Clients should be aware of their ad agency’s creative process.


When you work in the advertising industry, you basically fall into one of several categories.  This includes (but not limited to) 3rd party vendors such as a printer or edit studio, publisher/media, ad agency and client.  But for the majority of us that make up the industry, you’re either the client, or you’re the ad agency.

Both sides have a love/hate relationship with each other and their “behind closed doors” gripes on one another.  However, being that I have been fortunate to work on both sides of the fence, I really have to sympathize with the ad agency.  I truly think that clients, many of whom have never worked at an agency, don’t realized just what the processes are or the work involved when they go to their ad agency with a job order.

Here’s a quick, generic guide of what happens when the client goes to their agency for help on a project.  Perhaps after reading this, clients will think differently next time they hold on to a work order for a week before they finally decide to give it to their agency or approve a collateral piece and expect it at the printer in the next 5 minutes….so if you’re a client being serviced by an ad agency….please read on!

When jobs come through the agency, the agency looks at them as either small or larger, complex projects.  All projects are handled differently since it will depend on the number of variables and the scope of work.  The basic creative process consists of the steps below.  Please note, this is very generic, there is always adjustments for certain projects, particularly the larger ones.  Ad agencies also differ in dynamics and roles for their employees.

1. Client communicates to the account manager (AM) what is needed to develop the creative piece(s).  This includes things such as the objective, message, audience, tone, etc.
– Larger, complex projects may require strategy and directional meetings between the client and agency.

2. After receiving this information, the AM will draft a creative brief or review the brief provided by the client.  If there are any red flags or questions raised after the review they are addressed.
– The AM will also determine who needs to be involved in the project as far as roles are concerned.  IE. If this is a website,  the web designer will need to be involved along with the art and creative director.
– They will also check for things such as mechanical specs, any quantities needed, additional requirements such as stock photos, 3rd party conflicts and so on.
– The AM oversees the project budget, supervises the timeline and sets deadlines for each stage of the job.  (Hot jobs can bump non-hot jobs which will require juggling of timelines.)

3. The job is assigned a tracking number and an official job docket is opened.
– The job number is used as reference, and to track cost and creative time.
– It is also used as the purchase order for any outside costs.

4. Once the AM officially opens the work order, they need to inform their team members based on the needs of the job.  Copies of the docket are primarily submitted to the copywriter (CW) and the art director (AD).
– If there is media to be purchased, the media director (MD) also gets a copy since they are required to develop an ad schedule.  It is important for them to be involved at an early stage since they determine the size/length of the ad, which is required by the creative team.
– Depending on the structure of the agency, a production manager (PM) also gets involved at this stage to coordinate production estimates & timelines.  eg. The quantities of brochures are given and the production manager bids the project out to printers to fulfill with a target delivery date.
– Some agencies separate the AD from the online side.  In such cases, the web designer (WD) is involved to see what they need to animate and program.
– The social media marketing manager (SM) is also tuned in to determine an SMM strategy based on the need of the client & project.

5. Based on the brief, at a minimum the CW will draft a copy sheet, which they submit to the AD.   In some instances the CW will meet with the AD and give them a brief summation of the direction to clarify.
– The more complex projects such as television, online ads, branding or the overall look of an ad campaign will require team meetings to concept the creative direction and develop the execution of a campaign.

6. Normally, the AD will put together a lo-res layout which is passed on to the AM for review.  They make sure that the objectives are met, the message is said, spelling and anything else to ensure completion of the project.
– For TV, online ads or websites this may include key frames or storyboards.

7. The AM forwards to the client for approval with any feedback or comments from the rest of the team.
– Larger projects will require physical meetings between the agency and client to go over layouts/concepts.
– Client can also be in attendance during radio or TV edit sessions to go over creative.

8. Any changes that are made will require a record known as a change order to be added to the AM’s original job docket.  The process between steps 5-7 may be repeated.

9. Once the job is approved, the AM informs the team.  This is the gray area where I feel many clients don’t understand.  The actual production side of their projects.
– The AD must finalize and up-res any images in the creative pieces which will require a reasonable amount of time (Note, just because the layout is approved, does not mean the final creative is ready to go).  This includes color correction, up-resing any images or graphics and setting up the file for printer/pub specs.
– If TV is to be shot a production calendar is built so client knows when the shoot dates are and the edit schedule is.  They will have the chance to give the final sign off during the online session.

10. Depending on the structure of the team, either the AD, AM or MD will then send the ad out to the publisher/station.

As you can see there are a lot of steps between the client handing a job off to their agency and the actual ad going out to the media vehicle to which it will run.  So when you, the client waits till 3pm to hand a job to your agency with a deadline of the next day by noon, you are really putting things into a bind and compressing the process.  Quite honestly, the best work and creative from agencies come when you allow them the time to think.  Imagine if you had a problem but I only gave you 10 minutes to solve it versus 10 hours.  See what I’m getting at?  Of course that’s just one example, but I feel that once a client understands this process, they try to be more compromising so that both parties are happy.  Good luck on your next ad!


One response to this post.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brandon S, HendrixMiyasakiShin. HendrixMiyasakiShin said: RT @WeHeartHawaii: Clients should be aware of their ad agency's creative process. […]


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