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The advertising and creative agency workflow guide in 2024

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Updated on:
March 10, 2024
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Every agency has workflows.

You may not know it – and you may not have defined those workflows – but they’re in place and being used by your employees every day. These workflows are also vital to our agency’s success. Without them, your processes have no structure and your work doesn’t get done.

So, you already have workflows.

The question now is how you can optimize those workflows – using established standards – to make them even better.

That’s the question this article aims to answer as it guides you on how to create workflows and offers examples you can implement today.

What is an advertising agency workflow process?

There are many descriptions for workflows floating around the web. However, one of the best, and most succinct, comes from TechTarget, which defines a workflow as follows:

A workflow is the series of activities needed to complete a task.

So, you can think of your workflows as checklists for the tasks that your agency completes. Only, they’re a little more structured than that. With a checklist, you may find that steps can be completed out of sequence and you still get the same result.

Not so with an agency workflow.

Each step – barring the first and last – will have a previous step that needs to be completed before you can move on. It’ll also have a step after, which you can only complete once you’ve finished the current step. At least, that’s the case with a linear workflow. More complex workflows, which may allow for step skipping, often look more like flowcharts.

However, the concept behind these non-linear workflows is the same:

They’re your roadmaps for completing specific tasks.

The creation of these workflows is almost always manual. It has to be – you need somebody who’s documenting the steps required to complete a task. However, execution is another matter. You’ll often find that there are steps within an agency workflow that you can automate, perhaps using workflow automation software.

Bonsai offers a great example of this.

Though you’ll create the actual workflow separately – though you can document it in the software – it offers tools for automation. For instance, let’s say that you’re using Bonsai to schedule meetings. That’s a workflow with steps. You have to make the schedule available, the client has to sign up, meetings have to be arranged, and so on. A workflow automation could handle the manual parts of that process, such as setting up the meeting once a client enters details into a schedule.

But that’s just one example of an agency workflow.

There are dozens that you’ll implement throughout your agency to keep it running, with the key now being to document those workflows.

Creating a digital marketing workflow process – Step-by-step

So, how do you create an agency workflow?

The ironic answer to that question is that you essentially create a workflow that defines how you make other workflows. It’s workflow inception! Or, perhaps more realistically, it’s simply a process – containing defined steps that you’ll follow to ensure all of your agency workflows are solid.

The goal of creating these workflows is simple:

You create consistency in your working life, making it easier for your agency to complete tasks.

With that in mind, let’s jump straight into…

Step 1 – Define the workflow’s objective and scope

The beginning of any journey starts with the end.

In other words, you have to figure out where you want to go before you can embark. In agency workflow terms, that means setting an objective for the process you’re about to create.

So, what do you want to achieve?

Let’s assume you’re running a content marketing agency, with an obvious workflow being what you follow to create a publishable blog post. There’s your goal – create a blog post. The scope of that goal is all about your client’s expectations. How long does the post have to be? How long do you have to deliver the piece?

Ultimately, you’ll end up with an objective that reads something like this:

“Create a 2,000-word blog post for <CLIENT NAME> once every two weeks.”

And that’s it – you know what the workflow is supposed to achieve, meaning you can move on to the next step.

Step 2 – Create a list of tasks

Time organization concept close up

With your goal set, your next step is to create a list of tasks that your agency has to complete to reach that goal.

This may be the most crucial step because it defines how your agency workflow will run and prepares you for assigning responsibility for each task. The latter point is especially crucial – almost half of U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work.

You want to make your expectations crystal clear.

So, you’ll create a task list.

In our blog post example, that list may look something like this:

  1. Receive blog assignment and topic.
  2. Draft a blog outline.
  3. Receive approval for blog outline.
  4. Complete the first draft and send it to editing.
  5. Complete the editing process.
  6. Redraft based on feedback.
  7. Edit and finalize.
  8. Send blog post to the client for approval.
  9. Publish blog post on client’s website.

There may be other steps in that process – such as keyword research – depending on your agency. But with those nine steps, you have a basic workflow created that you can follow for each blog. Before moving on, check those steps for tasks that you may be able to automate. For instance, having a project management system with a client portal could allow you to automate sending the blog to a client. You just upload when the edit is done and the software itself could notify the client that it needs a check.

