Making The Arrangements

When you’re in our line of work – project managers, you know, the basic Process People – nothing rings truer than a quote from Bob Hoffman, AKA Adcontrarian:

“Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements.”

For those of us who make the arrangements, I see our job as a facilitator, keeper of civility, manager of profitability, efficiency expert, therapist, and seer of All Things That Can Go Wrong. (You’d be amazed at the things I can foresee.)

We shouldn’t be a speed-bump, barrier, wall or unmovable object when it comes to getting great creative done.

However, I do believe everyone should get along and do their part so that everything in an agency can get done. On time. I'm not talking a kumbaya moment here. Just plain old cooperation.

Yes, I understand that everyone’s awe-inspiring creative is the most important thing in the agency. Ever. But I also understand that everyone else’s awe-inspiring creative is just as important.

That’s why people like us – the PMs, traffic, those who keep the work moving along – are important and shouldn't be eyed with contempt when they walk into a room.

We make sure everyone has what they need, projects are kept within budgetary boundaries (we always find a way), and move other work around while bargaining our last favor to squeeze extra help for your project. We’ve also been known to get food and drink to the creative masses as they work through the night to meet a deadline.

We’re also the ones at the end of the line, who make the arrangements (and often pick up and deliver) to get the decks ready for your 10am meeting.

So while the Creative People make the ads, the arrangements must be made by someone – and that someone is most often us – the PMs. The Process People.

Yes, we have our systems, and those seemingly tedious systems do make creatives crazy, but those very systems are the ones that give us everything we need to make sure your stunning project gets done. And everyone else’s projects get done too.

So please, don’t complain the next time we ask you to mark your task complete, or do your timesheet. All that stuff makes it easier for us to help you.

We make the arrangements.

Don’t Overcomplicate It. Process Is Actually Easy.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. A committee, or better yet, a Task Force, is convened to define Process.

Yes, it’s that P Word again.

I’ve defined process everywhere I’ve been. And as much as everyone hates Process, and the people who embrace it, there is, indeed, real value in it.

Let’s define process first. says:

nounplural processes 

 [pros-es-iz, uh-siz, uh-seez or, esp. British, proh-sesproh-suh

1.   a systematic series of actions directed to some end: to devise a process for homogenizing milk.

2.   a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner: the process of decay.

Milk and decay aside, Process exists at some level in every agency – whether you know it or not, you probably have a process that’s unwritten, yet people are doing pretty much the same thing in the same way, every day, and everything works just fine.

There’s your process.

Then there’s the other side, where the steps are so detailed, so unwieldy, that process becomes The Job. This is usually the consequence of a project that went off the rails somewhere in the past – and probably not all that spectacularly, and no one can really remember what happened...

Just some random event that really pissed off someone, be it the Partner or, God Forbid, the Project Manager.

Then you get new rules. Lots of rules. Rules that become process.

Rules about the Order For Approval. Proofer has to see it first (but they’re at lunch).

The rule about Rush Jobs. Two days constitute a Rush Job (but there’s a huge opportunity to do something amazing for the client – today).

The rule about Account standing over Creative and giving direction. This one I’ll stick by. NEVER is this acceptable.

Lots of little rules that add up to a giant pain. For everybody.

Anyway, there are a bunch of Rules. And a bunch of Steps. And a punitive jerk or two who wears the mantle of Project Manager and gets in your face. Every day. Because you didn’t follow process.

Well, an agency needs process. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to make sense to everyone who’s involved. Or else your amazing team will simply ditch your carefully diagrammed process.

You will be the butt of jokes. Mocked. Scorned. Dare I say, despised.

Let’s make it easy.

Map your workflow. It can be a numbered list - please skip the Microsoft flow diagrams, they're icky and time-consuming. This is supposed to be easy, right?

  1. What are the logical steps it takes a project to enter the door and leave? 
  2. Who touches it at each of those steps? 
  3. What tools are used for that individual to progress through those steps (and know what's going on)?

About tools: they can be as simple as using email (which I will personally shoot anyone who uses email for managing work, but hey, if that’s your system, then by all means. But fair warning of disaster ahead). Or you could have something a little more sophisticated and organized. If you don’t want to pay money for software, then at least go with Google Docs. Or even an organized folder structure on a central server. Bottom line: give everyone a place to find shit. Okay?

Here’s an example: The client calls, the AE fills out a job order and turns it over to the PM. The PM good-naturedly takes the job, applies a schedule, confers with creative and turns it over to the chaps ready and willing to do marvelous creative. It gets reviewed and proofed, then back to the AE to present to the client, who then loves it and writes a big, fat check.

