Marketing is living in a new age of content. We have more channels and formats to fill than ever before. And yet even as our MarTech machines demand more content, some Marketing organizations haven’t updated the process by which the fuel is created.
Previously, I wrote about why and how we should address this by improving the creative briefing process for MarTech Series. Today, I want to address the other end – the review and approval process – because even brilliant creative can’t drive leads and awareness if it’s stuck in a review.
Stuck may well be the operative word too. According to the 2019 In-House Creative Management Report, most creatives and marketers (61%) say pushing a creative project through the review process takes between 3-5 rounds of review that lasts anywhere from 2-5 days (70%).
Yet it can be even harder for many others. About one-fifth (19%) of respondents say approvals can require between 5-10 rounds of review while 4% say it requires 10 or more. With this higher number of review rounds, we can see the time frame stretches from days to weeks: 15% say this process takes 6-7 days; 13% say 8-14 days, and 8% say this lasts more than two weeks.
The problem is compounded because even after all that, about more than one-third of creatives (36%) say the feedback from reviewers is not clear and actionable. In addition, another quarter (26%) are seemingly lukewarm, which suggests ample room for improvement.
Those teams that find themselves with projects routinely stuck in review know the true meaning of the word bottleneck: they are facing upwards of 10 rounds of review over two weeks or more – and even after that they aren’t clear on what should change.
How can you feed the Marketing machine with a continuous stream of new and high-quality creative under these circumstances? The simple answer is you can’t, and it sets the team up for failure. No matter how hard they work, it’s never enough.
Tips to Optimized the Review and Approval Process
There are some clear ways to streamline the process and drive measurable efficiency. These include the following:
1) Standardized the Review + Approval Process.
How do reviews get done inside your organization today? Chances are, if projects are routinely stuck, this process is ad hoc – completed over lengthy email exchanges, or even worse, sidebar conversations. This lacks transparency and clear routing which produces out-of-sequence reviews, conflicting views, and duplicative feedback. Sometimes this means everyone except a critical stakeholder weighs in with a perspective. Standardization starts with documentation – that is creative and Marketing get together to determine who needs to see what.
2) Develop Service Level Agreements.
Service level agreements (SLAs) define the timing of reviews, the role of reviewers, objectives for each review and requirements for completeness of feedback. Marketers and creatives have deadlines to meet, and so reviewers have limits on the time allocated to turn a review around – and the number of rounds they can demand. This keeps the project moving and incentivizes considerate feedback.
3) Add Collaboration and Workflow to the MarTech Stack.
Standardized processes have the best chance at process improvement. When you can see a process in documentation, you are in a better position to identify the inefficiencies and automate the redundant administrative tasks. This is where collaboration and workflow technologies can make a dramatic improvement to the creative review and approval process.
Workflow will automatically route a project to the next step as each reviewer completes their feedback or signs off. It’s transparent and accountable – everyone can see the feedback provided – which provides clarity for the creative and helps leaders build consensus.
A key to collaborative tools is to allow those involved to work how they want to work. Creatives, for example, will desire integration to their creative tools. This allows designers, for example, to participate in the process without ever leaving their design tools. Similarly, executives will find the ability to review, comment and approve projects on a mobile app a considerable timesaver.
4) Collect and Analyze Data About the Review Process.
Where are projects getting hung up? Who are the bottlenecks? Which reviewers are consistently providing incomplete or late feedback? Which stakeholders insist on multiple reviews or other actions outside the agreed-upon SLAs?
You can collect this data in a spreadsheet, or many workflow tools will do it for you automatically. It’s critical to identify what’s slowing projects and preventing them from being put into the market to drive business results.
More than accountability, this data can also be a goldmine for data-driven estimates. In the aforementioned report, Colleen Phelan, Director, Marketing Services and Digital Customer Experience for Delta Vacations, describes how her team collects data for this purpose:
“We know for example, in our organization, an integrated campaign with a core digital presence is going to take four weeks to execute including reviews, while a campaign that involves print advertising may take up to six weeks because of the close dates for materials.”
Her team is wildly successful at it too, as she notes:
“Each year we finish some 3,000 projects that include multi-channel, complex integrated campaigns. And, it is award-winning, effective, brand-right creative that drives business results, too, so everyone is happy.”
The Payoff for a Timely Review Process
In the same study cited above, 16% of respondents indicated their organization completes reviews in just one or two rounds. This is strongly correlated with other key characteristics of a smooth marketing and creative operation.
When we isolated the answers from those respondents to see how they answered other questions we found they were:
- 40% more likely to get creative projects approved in just 3 days or less, which means they get creative projects performing in the market faster; and
- Less likely to be mired in administrative tasks – 100% of this group spend just 4 hours or less on admin tasks each week – whereas respondents in the overall survey spend 7-10 hours or about one full day every week.
In other words, those marketing and creative teams with an efficient review and approval process, spend more time creating. That’s more time creating quality content to fill all those channels and formats.