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Four-Armed Martians And The Importance Of Well Managed Creative Review Cycles

(Note: This is the second in a series of Blogmaster 2000 posts about  four-armed Martians in which I don’t actually discuss anything that is truly useful with regard to Martians, or even mention them at all.)

Right off the top, let’s be very clear – I’m not complaining, I love my clients, but there is something that most all agency clients have in common: a strange unexplainable need to ignore the initial rounds of review and then engage on the last round and submit a ton of feedback. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean clients as individuals – individually, for the most part, they all seem to have an understanding of the importance of a disciplined process to manage clean prescriptive feedback. But as organizations, it tends to get lost quickly.

Having said that, the importance of clean and tightly managed review cycles in the creation of collaborative media (advertising/marketing, web development, commercial video production, etc) cannot be underestimated. It is by nature a process that is dependent upon disparate points of input in order to, hopefully, create a compelling whole. And as such, the most simple and predictive way in which to handle it is by iteration. And with collaborative iteration comes the need to manage the process of pulling in and implementing the feedback of all the participants involved.

(Whoooo… that was a ton of big words, for now on I will try to avoid them until the wrap up at the end.)

At this point the question might be rightfully raised: Why is this important? And the answer is as simple as Time and Money.

All agencies base their estimates on the amount of expected effort/time a project will take and associated hourly rate of the individual resources (production designer, programmer, writer, strategist, etc) involved. Even the agencies that will negotiate a flat rate with a client (which we do on occasion based on the scope of the project and our history with the client) start off with that approach.

The problems that tend to arise when a well managed review cycle is not followed are:

  • Loss of clear communication between teams – client and creative/agency (not good)
  • A last minute scramble to realign direction and a possible ground level reboot of the process (even less not good, or more not good… the one that is less good than not good)
  • Angry and frustrated creative team and client team (just plain bad, bad, bad)

There is nothing like the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after everyone on both sides have given their all to create something from nothing and just as the final deliverable is being handed off for approval, the word comes back that it is nowhere close to expectations and blame starts to get thrown around like the Avada Kedavra curse in a wizard fight against He Who Shall Not Be Named. Or Voldemort or Tom Riddle (depending on whether or not you knew him before he went all super evil and stuff).

When this happens it usually happens to one degree or another with clients that have multiple points of input (shared marketing goals across several product categories each with their own marketing managers, etc). Specific to situations like this, it is probably a best practice that the client have one point of feedback to the agency. This person would be accountable for pulling in all feedback from all of the other stakeholders and rolling it up into one feedback document. This helps avoid late and contradictory feedback and adding extra rounds of review slowing down the process unnecessarily.

My preferred method of review (and this is by no means definitive, it is just the one that makes the most sense to me – but I also think Will Ferrell movies, regardless of how bad are still worth seeing on opening day) is a set 3 round cycle. That doesn’t mean that there are only 3 rounds for the entire project, but it does require for each independent work stream that decision points be grouped into 3 rounds.

The review rounds may seem excessive, but some go faster than others and generally adhere to the following pattern:

  • Round One – Directional feedback – is it on strategy, does it fit overall what we are looking for, feedback will consist of realigning direction with clear prescriptive input from the client/client team.
  • Round Two – Adjustments – now that it is on strategy and fits expectations this round will focus on adjusting content or design where needed with clear prescriptive input from the client/client team.
  • Round Three – Tweaks – we should be right on at this point if all feedback has been clean and prescriptive and should only be looking at minor tweaks in wording or color palette or layout.

This format of course doesn’t take into account internal agency review rounds. In our agency process we tend to have a lot of adhoc reviews at multiple decision points as well as a final proof round of all major stakeholders before going out to client. (Ok, maybe sometimes I am guilty of rushing the internal final sign-offs before going to client, but dangit, deadlines matter too!!)

It may be apparent that I put a lot of emphasis on making sure the client is well involved in the process. Dare I say “integral” even. And this is purposeful. I have never been comfortable with the traditional vendor/client relationship. All of my most satisfying professional experiences have been in instances where my client is more of a partner than an uni-directional radio wave beaming directives at us from deep space. The chances of a happy and successful work experience and end product are greatly reduced in those situations.

When you have a process of review that allows clear and consistent communication, the reinforcement of the importance of tracking progress easily against the schedule, and maintaining work levels to budget and controlling unexpected burn, it allows the client to actually be a real part of the full creative process, which I feel is a very powerful and rewarding experience.

But having said all of that, if you, as a client, don’t have a set time line and and are working with a bottomless cup of budget, be sure to call me regardless, I’m not stuck-up that way at all…

One Comment

  1. avatar Aldo Camolez
    Posted December 7, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Do I recognize that feeling!

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