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Agency Traffic Management: Rock Your Workflow

Cali Mitchell | March 9, 2017 | 4 minute read

In a world where brand recognition and boundary-breaking creative work are heralded, the  formulaic systems and processes to guide workflow are, of course, boring. A production process is not flashy, and it won’t win awards. Some agencies have even automated this function via project management software and digital advances in the industry. (Here’s hoping Artificial Intelligence is still light years from a traffic robot roaming around agency hallways.) Having an ineffective traffic process or, worse, no process at all, will cause confusion and loss of precious billable time.

During a growth year where hiring and training can take over the daily routine, it’s more important than ever to maintain order. Ensuring that all information reaches the parties involved generates ample time for innovation on the creative side while giving peace to the account service and production side of things. This also creates a safety net when freelancers or contract employees are brought into the mix. A clear-cut process eliminates issues that gnaw at your bottom line. Otherwise, details are dropped, deadlines are missed, clients are miffed, and the bottom line takes a sharp dive into accounting hell.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some suggestions from a “certified traffic professional.” (Spoiler alert: it’s me.)

1. When in Doubt, Talk It Out.

This means having an open line of communication between production, account service and creative. It also means having clear, easy-to-follow workflows for every kind of project, complete with an effective kickoff meeting to get the entire team on the same page. Check in often. Ensure everyone has access to valuable project information. Think about your specs. Is that billboard digital or print? To bleed or not to bleed? Provide comparable collateral. Include in the notes that the client HATES orange. Think about who will need to work on the project and when. The production department is your friend in figuring out a happy, healthy timeline.

2. Use Your Words.

If the creative needs to go to multiple parties, include that in your workflow. Don’t leave anyone in the dark about what is due, when it’s due, and to whom it’s due. If plans change, tell the team immediately. If there are presentations to the client scattered throughout the project, communicate that to the team OFTEN. If you’re a designer and you don’t have the information you need, speak up.

Discover How to Increase Operational Efficiency and Standardize Procedures

3. Love Thy Traffic Process.

If you have a me, lucky for you. A traffic coordinator will help connect the dots between departments.This is where creativity and accountability meet in the middle and tango. Every piece of creative should go through the hands of experts (Directors of Digital, Creative, Copy, AE, etc.) at least once. With an effective process, two rounds of internal traffic—one for first glance and comments, one to ensure all changes have been made—is pure, achievable heaven. If everyone is clued in properly from the get-go with all of the information in the proper hands, there should be no doubt about what is being asked of a copywriter or designer. This should be easy-peasy.

4. Bend the Rules … When Necessary.

In the digital age, not everyone is in the same office. This means being flexible when you realize the normal or long-held process isn’t working for everyone and creating project lifelines becomes a priority. This ensures that steps aren’t missed and that the final product has been vetted at each essential stage. This may mean relying more on technology than usual—scanning internal documents and talking through necessary changes over the phone or via Google Hangout, for example. Create templates for frequently used processes and tasks. Make it as easy as possible for your team to ensure there’s uniformity in your information and methods, no matter the miles between you.

5. Rules Are Rules, From C-Level Down.

I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t she JUST say you can bend the rules?” Yeah, I did. However, some rules should remain in place to ensure the system isn’t being cheated. Process is process. Make sure that it applies to everyone, no matter what rank they carry. Consider if clients insist on special treatment or believe they don’t need the expense of extra steps. They’re not giving you the opportunity to provide your best work. This goes for your co-workers as well. Skipping traffic steps or bypassing the system completely does not benefit you or your team. Breaking protocol is asking for typos to be missed, publications to call notifying you that the specs are wrong, or clients to complain. All of this adds up to lost time and lost money. It benefits everyone to use the right systems, the right way, every time.

6. Chit Chat.

Quick, timely check-in meetings shouldn’t be optional. They keep projects on time and on budget. Use them to your advantage. Send agendas in advance, stay on task, assist with roadblocks. Don’t ever leave a meeting without a list of action items; designate someone to take notes, and send an email with the details for easy access.

7. Invest in Your Team.

In a down economy, businesses usually cut back on training or trying new products. Better communication and organization can come from utilizing new tools, such as Slack or Brightpod. Listen to your team about their suggestions on what will help them focus. Not everyone works the same way.

8. Fix Your Weak Spots.

Have sunset meetings at the end of every major project. Go over what worked, what didn’t, and what could be better next time. There’s no shame in learning from your mistakes. Invite the entire team in, but don’t point fingers.

9. Get an Outside Opinion.

Love your clients? Want to keep them? Ask them what you’re doing right and what you can improve upon. After all, they are the reason you do what you do. Be open to constructive criticism, and use this as a teachable moment for your team on the importance of client relationships. If their reviews are glowing, congratulations! You’re making amazing work that positively impacts the world, whether it’s a handy-dandy brochure, a single line of copy that resonates, or a beautifully designed website.

The perks of a process are that your projects will be completed on time and on budget more often than not. This translates into more manageable schedules for employees, happier clients, and a more profitable bottom line, which means everyone wins. Give an HR-friendly high-five to Team Production at your agency, grab a couple of beers and chat about how you can work together to perfect your process.

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