Front Loading vs Backfilling

One thing I know for sure, no one likes to take all that time to put all those details in writing before starting a project.

Yep, the client needs this NOW!!! and we have to get going – and I’m too busy!

We’ll work it out as we go.

Moments later, way late and even way more over budget, the client then decides to make changes because it’s just not what they, uh, expected.

Okay, listen up kids, Gramma’s gonna tell a story.

Back in the old days we had to plan ahead. Things took more time, were more expensive, and changes and corrections really twisted a schedule and budget.

Sometimes there actually weren’t enough hours in a day. Imagine that. We had to plan.

Things didn’t happen until we did a comp, first in pencil, then in color (marker), to get client approval so we could create our masterpiece.

Along the way, our artist did a keyline* to determine how much space for copy we had, and just how big the photo should be. We also looked at the photo under a loupe, noted imperfections for air-brush retouching, then noted croplines* on the tissue overlay.

We actually had to use a typewriter to write copy, know how many characters would add up to the proper number of lines and how many inches of type we would get (based on a specific column width). Edits to length were made BEFORE we sent it out. Once perfected, we sent that typed copy, via bike messenger, to a typesetter with instructions on font, kerning and leading; waited a couple days then got it back. It was proofed. It was perfect. Then we did pasteup*.

We met our deadlines.

So now we have so many lightning-fast conveniences that everything takes forever to get done.

Why? No planning, no front loading.

Not that long ago as a PM in an agency, I can’t tell you how many projects I kicked-back to the AEs because I needed some really basic shit. No front loading. No doubt about it, I was not their favorite person. Um…

But because there was such unimaginable urgency, I got to spend MY time asking questions like: what is this? When do you want it? How much is in the budget?

Answers were: It’s only a couple changes to what they did last week. Client needs it by 2pm!!! (it’s noon). I don’t have a budget.

First, only a couple changes, really? Then why didn’t you write them in the job order.

Second, thank you for telling the client – without asking – that we could meet that deadline.

Third, would the client truly spend the money it will take us to pull everyone off their projects to make your magic happen?

In the process to get all those urgent things done, the back-filling happens. We get the parameters of a job via text, email or phone (if anyone actually uses a phone to make a call). Or my personal favorite - having an AE stand over the designers' shoulder and art direct. Ugh!

We negotiate the deadline because what the client wanted was far from the “original” request and it keeps evolving; and we have to keep people late and ply them with pizza and beer to make the revised deadline of 9 am tomorrow. And of course, budget be damned.

I watch my clients and colleagues mired in this state of constant chaos. Staying late, trying to figure out what’s been done and where to go, while keeping everything else on track. Oh wait, we don’t even know what other deadlines we’re missing. Um…

It’s due to a culture (I said the C-word) of backfilling. It’s become a culture of chaos because front loading isn’t required.

That’s why managing an agency has devolved (yes technology has allowed us to do just that) into a complete lack of planning.

Everything today is so . . . instant that we are allowed to only react to what’s in front of us at this very moment.

The excitement in advertising used to be in the spot-on strategy, amazing creative and working late because there were so many ideas to explore – because you knew where you were going.

Working long hours trying to catch-up is not exhilarating. It’s a waste.

And as a side note: this is what happens when I’m absent from blogging for a long time. I write a bloody tome. I promise to be more concise.

Plan ahead.

*Word did not recognize these words. Sigh.