Step 3 – Document how long each task takes

You have a basic list of tasks, but you also have a deadline to meet. If any of those tasks runs over – or takes longer to complete than expected – you may end up with delayed work. That’s why your next step is to document how long each task typically takes.

Usually, this means one thing:

Talking to the people in your agency who complete each task.

For instance, an editor may be able to tell you that it takes them an hour to edit a 2,000-word document. The content writer may need three or four hours to create the piece. Other tasks may be out of your control, which is where data from a project management software could help.

Take client approval, for instance.

You only have control over when you send the finalized blog post. It’s on the client to approve that document so you can move on to publishing in this agency workflow. You may have a history of client approvals – recorded in your project management software – that indicates how long they take to approve. Build that timing into your workflow while impressing upon the client the importance of fast approvals.

Of course, this all applies specifically to the blog writing workflow we’re using as an example for these steps. The tasks in your workflow may have different timings, though it’s still crucial you record them all.

Step 4 – Assign responsibility for the tasks

Coworkers at office with architecture plans and a computer

With the next step, you’re moving into the resource management aspect of your workflow:

Who does what in your agency?

Often, the answer is simple – whoever you spoke to when documenting a task’s timeline is often the person who’s responsible for it.

That may not always be the case. In the blog post example, you may have a whole team of content writers. So, you may have to add tasks to the process for a content head, who’s responsible for assigning posts to members of the team. And that brings up an important point:

Your discussions with your team may cause you to tweak your initial workflow based on their input.

That’s actually a good thing for your agency. Frustration arises when employees don’t feel heard, with 86% saying organizations rarely hear all voices in a business. The process of gathering information about your agency workflow dispels that potential issue. And the information you gather is useful when assigning responsibility for each task.

Step 5 – Create a communication protocol

Even in the basic blog creation agency workflow, we’re using as an example, you can probably see various points where communication is necessary.

You could even argue communication is needed in every task.

After all, completion of one task is essential for the next to start. Somebody has to communicate that completion to trigger the next action. Hence, the need for a communication protocol – a set of rules that dictate how employees involved in the workflow talk to each other.

The creation of this protocol often involves steps of its own:

  1. Defining a communications platform or software
  2. Outlining how team members communicate
  3. Enforcement of the protocol

The last step is key, as it’s easy for employees to slip out of your communication protocol without realizing it. For instance, you may have a requirement to communicate blog completion to a client via your project management software. However, the editor sends a text message instead. They’re still communicating. But they’re not doing so in the way that you – or your client – expect, introducing inconsistency into the workflow.

Those little blips could cause major issues if a client misses a text because they weren’t expecting it.

So, nail down a communications protocol and ensure that everybody involved in the agency workflow understands it.

Step 6 – Document the workflow

Standard quality control concept m

Up to this point, you’ve gathered information and come up with methods for ensuring the successful completion of an objective.

But you haven’t formalized anything yet.

Therein lies the danger – so many processes get fragmented because they “live in the heads” of the people following them.

Your solution is simply to document your new agency workflow. Again, software like Bonsai can help here. Its project management suite allows you to create projects – such as workflows – and assign both tasks and people to them. Use that software to solidify everything that you’ve worked on so far, making the workflow accessible to all who need to see it.

Why bother doing this?

Agency staff retention rates are surprisingly low, with The Drum pointing out they’re just 42% in the U.K. Imagine that your agency workflow isn’t documented, given these high turnover rates. You’re opening yourself up to the possibility of an employee leaving, taking their knowledge of the workflow with them.

Document everything in a centralized source.

You’ll future-proof the workflow by ensuring it’s still there even if the employees assigned to it aren’t.

Step 7 – Execute the workflow

Finally, the moment of truth:

Does your new agency workflow actually work?

The only way to find out is to map the workflow in your project management software so your people can execute it. There’s not much more to this step. Your employees have their instructions and know what tasks they need to complete. Your job here is to set the agency workflow in motion so you can see the results.

Step 8 – Tweak based on what you see

In a perfect world, your new workflow will run like a dream. There’ll be no hitches and every task gets completed on time, with all employees following your communication protocol.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

The odds are that there’ll be little hiccups in the workflow that you didn’t anticipate. Sometimes, these are small. For instance, an employee may not have followed the communication protocol, which just indicates you need further enforcement.

