP TWO: Define the types of projects.
Define the types of projects that require a creative request and agree on which ones don’t.
This conversation can easily cause a bit of friction but at the end of the day, the goals should be universal: to ensure the best outcome for every project.
Goals to keep in mind:
- Achieve process efficiency
- Prioritize clear and concise communication
- Elevate creativity
- Aim to drive results that move the needle
Ultimately, only you can determine which projects warrant a request. But generally speaking, if you can put projects into buckets, like “requires graphic design support” or “creative tagline needed” then these parameters will help you decide if it should funnel through your creative and design team.
Creative request criteria
- Requires graphic design expertise
- Involves “creative copywriting” vs. standard copy customization
- Needs creative direction or is in its infancy of creative thinking
- Would benefit from a more visually polished end-deliverable
- Can’t be created with a template
The best part? As you think through the scope of the project to decide if it warrants a request, you’ll likely also develop a clearer plan for creation and delivery in the process, which results in a more thoughtful deliverable altogether.
Define the form and process for creative requests.
There are a hundred different ways to execute a creative request. There are also many mediums to communicate the details of the request. We’ll touch on a few different methods of delivery, but we want to dive deep into the details of the request itself in order to ensure success for both the requester and the creator.
Whether we are talking about design or copywriting, only the requester knows their full intention and goal for their project. If the requester wants the end deliverable to meet their expectations, they have to take what is in their head and communicate it. They also need to put on a different lens and understand that when you approach a project from the perspective of creative and design, the eye is going to be laser-focused on different things.
This is a good thing!
Now that we’ve covered the steps to build a foundation for a creative request process, let’s move on to the creative request form itself and the “how-to” in fulfilling those requests.
Creative Request Process
Things to include and how to develop a process around the request itself
In this section, you will learn how to build an effective creative request form and how best to distribute that information to your design team. Whether you are spearheading the creative request process reformation or you are on the receiving end of some lackluster creative requests, the bottom line is, the process should help your team work better, not harder.
With that in mind, here’s tip #2.
Remember, the requester is moving quickly and they are hoping for a creative magic wand to quickly deliver exactly what they need in as little time as possible. At the same time, designers want comprehensive information so they don’t have a bunch of edits or need to start over because they were missing crucial information. This intersection is where the rubber meets the road. If your request process is taking too long to complete, it needs to be revised. If your designers are consistently missing the mark on projects, you should take a look at adding more detail to the request form.
Typically though, it is better to build your initial creative request with a lean towards too much detail rather than not enough. You can always pull it back if you find that certain fields are not applicable. If it seems like too much information, this could mean there will be less follow-up needed for the project.
Remember, the request should cover a multitude of lenses. It answers questions for the creative brain and serves as an opportunity for the requester to think through their project.
Your request should encompass as much detail as needed to ensure success. Fast-paced environments don’t always have the opportunity to chat it out so build your request form with that in mind.
Whether you refer to it as a creative brief, project brief, or creative request, the purpose is the same: detail everything needed to ensure a successful outcome.
Below, we’ve outlined elements for you to consider when creating your creative request. Take them as suggestions and be sure to think about your organization’s needs as well.
- What types of collateral frequently run through your design team?
- What kinds of miscommunications on projects occur between your designers and requesters?
- Are there common problems that can be fixed by exchanging specific information at the start of a project?
Contents of a creative request
It’s all in the details
What do you need?
First things first, what do you need? Design? Copy? Both? Make sure this is clearly indicated.
In an ideal world, you’ve been around the block once or twice and can measure if this is a heavy lift or a light one. If you aren’t sure, that’s okay. But, if you know, let your team know. We like when projects are rated so right out of the gate, expectations are set that this project is either a big one or a task with an easier turnaround.
This measure can easily get skewed, so it’s important that your culture is built on trust and respect. With everyone doing their part, it is likely busy, and that busy means, not every project can be given a high priority tag.
Every project is important, but does every project need to be completed right NOW? Is this a project that will impact growth immediately? Is this a revenue driver with a more predictable outcome? Is this an idea that you are testing?
Decide on a universal weighting for your projects, determine what measures matter to prioritize them, and then honor the scale. Rank your project from low to high, understanding that priority rankings do not equal the level of importance. It all matters, but every project requires an investment of time, and it is your responsibility to help your team execute wisely.