It all comes down to: what are the logical steps? Some projects are more involved and require more steps and more touch-points, and some fewer.

Yes we can do a Rush Project. We note them as such. And no, not everything is a RUSH.

Now go, map your workflow. That’s the foundation of your process. When things go wrong – and they do (or else you’re not in advertising) – look at the mapped workflow and note what basic step was skipped – or perhaps missing. Chat with the individuals where the error occurred and ask them how to avoid it in the future. It could have been a one-time thing. Lesson learned, and move on. Don't create another rule. 

And by the way, it is good policy to ask the people doing the work how they see workflow. What are the steps that lead to them, that if done properly, make their lives easier?

The process will be written and owned by the users.

No Committee. No Task Force.

The P Word

I worked in an agency that was having a big issue with Process. Yep that’s the P Word.

"Quit talking Process," said the cat as he attempted to kill the AE.    Click on the image to go to  Managers Are Heroes  website. Good piece on self control when you want to strangle someone at the office.   I had to use the image. It has a cat doing what comes naturally. Amazing what you can find on a Google search. And I know the irony of  MAH  when I'm calling-out managers all the time on silly things they do...

"Quit talking Process," said the cat as he attempted to kill the AE.

Click on the image to go to Managers Are Heroes website. Good piece on self control when you want to strangle someone at the office.

I had to use the image. It has a cat doing what comes naturally. Amazing what you can find on a Google search. And I know the irony of MAH when I'm calling-out managers all the time on silly things they do...

I started there as a consultant, then, when they discovered how brilliant I was (or I was willing to do something that no one really wanted to take on) and couldn’t live without me, they offered me a full-time position. I couldn’t turn it down – solving issues is right up my alley.

In the process of evaluating everything that was going on – and going wrong – in the agency, I had a chat with one of the creative directors. I asked about process. He said, “If I ever hear that word again I’m going to kill someone.”

Process gets discussed To Death.

Why can’t anyone in a creative environment figure out process?

Because it’s so simple. Most agencies and marketing departments actually have a process. They just don’t know it.

Why? Because they think they have to have a big meeting, involve all the managers, sketch it out on a whiteboard, write a long-winded document, 50-slide PowerPoint, have creative do a Process Workflow Diagram to print out and post on a wall, hold a company-wide training session, avow lofty pronouncements and declarations, then roll it out.

Two reactions come from this: a) why are they doing this to us? b) hooray! What’s next?

Then everyone goes back to what they were doing. Before all of that hullabaloo.

And why is this? Because management, in their brilliance, didn’t include anyone actually doing the work on outlining the process; and this is a big one – they have no one to manage the roll-out, follow-up and make adjustments as needed.

That’s because it was perfect. From a management perspective.

I can outline your process in a couple hours.

You say, “Charlotte, you’re insane! You have no idea what our agency/department is like! We’re different! We have a Special Culture!”

Bet you do.

And another thing I’ll bet is that the people doing the work know what process is and practice a little bit every day. It’s just that when things go sideways – which they do in every agency – management decides they’re going to do a process survey and decide what’s best for everyone . . . else.

That is, after it’s been discussed To Death.

So, yes, you do need Process. You need to define it, outline it and everyone needs to follow it. There are exceptions because disaster can strike any time in an agency. In those cases, you take care of the client, get the work done, fix the mistake – then learn from it. Revise the process.

But the exception is not what this is about. This is about the 95 percent of the work in your agency – the routine stuff – that shouldn’t be a pain to manage. A workflow that is predictable. We don't need drama.

Routine isn’t a bad thing, and neither is a clear process that allows most of the work to happen in a routine manner. When it’s all in place and work is just humming along, you have time for the disasters . . . and even more time to spend on the real creative stuff.

Don’t hate Process. Just don’t discuss it to death. Get the folks doing the work to outline it; give them GOOD tools to manage their work (I advocate for agency management software – you should know that by now); and once in place, assign an individual (make allowances for this additional duty) to keep on top of evaluations and adjustments.

You need champions for Process to work. None better than the staff doing the work. They, after all, have all the responsibility and actually really care.

Process is easy – not a Death Threat.

Nothing Will Ever Change

I spend a lot of time with folks in agencies who are dealing with their fair share of grief.

Well maybe it isn’t fair. Or are they getting what they deserve?

Things aren’t going well: things are late, over budget or wrong; disagreements, arguments, or the ever-popular passive-aggressive collaboration.

