...as a principal at Turnaround Marketing Communications and its creative director for two decades, I feel your pain. Many’s the day I felt like an octopus—or wished I was one—trying to keep more than 30 clients’ projects on track. My experience in the creative communications trenches taught me about good design, positive client relations, effective team management, quality control, and achieving stated goals in marketing pieces. It also taught me about organisation and time management.
To keep all the balls in the air, I instituted policies and procedures that ensured effective workflow so that small projects wouldn't slip through the cracks and large ones got the attention they deserved. Though we only had two designers, we produced many award-winning, results-driven marketing pieces with the aplomb of much larger firms. You, too, are probably charged with doing a lot with a little. (How many arms does your boss think you have?) It can be done.
Here are my suggestions for effective workflow procedures.
1. Create a master job sheet to keep track of all projects. This is a view of all current projects from 30,000 feet. It covers the major milestones, but doesn’t go into much detail. Creating a job sheet is easily done in Word or Excel. Columns could include job number, “client” (who you are doing this for - admissions, development, etc.), project title, first-proof due date, in-hand due date, and notes. At Turnaround, we also include scope (hours budgeted), and hours to date (see time-tracking software later in this post).
2. Develop and use a creative brief (click here to download an example) that outlines in detail the job’s scope including goals, budget, and deadlines as well as personnel assigned to it, printing guidelines, etc. Make sure you ensure brand adhesion by aligning key messages with your school’s brand messages.
3. Hold regular, weekly meetings of your team even if it’s just two of you. Run down the job sheet and update each project’s status. Don’t skip projects unless they are completely idle. There were many occasions when this weekly meeting saved someone’s bacon at our firm.
4. Create a job folder for larger projects using anything from a simple file folder to a bigger job envelope. Label the folder with the job number, client, and project. We used to use coloured folders that matched one of the school’s colours. You might want to assign one colour each for admissions, development, alumni, publications and so on.
5. Establish an approval process, and don’t veer from it. At Turnaround, we require a sign-off when a job is approved. This can be as simple as an email with the last PDF that says "Go." Clients sometimes wonder why we are hard-nosed about this, but we have found it keeps everyone on the same page and prevents problems about which version was the final.
6. Determine the number of revisions. If you tell those you are working with that you expect just two rounds of revisions, they will generally be more thoughtful about changes. Then you’ll end up with three or four rounds. If you let them revise ad infinitum, believe me, they will. (The record at Turnaround was 31. We instituted our policy after that!)
7. Label final files "FNL". After you're on your 12th revision and you get the green light, but sure to save the final, final, final file with "FNL" at the end.
8. Use time-tracking software. Though small school offices may not need it, this kind of software shows how long each project and its components took to complete, which will help you predict future projects. It also points out “problem” projects, which helps with internal time management and workflow as well as assessing which projects should be outsourced. Hubspot has some suggestions for you.
So is all this worth it? Or why would anyone in their right mind want to do this? If you use these tools regularly and track results, your office will become more efficient, productive, and valuable.
Liza Fisher Norman established Turnaround Marketing Communications in 1991 and has worked with many schools across the USA, as well as setting up InspirED school marketers - a great source of advice for school marketers from all around the world.