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How to Stick to Deadlines – and Your Sanity – While Managing Creative Projects

Published: August 22, 2014

Author: Adrienne Abrams

We’ve all been there: “Can you just give us one more concept?”; “Can you try another image?”; “We need to do another round of revisions”; and my favorite, “I know it was approved, but we just have some last-minute changes…”.
I would like to believe that these requests are not being made for the sole purpose of making you crazy. Most people have the best intentions of delivering the project on-time, in budget, and within scope. However, things happen!
By following a few simple steps, you can take back the control of creative projects so the exceptions will truly be just that: exceptions.

Step 1:  The Kick-Off

A kick-off meeting is key to starting a project off on the right foot. Try to get as much information as possible from the Account team prior to the meeting. This way you’ll go in educated and armed with the right questions for the client.
If the client is unable to join, you should still have this meeting. It’s up to your account team to act as the client’s proxy.
At a minimum, you should cover the following topics:

-Project objective
-Expected timeline
-Client’s brand assets
-Possible concerns or red flags
-Upcoming promotions, other marketing efforts, etc.

Step 2a: The Creative Brief

Now it’s time to put everything down on paper. The Account team should put together a full Creative Brief. I’ve seen and used many different versions, but you should be okay as long as you’ve covered the following: objective, deliverables, audience, timeline (which I’ll talk about below), and available assets.
Get client sign-off. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure the client has bought in to what you are delivering. A good creative brief can save you hours of stress later on.  This will act as your roadmap throughout the project plus it can be referenced when the client starts asking for more!

Step 2b: The Timeline

While it’s tempting to just say ‘yes’ to whatever date the client wants, check the Creative queue and the project scope before you commit. Remember to include time for review and for multiple rounds of revisions.
Explicitly note to the client that additional revisions and delayed feedback will push back the timeline. (It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll meet the initial deadline if the client has additional creative rounds.) Also, check the Statement of Work or the contract to see how many creative revisions are included in the price.

Step 3: Set Expectations

Ensure the internal client (the Account team) and the client understand what the first round of creative will include, how it will be delivered, and any other pieces that might help manage expectations.  Communication is the key.
If you have any concerns at all, let the team know early on. It’s much easier to reset expectations before you are past a deadline. Your client will be much more forgiving if you are proactive and upfront.
Providing status updates and updated timelines throughout the project are also really helpful. Are you ahead of schedule? Do you have any issues? Giving the stakeholders an update will instill confidence in you and in the project.

Step 4: Delivery

Work with the Account team to ensure you know how the deliverables are going to be provided and to whom. Will it come from Creative directly, or are they filtered through the Account team? Do you require a meeting to walk through the concept,s or will they just be delivered online?
Prepare the client ahead of time. This will help eliminate any confusion and will aid in funneling the Creative review appropriately.

Step 5: Feedback

This is key. First, how are you getting the feedback? Is it through a creative review tool, over email, on the phone? Review the feedback and ask questions. Don’t make assumptions if you cannot decipher what the client is saying.
Be explicit on how many rounds of revisions are included in this project. With each communication, include a timeline. This way there are no surprises. This can be especially helpful as dates change or feedback is delayed.

Step 6: Additional requests

Even if you’ve been the best communicator and have kept up on feedback, timelines, and every other detail, things can still go sideways. While it’s important to meet the client’s needs, it’s also important that you stand your ground.
Refer back to the creative brief and be critical. Did you miss something? Were you clear on expectations? Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s documented, you continue to over-communicate, and you set a precedent so it doesn’t happen again.
While no two projects are alike, it is amazing how far formal communication, outlined expectations, and frequent status updates will help keep you on track. Good luck!

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