Marketing and advertising agencies are in the business of selling creative time and effort. Are you giving away your "product" for free?
Marketing and advertising agencies are in the service business, and no matter what your niche, you have a limited inventory of human resources every day. If you don't budget your team's time carefully, you could find yourself consistently falling short of expectations – or losing employees to stress. However, once you perfect your agency's time management protocols, your entire business will run more efficiently.
As a serial entrepreneur with a history of working in advertising, I'm intimately familiar with the struggle to live up to client expectations while also retaining your and your team's sanity. Time management is an ongoing project, and one that you'll need to continuously work on throughout your career, but finding what works for your business is the solid foundation you need to build on.
If you're seeing employees staying long hours, deadlines getting missed, or if there's a general undercurrent of chaos in the office, take a look at how your employees are spending their time – and how they're recording those efforts. Here are my top tips for time management for any creative agency.
Yes, we’re all working as a team. Yes, communication is important.
No, meetings are not (usually) productive.
The first step to making any company – especially an agency – work more efficiently is cutting down on the number of meetings, of which there are usually far too many. You can do this by making sure that every meeting is scheduled more mindfully. I like to follow the plan laid out by Neal Hartman, a senior lecturer in managerial communications at MIT.
Make sure there is a single clear objective. Meetings are not the time to ramble. Remember, you're using multiple employees' time, so make sure there's a reason for spending so many hours of your agency's time on this meeting.
Only invite people who really need to be there. Announcing a change? You may need to invite everyone who is affected, but think about whether an email might be better. If the meeting is to brainstorm a new campaign, consider breaking it up into a few meetings. For example, schedule one meeting with the account manager and planner to lay out budget and timeline, and then hold a separate meeting with copywriters and graphic designers to build the materials.
Stick to a schedule. I like to make an outline of everything that needs to be covered, as it keeps me from rambling and tangents (which are best saved for happy hour anyway).
Make sure everyone gets to speak. If you or a colleague is planning on simply delivering a monologue, then it should be an email, not a meeting.
Set an end time. Really. And stick to it.
While meetings can be useful for accomplishing a lot in very little time, keep in mind that you're using resources very quickly when you hold one. Make sure that everyone attending knows the goals of the meeting, and sticks to the schedule. I know more than most people how fun it is to ramble and socialize when we really should be brainstorming, but it's important to resist the urge!
Find a time tracker that fits your needs
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Marketing and advertising agencies are in the business of selling time. Our creatives are our product, and their time is the inventory. If you aren't tracking their time, you're giving it away for free, I guarantee it.
However, that's not to say that you should snap up any time tracking software application. One of the complaints I hear from colleagues and friends who have or currently work in agencies is that their time tracker takes up so much time, they have to start tracking that too! It's also common to hear agency employees complain that their time tracker doesn't suit the workflow of their agency; for example, a tracker that works in 15-minute increments in an open office will almost certainly be inaccurate due to the frequency of spontaneous conversations.
Tracking time is one of those business needs where you really do have to evaluate your company's individual needs. There is no software that works well for every organization. In my experience, the best way to discover the right tool for you is to talk to the people who will use it most – your lower level employees – and get a feel for their realistic needs.
Editor's Note: Considering a time and attendance solution? We can help you choose the one that's right for you. Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
I think I can safely say that most employees who work in fast-paced industries, like marketing and advertising, are frequently tempted to multitask, and find themselves doing it from time to time. While this is somewhat unavoidable (I’d love to silence my phone, but, honestly, that often causes more trouble than it's worth), it should be seen as a crutch, and never encouraged among your workforce.
Why not? The science is clear on this one: Multitasking makes you worse at every task you're trying to do, because your brain never fully transitions. That means you never hit that groove that is required for your best work. The end result? It all takes longer than if you just stuck to doing one thing at a time, and the quality suffers as well. It's just not worth it.