At other times, you may find that entire steps are missing from the workflow. Or a step takes longer than anticipated – perhaps the writer needs six hours instead of four – which delays the whole thing.

Monitoring your workflow in action is the only way you’ll spot these issues.

Keep track of what’s happening in your new process – time tracking software is especially useful here – and tweak as needed. Treat the creation of your workflow as an iterative process. The first go-around is your test to indicate what you need to refine to perfect the workflow.

Marketing workflow examples

You now have your process for creating an agency workflow in place thanks to these steps. We’ve even covered on basic example – blog creation – that indicates what a potential workflow might look like. But there are so many more you can implement into your agency, with the following being a few more detailed examples.

Workflow example 1 – Email marketing

E-mail Global Communications Connection Social Networking Concept

Your agency may have a dual purpose for email marketing. You’re using it yourself to attract clients – email can earn you $42 for every $1 spent after all – and you’re running campaigns for your clients. So, it’s a good idea to have a workflow in place for your emails, which may look something like this:

  1. Pick a topic – Choose the item of value that you want to prioritize in the email. This will depend on the email’s purpose – are you looking to sell or nurture the recipient?
  2. Create the email layout – What should the email look like in terms of text layout and – potentially – any imagery you use?
  3. Design images (Optional) – Here, we have an example of a task you may be able to skip depending on the campaign. If you need images, you’ll have to get a graphic designer on board for this task. If not, you just move to the next task.
  4. Write email copy – A content writer comes in here, and will handle the email writing duties. You may even have templates – thanks to your project management software – you can use to speed this task up.
  5. Review email – With the help of an editor, review the email to ensure it hits every point needed for the target audience. This review will likely also include basic fact and grammar-checking.
  6. Schedule the email – Just because you have the email ready, that doesn’t mean you’re going to send it out immediately. It may be for a seasonal offer, for instance, so it needs to go out at a specific time. This task would just involve using your mailing software to schedule the send.
  7. Send and analyze – Once the email is out in the wild, your last task is to analyze the results. What are the open rates? What about conversion rates? These metrics tell you whether the email was effective in terms of achieving its purpose.

Workflow Example 2 – Paid ad campaign workflow

Online Marketing Commercial Connection Technology

Though pay-per-click (PPC) ads aren’t as effective as email – they generate $2 for every $1 spent – your agency likely uses them. Or, if you specialize in digital marketing, you may offer PPC services to your clients.

You know what that means:

You need another workflow!

  1. Determine campaign goals – Working with your client – or your agency’s marketing manager – determine the campaign’s goal. Are you looking to make sales? Build brand awareness? You need the answer because it influences the rest of the campaign.
  2. Define your audience – This task would focus on determining ideal demographics and locations for the ads. A paid search specialist comes on board here.
  3. Research keywords – Which keywords will you use – and which should you avoid – to get the maximum coverage for your ads? You may also use this task to determine if you need to use the broad keyword features offered in some ad tools.
  4. Create a budget – How much do you want to spend on the ad campaign? Crucially, this number also determines what a good return on investment looks like. After all, a $1,000 ad campaign doesn’t mean much if it attracts tons of traffic but no conversions if making sales is your objective.
  5. Create ad copy – A simple step: write the content that goes into the ad.
  6. Design ad elements (Optional) – You may have this step if the ad requires visual elements. Think carousel ads on Facebook or the Display Network in Google.
  7. Link ad to landing page – Every ad needs a landing page to pull customers, and this is where you’ll decide which one of yours to use.
  8. Launch – Publish the ad campaign and start drawing traffic to your landing page.
  9. Track and analyze – Keep an eye on the campaign’s results – tracking by keywords – to see how well the ad converts potential clients.

Start working on your Agency workflows

The above examples are somewhat simplified marketing agency workflows, but they still demonstrate the key point:

You need workflows to keep your agency running.

Without them, you descend into chaos, with every task being completed a different way each time you do it. With workflows, you create consistency. Standards. And once you’ve documented those workflows inside your agency management software, they’ll be there for as long as your people need them.

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