Finger pointing. Blame game. No one accepts responsibility for anything.

Email folders brimming with CYA and little bombs you or a coworker are just waiting for the right moment to drop.

Stop it. What a waste of time.

I will tell you what’s wrong. Lack of leadership. Lack of clear direction. Mixed signals. And a staff that has become so jaded that they. . . Just. Don’t. Care.

My ex used to say, “Not to decide is to decide.” Awesome insight from someone who didn’t have much initiative. And yet, so true. If you don’t make a decision to act, it will be done for you – in one way or another.  

If there’s anything I have learned in all these years is that things will change. If you’re not part of initiating change, then what you are about to experience is a result of it. Then you feel like a victim of it.

You have no room to bitch. Sorry. 

When you sit back and wait for everything to get better, it won’t. Your days at work will remain shitty. And you can just sit there and keep on complainin’.

So, when an opportunity comes along to do something to improve how things work, get off your chair and give it a try.

Do not tell me that it’s too hard, too much work, it’s been tried before, it won’t matter anyway. . .

And tell your manager to get on the stick. They have a job to do too.

Things will never change is a lament for losers.

And truthfully, nothing stays the same way forever. Be a part of making things better. The alternative is that you get fired for being lazy or the agency goes out of business because no one cares.

There, it was decided for you.

Include Your Team When Evaluating Agency Software

This Forbes article by Avi Dan relates to building a great creative team. But this isn’t just for doing creative – it’s really for solving any puzzle or problem.

When I implement an agency management software solution, I invite people from all areas of an agency – to review, question, and provide the ‘what ifs’. If you want people to use something, give them a voice. And listen. Inclusion and careful consideration of their feedback will go a long way. They won’t feel victimized by some decision that accounting or the partners made for the hope of better performance and reporting.

There is no reason for victims.

Boring things like process and procedure do have real a purpose in any organization and should induce a positive outcome. They provide the framework so the daily hum of an agency has a level of predictability and is logical to everyone.

Why are we doing this?

Introducing agency management tools, along with a ‘new’ process – without input – is usually a disaster.

Putting time and money into tools and process without engaging your agency staff is a waste. And if you’ve done it unsuccessfully once, I can guarantee they will be even less inclined to participate should you look for yet ‘another solution’.

In the article, points number four and five are important:

4. Get naïve feedback. “Beginner’s luck” can facilitate creativity – with a twist. A lot of brilliant ideas don’t start this way, but become so when remarked on by a novice or an outsider. Experts sometimes tend to think in lockstep, and denigrate ideas not their own. Reach out for naïve advice beyond the usual suspects and liberate your creativity.

5. Fail quickly, cheap – and often. Creative organizations understand that success and failure go hand in hand, and therefore they are not intimidated by the prospect of failing. The willingness to absorb failure is liberating and encourages creativity. Simply manage the economics of failure to make it acceptable.

Get feedback – even though you know your business well, when’s the last time you sat in a production artist or coordinator’s seat? They’re the ones doing the work, using the tools and are really important sources of information (why did X happen?). Ensuring tools and processes work for them is essential. They know things you can’t even imagine…

Fail quickly – there’s always a transition to be factored in when introducing new tools or process. Didn’t think of transition? Step back and determine if it is transition – letting go of old, ‘trusted’ systems and using new ones – or if there are situations that you didn’t consider. Review those situations immediately. If the tools or process aren’t working as they were designed / trained /deployed, pull your team together and determine if you need to re-boot.

It’s far better to re-boot, or put off a plan that wasn’t thoroughly vetted than to launch half-cocked – which is usually due to a self-imposed deadline.

This is for the long-haul. No one wants to do this more than once.

I believe in a completely integrated solution to manage agency work, to track projects, to document what’s going on, to assign tasks – everything in one place. Multiple and/or redundant systems don’t provide the level of transparency everyone needs to assure everything is running smoothly.

I also believe that everyone is a stakeholder. Everyone is responsible. That means every individual is accountable for clearly defined instructions, content, budgets, schedules – and doing their part updating / making notes / passing along information – in a shared, structured environment.

That is where transparency in process resides.

You get that transparency through compliance. You get compliance with a system that everyone can use, knows how to use it, and who were given a voice in the evaluation and decision-making process.

They become owners of the process and systems your agency has paid for.


Bridging That Pesky Digital Gap

         I saw the future...and it was totally cool. It still is.

         I saw the future...and it was totally cool. It still is.

