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Measuring the performance of creative teams isn’t always easy. This article will look at the essential creative team metrics you can track to show your value.
Measuring creativity is hard. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a digital agency or managing an INC 5000 company, you likely have a tough time mapping the impact of your creative teams.
A big part of the problem is the nature of creative work itself. You can’t always quantify “quality” in something inherently subjective as design. What might be peak performance for you can be barely mediocre for someone else.
Fortunately, there are some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you can use to measure the performance of your creative teams. And in this guide, I’ll show you exactly what these KPIs are, and how to measure them.
The Need for a Better Measure of Creativity
Should you even try to measure something as innately subjective as creativity?
I know I'm not the only one who has asked this question. Creatives - and the people who lead them - often wring their hands at the prospect of assigning an objective measure to their work.
After all, who is to say that a Monet is better than a Michaelangelo?
Often, measuring creativity devolves into a measure of the impact of creativity.
That is, Design A becomes better than Design B because it drove higher conversions for the same period.
Version B might have higher conversions than Version A, but does it necessarily have better design than the former? (Image source: Optimizely)
This kind of impact-focused approach seems right on paper. You are running a business and results matter.
But focusing too much on the results can promote short-term thinking. You might make creative decisions that lead to temporary boosts but negatively impact your brand in the long run.
Think of a new landing page design that drove 5% higher conversions MoM. Objectively, the new landing page should be your first choice going forward.
Zoom out far enough, however, and this new design brings up several questions:
- Does tracking for 30 days give you enough time and traffic to measure the long-term impact of the design change?
- Is the higher conversion rate a result of the design or a result of the novelty of the design?
- How do you control for the monthly variations in traffic quality and source?
- Does the new design compromise on your core brand values to drive higher conversions?
- Do the new customers have the same lifetime value (CLTV) as the ones from the older landing page?
A giant red button that screams “Click Me!” and offers 50% discounts would drive higher CTRs for most sites, but it likely won’t win any love for your brand.
Which is why it is crucial to de-emphasize results when measuring creativity. Otherwise you can end up making too many short-term decisions.
As Mark Ritson writes in Marketing Week, extraordinary creativity has a big impact on your brand years, even decades later. For instance, even though it aired more than three decades ago, Apple’s classic 1984 ad set a tone for the brand that persists to this day.
If you were to use the same results-focused measurement methodologies, you would never be able to capture the long-term impact of campaigns such as these.
Moving Beyond Results-Focused Metrics
While results certainly matter, they shouldn’t be the only way to measure creative performance. You can easily make short-term decisions and miss the bigger picture.
The opposite approach is to rely on subjective measures such as awards and critical praise. Winning a prestigious award such as a Clio certainly indicates that you are creatively sound, but it doesn’t always lead to better results.
Which is to say, this approach makes you equally liable to focus too much on the woods and miss the trees entirely.
Both these approaches have an additional flaw: they don’t measure the growth in your creative team’s output over time. This is a crucial metric for internal creative teams, especially ones that are still developing their processes. You want your people to learn and pick up new skills, instead of constantly regurgitating what they already know.
As Percolate’s Dom Goodrum writes:
“It’s important for design leads to feel confident that the less experienced designers working alongside them are making progress.”
Thus, any well-rounded measure of an internal creative team’s performance should focus on the:
- Results produced by the creative team and its work
- Work done by the creative team, including its timeliness and compliance
- Quality of the work, measured subjectively in terms of client satisfaction
This is a far more holistic measure of creativity than performance or subjective praise alone. It tells you how your creative team is working, what kind of results they’re producing, and how they are growing in their capabilities.
The big question now is: what kind of KPIs can you use to measure these things?
I’ll share some answers in the next section.
Creative Team Performance Metrics
If you’re managing an internal creative team, what specific metrics should you track?
As with most creative things, the answer is usually the same: it depends. The creative team developing brand new prototypes for a $50M product at a Fortune 500 company will have very different performance measures than one at a small startup supporting a marketing campaign.
Having said that, there are certain metrics (or KPIs) that can tell you how your internal creative team is performing. Track these and you will have a good measure of your worth.
But first, let's talk a little about what a KPI is, and how it can benefit your internal creative team
What is a KPI?
"Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a set of quantifiable measures that a company uses to gauge its performance over time."
In other words, a KPI is a set of benchmarks or metrics used to determine a team's progress in achieving its strategic and operational goals. As you will soon see, this can mean many different things, depending on the application and type of team.
A KPI can be anything. For a writer writing her first novel, it might be “Number of words written per day”. For a salesperson, it might be “Number of client calls per day”, and so on.
Taking the time to establish KPI’s helps you measure your success versus a set of targets, objectives or industry benchmarks. If you want to be a horror writer, for instance, you’ll want to meet Stephen King’s “benchmark” figure of 2,000 words/day.
Beyond that academic definition, KPIs are simply important to keep your business in order (and not lose your sanity along the way). Copywriters, designers, and the “idea folks” who make up creative teams are rarely data-driven in nature. That’s the job of the marketing folks and data crunchers.
