The Creative Workflow is Stuck in High School

Jake Athey, Marketing Director at Widen suggests ways to win over more customers through a creative workflow

Marketing departments have become too fixated on the first thought and the last click of their creative journey. The dirty work of critiquing, proofing, updating, finalizing, and approving creative work has unraveled. We are stuck in a high school mode of editing, and we need to grow past it.

Think back to the days of textbooks, lockers, and desks screwed to chairs. In high school English class, you used to write a draft and submit it to a teacher, who would then return your paper, which was bleeding with the red ink of feedback. You would update the draft and submit the final. In every class, the process was similar: here’s work; tell me what’s wrong; here’s a better version (and please give me an A).

From pre-school to college, almost nothing about this process changed. And then we entered the real world, and this simple, guaranteed road to not failing fell to pieces.

Suddenly, we had to brainstorm creative work with a marketing team, and argue for the chance to write, draw, design, shoot, and film our vision.

Suddenly, instead of seeking approval from one authority figure, we faced a barrage of critique from multiple figures with different perspectives, priorities, and levels of authority.

Suddenly, we had to reconcile all those conflicting opinions, with hope that each critic would approve our Frankensteinian creation.

Conditioned as we are for the high school workflow, this melding of creative minds is still messy and stressful. One important person’s opinion can hijack or throttle the entire process. So, sometimes we feel pressured to sacrifice quality for appeasement. “It’s not worth it,” we tell ourselves, as pictures, videos, and blog posts are dragged from inbox to inbox, folder to folder, software to software, until everyone is not too unsatisfied.

Before we can solve these problems technologically, we have to solve them mentally. We have to rethink the process.

First and foremost, that means that not every single person can play “teacher” throughout the workflow. Should your VP of engineering be the last person to approve the final cut of a video about your new product? No, that’s not her specialty. She could review the script for technical accuracy before it goes to production. She could also interview with the scriptwriters so they don’t make technical errors in the first place.

Conversely, imagine that a writer drafts a very personal blog post, written from that VP’s perspective. Only the VP of engineering could verify the accuracy of the piece. Why ask someone else to edit writing that might be stricken or completely rewritten anyway?

Second, if the creative process is a dialogue, then participants need to speak to each other. They need to review the same drafts and the same feedback. When the director of content marketing and director of digital marketing give the exact opposite opinions about an infographic, the designer is in a Catch-22. Either way, she’s going to tick off one director. The two directors need to consider each other’s perspectives. Is it not odd that we expect creators to heed multiple opinions, but we don’t expect critics to heed each other’s opinions?

Third, we need to proof creative work with a purpose. Too often, marketers use the editing process to quench their fears of ‘looking bad.’ Their thinking is, “Wait, can we show that in a video? Can we really say that?” The thinking should be, “Is this quality art? What would make it better?” We can’t do great work if our creative workflow aspires to make content “brand safe” or “good enough.” The final stamp of approval should mean, “Heck yeah! Let’s do this!”

In high school, we wanted As. We needed one predictable individual to review and like our work. In marketing, we want to win over a perpetually distracted public that doesn’t care if our creative work is “brand safe.” We need to work collaboratively with unpredictable (yet often brilliant) coworkers.

We can pretend we’re still in high school, and spend the creative process stomping on each other’s feet. Or, we can adapt the process, and the technology, to reality.

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor

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