Agency Operations: Your ‘quick win’ is right here

February 14, 2017

unproductive-tasksA while ago, I met a former colleague for lunch, an Account Director at a large marketing agency and I jokingly told her I didn’t know how she did it, dealing with last-minute, often off-the-wall client requests every day. She smiled and gave me the canned ‘it’s our pleasure to help’-type of reply, but then became quiet. While idiosyncratic requests from clients came with the territory, it was the workloads, she said, that were getting harder and harder to deal with.

Things have gotten ‘crazy’, she related; while busy days were nothing new, there was now a constant and frantic scramble to make deadlines that left so little energy for the creative side of the job. “Everyone’s always exhausted”, she said.


It seems she’s not alone in her feelings. A recent Boston Consulting Group study commissioned by Google, took a deep dive into the day-to-day activities of agency campaigns to better understand where the inefficiencies in digital advertising campaigns lie. By studying the end-to-end process (from planning to billing) of a few dozen ad campaigns, the project was able to pinpoint the exact activities that are making agency back-end operations increasingly inefficient and complex (or as my friend described it, ‘crazy’).

The reality for marketing agencies is this; the almost limitless variety of digital ad types and platforms available today,  including over 20 intermediaries like ad servers, demand/supply side platforms, exchanges, ad networks and more, has created a world that is almost unbearably complex to manage.  This short video does a good job of helping to understand it.

What’s emerged as a way to handle it all is a maze of unconnected, disjointed processes and systems that must be consolidated, reconciled and constantly tended to.  Workarounds like massive spreadsheets to manage projects and a hodgepodge of other manual, low-value tasks have sprouted up and, while amazingly creative and clever, they are neither scalable nor sustainable.

The BCG study’s show stopper says it all: only 20% of campaign process time is spent on activities that can be considered strategic, innovative or creative (in other words, the ‘good stuff’ agencies are being paid to do). Instead, a whopping 4 out of 5 days in any given client campaign are spent on non-productive, repetitive tasks like managing large email threads, summarizing results on complex spreadsheets, manually reconciling, consolidating and transferring data.

BCG Agency Study Exhibit 2

So, what to do about it?

While the study did a great job of isolating the problems, it also pointed readers in the right direction for a solution:

Over the long term, combine existing digital processes under ‘one roof ‘ with an integrated platform and eliminate the incredible time wasted moving between disparate systems – admittedly a big job that would take months, if not years to accomplish.

In the meantime, take a common-sense approach and attack the problem with a series of incremental changes that buy you ‘quick win’ productivity gains.

Good idea.  Here’s a great place to begin.

Quick wins are good.  They provide some immediate relief, give you a little breathing room to develop a sound, longer-term strategy and throw off some positive momentum to propel you toward your goal.

The review and approval process surfaces in the BCG study as a big contributor to the problem. Activities cited in the report as major culprits include: ‘Many briefing meetings and emails’, ‘Lengthy Approval Process’, ‘Media Proposals in Different Formats’ , ‘Waiting for client approval’, ‘Waiting for delivery of creative’ – all activities that eat up hours, even days of time.  But they don’t have to.

The approval process seems like a good place to start.

Online proofing is a simple fix, the ‘quick win’.

An online proofing tool eliminates most of the non-productive tasks inherent in the above activities.  With the file requiring approval centrally located in the cloud, all parties can access, provide feedback using simple commenting and markup tools, view multiple versions, and collaborate real-time from any location.  The project manager can see instantly who’s commented and who still needs chasing as deadlines loom.

At Workfront, we’ve watched as so many of our customers adopt online proofing, and with hindsight, gain clarity on how hugely inefficient their approval processes were.  Hours of repetitive, largely unproductive tasks disappear from their marketing campaigns, freeing up time to focus on what’s important.

In fact, it frees up lots of time.  An independent study performed by Intellilink showed that using online proofing reduced the amount of time it took to complete a marketing project by almost 60%.  What previously took 4 weeks to get out the door, can now on average be completed in less than 2 weeks.

And interestingly, what was often undertaken as the ‘quick win’, sometimes ends up saving so much time and effort it became the ‘big win’.



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