I finally found an article that’s worth reading about agencies coming to terms with digital. Allison Kent-Smith wrote a nice piece in FastCompany called Reinventing Your Creative Talent.

It’s time to educate your staff – all of them. Bring them into the technology fold and quit with the silos already! 

There always seem to be silos, but here, the writer says – we all need to learn about technology. How to get it done. We’re better for it.

As the article states: We’re all technologists. We can’t be observers, and then hand stuff off to others to execute.

So, ongoing training is needed. The writer is calling this agency reinvention. We must be relevant – all of us. Or else.

Well, hallelujah!

Part of retaining awesome talent is keeping them up to date on technology. How it applies to our clients’ needs. There are six steps outlined in the piece - that make sense.

Now I'm gonna preach: It’s my belief that not every solution should be online or mobile, or TV, or direct mail (what’s that?!). But we all need to know when to use it, and the requirements – technology, timelines, cost. It is the same for any and all medium.

I have worked in siloed agencies, and for some reason the digital folks truly felt that the rest of us were completely incapable of understanding their magic. The voodoo they do so well.

Well, as an observer, trying to get a seat at their table was tough. Rarely invited, I invited myself. Then came the jargon. Spit out at rapid fire just to prove how uninformed – and stupid – I was.

So, do yourself a favor, learn this stuff. And if they don’t want to share, then take it as the big red flag that they are trying to not let you in on the fact that they might not be all that smart. Then plant yourself at their desk, couch, beanbag - and demand a few minutes of their precious time. It will translate into real dollars (aka create value).

Well, we are smart. After all, we all learned to use computers, cell phones and how to play pong.

By the way – this was overlooked in the article but very important – It’s not only the creatives who need to be technology savvy. Everyone should learn, and understand technology. From Account, through to your billers. If they don’t know what it’s about, they will sell something that can’t be done in within that window of time/budget (Account) – or just plain wrong; all the way to the end – billing incorrectly for services can kill profits.

If your digital team wants to hoard information – because it’s too technical for our little heads – remind them that they too had to learn it. They surely weren’t born with all that knowledge. And surely, they can learn a thing or two from you.

Like how to blend everything – online to offline – into one cohesive campaign.

Now go forth and learn.


I have my fair share of self-doubt – or more precisely, I’ll give someone else the benefit of the doubt. I could be very sure about something, but perhaps in the context of something else, I could be wrong. And in my world, my goal is to just find out what went sideways and fix it. Then find ways to prevent a repeat of that particular error.

Memory is an interesting thing. I can remember details of events that are truly insignificant, and then forget that one thing I needed at the supermarket.

So in the course of a busy day at the agency, if I’m *sure* that something was this way or that, it happened, I’m sure I did it – but someone else says, ‘no way, I did not get X’; then I think – well, I could be wrong. And for me, the last thing I'll do is waste time arguing the point and say, ‘Prove it to me. Show me your work.'

I’d look like a total jerk.

Instead, I investigate. What went wrong, and if so, why? And then I want to figure out how to prevent that error – to ensure that it does not happen again. I’m not creating CYA, I’m refining process.

Where was the breakdown? Evaluate process, tools and people. Remind everyone we're in it together. To make the process of doing the day-to-day easier.

So, in the scenario, for a period of time, they did their job and I didn’t do mine.

Who is wrong? Is someone being a jerk because they never admit a mistake, or that they forgot to do something?

But...when I find that I was right - that the other person didn’t do their job, fix the error, pass it along, save it to the server. Perhaps, like me, they were sure they did X, but didn’t. They should fess-up. Yep. They should admit it, 'My bad.' 

Most often, that original declaration of ‘I did do X' is stated in the presence of others. When I confirm that I did my part, and the other person did not, the truth is usually revealed in private.

I look stupid. The other person looks brilliant. Together. Efficient.

So what do you do? Point out what a jerk they are?

Nope, that makes you look like a jerk yourself.

You have a conversation with that person and they say, ‘Oh, okay, I forgot to do X.’ And that’s it. Your reputation of not-having-it-together lives on in the minds of others.

I hate that. Because I’m smart, and I care about doing a Really. Good. Job.

So, processes and tools are put in place so everything gets done with a level of transparency – documentation with collaboration – then you don’t have to rely on your memory. Or someone else’s. And no one looks like a loser with bad habits and, even worse, a weak memory.

This is not CYA, by the way. This is good process to ensure everything gets done, everyone knows what they need to do and work moves along with minimal errors.

And no one looks like a jerk. Unless they are just jerks.

Now, does Target carry staple guns?