(As an aside, a search for “creativity” and “marketing” turned up only 850 papers in Thomson Reuters’ ‘Web of Knowledge’. Doing the same for “analysis” and “marketing” turned up 89,500 papers, according to one researcher, showing the data-driven bent of marketing.)
Any team with a laissez-faire approach to creativity often ends up in conflict with a by-the-numbers project manager.
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Further, internal creative teams often struggle to prove their worth to internal clients. Their contributions can often appear intangible and irrelevant to managers who are often focused on short-term results.
The result is difficulty in obtaining adequate funding and resources which, in turn, impacts the quality of the creative output.
Establishing KPIs helps both internal creative teams and the people who lead them objectively evaluate performance.
Naturally, the specific KPIs will vary from company to company, but focusing on these core areas is an ideal place to start:
Asking a client to submit a short post-project survey is an easy way to measure client satisfaction. The data provided via feedback will help your creative team determine what they are doing right, and what they can improve upon.
Dissatisfaction from your internal clients can lead to outsourcing, inefficiencies, or even worse, losing your job. You need to maintain the position as a strategic partner and establish yourself as a better option than outsourcing.
For a more objective measure of client satisfaction, consider using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system. This system, developed by Bain & Company, quantifies client satisfaction by asking them to rate their likelihood of recommending your service on a scale of 1-10.
Anyone who scores 9-10 on this scale is classified as a “promoter”. Those who score you below 7 are “detractors”. The difference between the percentage of promoters and detractors gives you your “Net Promoter Score”.
Image source: Queryz
Optionally, you can ask each client to give a reason for their score. This will help you figure out what you’re doing right, and what you’re not.
The NPS system is common for outside clients but there’s nothing stopping you from using it internally. You’ll find that it yields “cleaner” data than individual interviews or broad surveys.
While we’re on this subject, don’t forget to track your team members’ satisfaction as well. Happier employees make for better employees and stronger results. And while this is true for every job, it is particularly true for creative work.
(Image source: TINYpulse)
You don’t have to use a full-fledged NPS survey for it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask your team from time to time if they’re truly happy with the kind of work they’re doing.
If not, what kind of work would they like to do?
Great creative work often happens when you can match a creative’s “want” with a client’s “need”. Find this intersection point and you’ll see stellar results.
How to use it
There are plenty of tools to create NPS surveys - Delighted.com, Promoter.io, Wootric to name a few. Most will plug into your email tool so you can simply mail the survey to clients and gather feedback quickly.
Effectiveness and Quality Metrics
Your team might pack a creative punch, but does it actually bring in results? Do your projects produce revenue? And if they do, how does it compare with the cost?
There are a few metrics that can help you track the effectiveness of your creative team, such as:
1. Time Spent on Rework
As you can guess, this metric tracks the amount of time you spent on rework.
There is nothing wrong with rework, of course - 80% of agencies spend more than half their time on it.
But if you’re spending too much time redoing things, it can indicate something wrong with your process, such as:
- Poor communication and understanding of the client’s brief
- Poor resource selection and client need/creative skill mismatch
- Inadequate skills and training
Your goal should be to get it right the first time around. The more resources you dedicate to rework, the fewer resources you’ll have for new, high-impact campaigns.
How to use it
2. Cost vs Revenue
This metric can be hard to track, especially for large companies where revenue is obfuscated and routed through several channels. Nonetheless, you should try to measure the cost of a creative solution vs the revenue it brings in.
Because it gives the clearest measure of the impact of your creative team. It ties a dollar figure to your work, which can be the biggest justification for your continued existence (and growth in the budget).
How to use it
Tracking the cost of a creative project can be fairly challenging. You have to factor in not just the raw materials cost, but also the time spent by each creative on each project.
A project management software that can help you distribute resource costs across all projects based on their hourly rates (calculated on availability) will make the process much easier. Try using something like Workamajig to quickly get an overview of these costs.
The Client Profit and Loss report in Workamajig helps you tie an overhead figure to each project or client - internal or external
Tracking revenue is even harder, but you can use some ballpark figures to see whether the project had a net positive or negative impact. For instance, if a project cost $10,000 to develop, had a $10,000 marketing cost and brought in $25,000 in its first year, you would call it a “success”.
You don’t have to have exact figures; it’s enough to show that your work added to the company’s bottom line.
3. Trackable Quality Metrics
Quality, especially for creative projects, isn’t always quantifiable.
In some cases, however, you can make a somewhat objective measure of the work’s quality.
If you’re developing a website, for instance, you can estimate its quality through metrics such as:
- The number of bugs in each iteration of the website/app
- Page load speed (a slow page can indicate technical flaws such as poor caching)
- Time spent on site and bounce rate (both of which can indicate design or UI/UX flaws)
- Eye tracking data
Eye tracking data can show if your designs don’t meet your marketing briefs (Image source: Wishpond)
What metrics you track will depend on the project itself. A website might track the above, while a banner ad might only track performance metrics such as CTR.
How to use it
How you track quality metrics will depend on the project itself. For web pages or apps, you can use tools like Google Analytics or Mixpanel. For non-technical projects (such as creative collateral), try running informal customer surveys.