From a requester’s perspective, they should buffer in additional time so their date can be flexible depending on the workload of the creative team. A guide for harmony? Work back from your drop dead date with some wiggle room to allow for shifts in timing for both parties. Not possible? Well, that sounds like a high-priority project, and that happens! The goal is to make the creative request form for the ideal state. This doesn’t mean there won’t be exceptions to the rule.
Details, details. Get specific.
You want to make sure to include all design and copy parameters. If you are asking for copy, how many characters? Maybe it’s for an ad, and you only need a one-liner. Perhaps you’ve taken a stab at the copy already, and you just need an edit for voice. Be specific.
Requesting design? Take the time to find out the specs. This can easily cause a bit of a communication breakdown because non-designers don’t always understand what designers want in terms of specs. It is okay not to know, but make an effort to find out. More often than not, your designers can help you nail down these details, but it saves tons of time if you come into a project with these already sorted out. What file type are you looking for? PDF? JPG? These are the types of questions your designer will ask you, so drop them as a line item in your request form so you don’t forget!
Specify your audience.
Who is this going to be looking at this end deliverable? Is it internal? External? Is it for a specific client or customer? Perhaps it needs to be tailored for a particular group within your target audience. Be specific. This information matters to you, and it will matter to your designer.
How will this be delivered?
Is this for social? Website? Print? All of the above? Indicate the channel and placement as that will guide the design. It may also indicate multiple files with different sizes. Be clear and cover all of your bases.
Should this be made into a template?
Templates will allow the requester to execute new iterations and be more agile. Indicate if this should be made into a template so the requester can make adjustments moving forward.
Your creative request form should include:
- Type of request
- Project Scope
- Priority rating
- Design specifications
- Copy parameters
- Target audience
- Distribution and/or channel
Methods to submit creative requests
Where should my creative request live and how can my team access it?
If possible, it can be helpful to leverage existing systems that are already in place to help facilitate your creative request process. That said, sometimes, existing systems are not reasonable solutions, and making a new process work within an existing system creates even more challenges.
Ultimately, in its most basic form, you will want to make sure that you have these two components to ensure success:
A Form (Google Form, Jotform, etc).
A place to see all the requests submitted.
You want to make sure every request that comes through is dumped into a format that your team can access and download. If you are using a form, you want it to drop into a sheet or template that gives you full visibility. Bonus points if you can then sort it by priority and due date. This is going to make life easier for everyone, so the method for fielding these requests has to work within your existing workflow and work for your entire team.
Fulfilling creative requests
Sprint mentality to get through your creative to-dos
The to-do list is always growing and more often than not, it is a sign that your team is producing the kind of work that will grow your business. The requests create formality and provide structure to get the project done well. That said, especially if your design team is small, it can feel overwhelming and sometimes impossible to keep up with the requests. While there are many methods for attacking the list of to-dos, we are going to focus on the sprint mentality.
84% of marketing and creative teams prefer a sprint mentality to their approach to work.Hochschule Koblenz, 2020
While this particular study focused on Scrum, the benefits of a sprint approach are universal.
Benefits of Sprints:
- Prioritizes projects
- Creates more focused to-do lists
- Gives a timeline for project completion
- Creates accountability
- Visibility on workload
- Factors time as a resource
- Creatives a structure for project planning and execution
The sprint approach focuses on what can be accomplished within a specific time period. The mentality ensures follow-through and condenses and prioritizes larger lists into shorter, more doable chunks.
It provides visibility for requesters as they will know if their request has been dropped into the sprint for that period of time. This looks like a request submission by X day, which means it will be put in the cue for the following week’s or month’s sprint depending on your organization’s sprint parameters.
If your organization has a smaller team, it is likely that your designer(s) is turning around requests in days not weeks. If that is the case, you can make the length of your sprints shorter, or plan to break up the work in stages to accommodate these shorter turnaround times.
This would look like stage one tasks completed in the first half of the week and stage two tasks completed in the second half of the week. By breaking up the work in stages, you can keep your sprint review meetings to once a week, rather than meeting again mid-week to recalibrate to-dos.
