What Is the Extra Round of Creative Costing You?

August 10, 2023
Blum Consulting Partners Leadership Team
Blum post

This article was originally published on ANA.NET in 2023

It's a familiar scenario, something that happens all the time. There's an approved strategy, a brief, and theoretically all the stakeholders in the process should be aligned, but still the clients are sending the agency back to do another round of creative, and another, and another. It's frustrating for everyone, and it's a waste of resources, time, and money.

This is especially true in companies that have broad product and brand portfolios, numerous agency partners, and global to local team complexity. And these extra rounds can have a cumulative negative impact on brands that deliver high volumes of campaign and promotional work as in retail, CPG, fast food, telecom, beverage and spirits, technology, and automotive.

How Much Is it Actually Costing You?

Let's estimate the financial impact.

Experience shows us that on a Tier 1 multi-deliverable campaign with an external creative agency, the additional cost of one additional unanticipated round of creative on average can be as much as $50,000, according to our research. This assumes that the strategy remains the same, and the additional round is not a complete re-brief, which can cost significantly more.

Imagine how quickly that can escalate into serious money if you multiply it by a diverse portfolio of agencies, and campaigns for different brands and products over the course of a year.

Although for an in-house agency the same campaign is probably about 30 percent less expensive, and a reduction in complexity reduces the cost still further, according to our research, over the course of a year the numbers can still take a sizeable chunk out of the marketing budget, conceivably reaching several million dollars.

The Opportunity Cost?

These numbers also do not consider the loss of revenue for campaigns that are late to market, or the effect that a delay in delivery has on other scoped work if the agency team is still working on the last campaign.
In addition, the agency may be habitually over scoped if they must allow extra resources for re-work and unpredictable demands on resources.

Think of the financial impact of human capital losses for marketers, media buyers, etc. that need to spend cycles on extra rounds of creative, and imagine the time wasted from the CMO, the marketing team, even the brand compliance and legal teams.

Additionally, extra rounds from bad process and unclear roles leads to frustration and breeds lack of trust. Internal teams that consistently feel the goalposts are arbitrarily moving can become disengaged or burnt out, which leads to higher team turnover both internally and externally.

Get to the Root Cause

Here are some of the most common causes of extra creative rounds.

  • Bad or Incomplete Briefs
    Probably the biggest cost driver negatively affecting the creative process is the impact of an incomplete or an unclear brief. Spending the time and effort to align on a well-crafted brief at the outset of the process provides the single greatest chance for success in an efficient creative process. A good brief is the roadmap for creative execution, pure and simple, and a well-crafted brief provides clarity and direction to focus efforts towards an effective and timely result.
  • Too Many Approvers
    Often marketing organizations are unclear on who are the required approvers and how far up the chain of command to escalate, which leads to confusion and unnecessary churn, and often results in feedback which arrives at the wrong time, disrupting the process. Different types of projects typically require different types and levels of approval, and it is essential to have those clearly defined and standardized.
  • Too Much Input
    Often organizations have too many people with conflicting priorities providing inconsistent creative input or unconsolidated feedback. It's tempting for junior people to cover their bases by soliciting feedback from an overly large universe of stakeholders, but creatives cannot be expected to deliver successfully on multiple agendas, especially if those agendas are not made clear at the start of the project and the result is invariably confusion and wasted time.
  • I'll Know It When I See It
    Using the creative process to evolve a brand strategy is a dangerous and costly mistake. Too often marketers enter the creative process without a clear picture of what they are trying to accomplish which leads to unnecessary rounds of creative and ultimately, dissatisfaction with the end-product because the goals were unclear.
  • Late to the Party Syndrome and/or Parachuting In
    A common syndrome is when senior level marketers decide to enter the game late in the creative process and offer opinions after the work has been presented. This causes confusion with the marketers responsible for delivering the creative and causes the agencies to jump through hoops to try and please the boss. This is a common case of "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should." It's a bad practice and it is demoralizing for the team and a huge waste of money.
  • The Ones Who Won't Get Off the Train
    Efficient hand-offs are essential to the creative process. If the product team is reviewing creative, or if the messaging team is offering creative opinions late in the game, it creates confusion with too many competing agendas in the creative process. Give your input and get out of the way. By the time a project gets to creative ideation, everyone should be out of the creative process except the approvers and the executors who are engaged in the creative process.

How Do I Get It Done in Fewer Rounds?

Reducing rounds all starts with solid upfront planning and scoping followed quickly by complete and actionable briefs. Getting the brief right and aligned with agency partners is critical and all too often shortchanged by clients. One important tip here is to make sure that whoever is the final creative approver signs off on the brief to avoid any late strategic misunderstandings.

Take the time to clearly document the campaign process including the roles of the various team members with the approval flow and level. Be sure to share this process with your agency partner and give them permission to hold your team accountable. Be ruthless and clear in terms of who is not involved as the process continues down the path toward final approval. And finally, identify and empower a single client lead who is responsible to drive the process keeping all stakeholders informed and staying true to the documented creative workflow.

Giving your agency clear and useful creative feedback can be a game changer both in terms of reducing rounds from misunderstanding but also in terms of building a stronger relationship. Be sure to take the time to train the approver team on the art of great feedback and give real examples of what types of comments are helpful and what is not. Additionally, be sure to consolidate feedback to the agency. The fragmented one-off feedback causes delays and often puts the agency in a spot to try to resolve conflicting points of view.

And finally, be sure to establish in-house and external KPIs for the targeted number of rounds for various levels of work. Then track it quarterly and report it out semi-annually both internally and with agency partners. Identify specific actions and owners for any issues that are at the root of these costly extra rounds.

Extra rounds of creative are costly to both the company and your agency relationships. It hits the bottom line in cost and time to market. The good news is that if your organization focuses on identifying the root causes and works to address them, these issues can be minimized and lead to a more efficient operation, better ways of working and ultimately better creative work.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Blum Consulting Partners, Inc., specializes in process review, analysis, and implementation to maximize creative output, effective process, and efficient use of resources in the creative execution process. We work with agencies, creative content providers, marketing stakeholders, and in-house agencies, to identify and close gaps at each step of the creative process. We deliver solutions and implement procedures that help companies plan for future growth, deliver on expectations, communicate better internally and externally, and save time and money.

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