There is no fixed prescription for tracking a project’s quality. You’ll have to change your measuring tool based on the project.
Efficiency is severely underrated as far as creative projects go. Sure, it’s important to be creative, but you also have to ship work.
Tracking these metrics shows you how well your creative team is performing its duties. This can reveal inefficiencies in your processes or projects that need prioritized attention.
1. Lead Time Per Project
This metric measures the time it takes to take a project from request for proposal (RFP) to final delivery. Essentially, it’s a measure of efficiency - how good you are at developing processes to serve client requests.
This metric is broad in its scope. It doesn’t give you much granular details in terms of individual team member performance, but it does tell you how good your team is at producing work.
Further, once you track lead time metrics, you can determine the effect of any changes made to your process. If you change your workflow, you can use this metric to track its impact on your output.
Any efficiencies you gain over time (which can indicate more streamlined operations) can be tracked through this metric as well.
Finally, it will also help you quantify the amount of work that you can finish within a particular time frame, making for more accurate estimates.
How to use it
You can implement this KPI by developing a time tracking system. This system will track the moment the work is requested to the time it’s delivered. This will give you a handle on project duration from beginning to end, including process time and any time the worker spends sitting in queues or waiting on dependant tasks.
Built-in time tracking in Workamajig makes it easy to track the time spent on each project or task for every creative
Use this measurement to make adjustments to the creative process. Or to give feedback to individual creative teams.
2. Project Time: Estimated vs. Actual
I’m sure most of you reading this have worked on a project that failed to meet its original deadlines.
In fact, a majority of projects - 51% - fall within this category.
While the causes for these delays can be many, being able to spot the gap between your estimated time vs the actual time is a good place to start.
This KPI does exactly that - it compares initial projections with what your team accomplished.
The ideal outcome is to deepen your understanding of the resources required for a specific task or project. If you find that there is consistently a wide gap between your projects vs your accomplishments, it can mean that you’re either understaffed, or wildly optimistic.
Another benefit of tracking this metric is that it helps you prioritize projects. You can focus on projects that have the widest gap between estimated vs actual time, thus making sure that clients remain satisfied.
How to use it
The same process applies for measuring this as the project lead time metric - set up a time tracking system, and use it to map project progress. Except that you’ll also compare this progress to the estimated time in the original brief.
One tip for implementing this type of system: establish baseline metrics around specific tasks. For instance, there should be a set time it will take to develop content by type (i.e., blog, video, landing page, etc.)
You'll find that tracking this KPI over time allows your team to provide accurate estimates to project managers. It will also help your managers marshal resources appropriately.
Project Costs: Estimated vs. Actual
As you can expect, this metric measures the difference between the estimated cost of a project vs what it actually ends up costing.
There is excellent value in tracking this figure, especially for internal creative teams that are struggling with resources. Keeping an eye on expenses can help you show managers that you are a profit center, not a cost center.
More importantly, if you can show that you consistently deliver projects under budget, you can position yourself favorably against outside agencies and contractors.
How to use it
Some straightforward metrics you can start tracking to get a clearer picture of your project costs are:
- How much a vendor would charge for the same work
- What is your client chargeback rate (if applicable)
- Overall time and costs associated with specific tasks
By analyzing the gaps between the above rates, you will see the cost efficiencies you're creating for the organization. It will allow you to justify additional resources in the future. You'll be able to point to historical data for how long each project takes and the associated costs.
Tools like Workamajig show budget vs actual costs data for every project by default.
You must be able to show that your team can produce good work on a budget and on time. This KPI becomes even more critical if you have a chargeback billing model at your internal agency.
(Broad) Project Data
Any steps you can take to get a better handle on your internal agency’s operations will pay out in spades. Particularly in your ability to distribute current resources more effectively. Or, get the right headcount to round out your team, and provide evidence of progress made.
To develop a broad project data KPI we recommend creating a master list or spreadsheet to track every project that enters your department. Even better, use project management software like Workamajig. It doesn't matter what platform you use, the idea is to have a single place to gather and analyze information, such as:
- Type of projects you typically work on (online, ads, print, media)
- Which internal or external clients you interact with
- What team member is working on them
- Total time the project takes from initiation to completion
- Number of rounds of approvals and revisions are required
Collecting all of this data in one place will help your team stay on the same page. It will also improve workflow and allow your team to work remotely if necessary.
Over to You
Tracking creative team KPIs can go a long way in streamlining workflows and adding efficiencies. They should not, however, overshadow your primary role and responsibilities. Use them as guiding lights, not inviolable commandments.
These KPIs aren't meant to serve as a complete performance measurement arsenal, but if your creative team doesn't currently measure anything, then it's an excellent place to start. And if you measure some things but not these, try adding them to your list to impress your executives even more.
If you are lucky enough to be utilizing a comprehensive project management software, then much of this data should be at your fingertips. If this isn't the case, be careful about wasting too much precious creative time to get the data.
For an easy way to track these metrics for every project, try using software like Workamajig.