If your company follows a request for proposal process, like many agencies, you may have a monthly sprint for these larger projects, in addition to a weekly sprint for the smaller design requests.
At the end of the day, the guidelines will need to be determined by your team and function best for the kind of work you are executing. Consider the buckets of requests and priority ratings, then group projects together so you have clear marching orders with a plan to accomplish them.
Sprint review time is not the time to let your ego dictate your to-dos. If you are able to do more in the time frame allotted, awesome! If you can’t or even under-deliver, this will help with future resource planning and set appropriate expectations for deadlines moving forward.
Another sweet little bonus that comes with sprints is that feeling of accomplishment. The one that individuals need in order to keep their energy levels flying high. Burnout has a million contributing factors, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is when the workload feels unmanageable designers are more likely to struggle. There is a reason why so many people create to-do lists and include things they’ve already done just so they can get the slight dopamine kick from checking it off.
It feels good to get work done! Set yourself up for success by taking the time to gather all of the to-dos and make a plan to get it done in chunks. This organized process for completing tasks will also give teams room to add in last-minute requests, bump certain deadlines up or down, and work more effectively.
Ways to ensure creative collaboration
Request formalities shouldn’t take the place of divergent brainstorming
It’s normal to worry that more formal requests and processes will remove opportunities for collaboration, especially if you work on a smaller team. While it may seem like the process eliminates collaboration, the reality is that the two should be working in step with the other. Formally submitting a request for work does not mean that stakeholders are removed from the creation process. Sometimes, yes, the request may be straightforward enough that collaboration isn’t required, but ultimately, a functioning team can balance both.
Here are a few ways to ensure creative collaboration continues:
1. Plan a standup meeting and sprint review meeting
Once you decide on your sprint timeframe, set up a standing meeting where requests are reviewed as a team. In this meeting, you will look at the projects submitted, hopefully, ranked by priority, and determine which items will fall into that dedicated sprint. While this meeting isn’t for sharing ideas, it does bring the designers and requesters together and aligns everyone on what will be worked on and when the finished work will be completed.
Additionally, it may make sense for you to set up a standup meeting in the middle of the sprint just to check in. This meeting shouldn’t be long and instead should be focused on what (if any) questions there are on projects. It also gives the team an opportunity to have visibility on how the projects are progressing and designers can get quick input.
2. Share your unique perspective with confidence
This is a less formal way to collaborate but just as crucial to creating a collaborative environment at your organization. Use your existing communication channels and share your ideas. One idea can spark thousands more and sometimes simply sharing something you saw or a half-baked idea can become a new initiative owned by your entire team.
3. Set up a 15-minute brainstorming session.
Meetings are sometimes hard to schedule, but it is likely that 15-minutes can be found on calendars to come together and have a focused moment for brainstorming on projects. These are a minimal time commitment and an opportunity to mutually contribute. These quick meetings can help the requester feel like a contributor and provide the designer with even more context for the request itself.
4. Collaboration requires communication. Just talk.
Sometimes, talking to each other feels like it has to be formal. It doesn’t. A team that talks to each other works better together and the best way to ensure collaboration is to keep the communication channels open and flowing.
Key benefits when your creative process is running smoothly
Work smarter not harder
Whether this article encourages you to implement a creative request workflow and sprint review into your daily grind or simply reminds you that process matters, we can all agree that working smarter not harder has a laundry list of benefits.
The thing about a process is that it can be broken when needed. If you depend on it to inform your daily work, a break in flow when needed doesn’t cause major hiccups and allows your team to iterate quickly. Agile teams leverage strong work processes to respond quickly to the needs of their organization and happy creative teams work better when they have a clear path to success. Collaboration is easier when us vs. them tension is soothed by a universal creative process that keeps things running smoothly.
It is the difference between a disastrous tornado and a well-orchestrated symphony.
Well, that is a wrap! We hope you learned a lot about restoring creative sanity in your organization. By refining your creative request process and building out a workflow that actually works for your team, your team can level up on delivering quickly and effectively to your audience.
If you need a pep talk before you take on this challenge, just remember this: it’s not personal, it’s process.
To learn more about how Marq can help teams execute creative requests faster, email firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a 1:1 with a brand-templating expert here.