Agency Basics, Basic Workflow Within the Agency

The following article goes through some generic agency workflow processes as seen through the eyes of an agency project manager. This condensed version of agency process is just meant to show "the basics." All agencies have different and unique steps in their own daily routine and in the life of an an agency project.

The client briefs the agency
• The account team creates and issues a meeting call report.
• Account begins to develop a creative brief.
• The account executive requests a job number from traffic.
• The project manager issues a job number.
• Once the creative brief is approved by all parties, a start-up meeting takes place.
• The account group requests an estimate from production.
• The estimate is routed & approved internally.
• The client approves the estimate, work begins.

• Project Manager prepares the schedule and gets approval by the creative & production team before presenting to the Account Group.
• The schedule is then approved by the AE and presented to the client. Once the client has approved the estimate and schedule (sometimes called T&E, for "Times and Events"), work begins.
• The project manager then updates the master schedule to reflect the changes.
• The project manager is then responsible for updating and maintaining the schedule.

The Weekly Status Meeting
• The account executive updates their weekly client status report.
• Weekly agency status meetings are held to review client status reports.
• The project manager then updates a master schedule to reflect changes given during meeting and distributes.
• Account team updates their status reports.

Daily Hot List / Status
• The project manager should distribute and maintain a daily, “What’s Hot for Today” and current "status report" either digitally or in a project management program updated each morning to the agency. The night prior to the day the hot list is issued, all team participants, i.e. the account teams, creative director, production, should provide input to the project management department with regard to work needed for the upcoming day.
• Although work is scheduled based on the master status report, the hot list reflects any changes that occurs during the week. Team members can use it as a guide to what work is being assigned to them. If there is work that is not on the hotlist for that day, the account manager should be required to meet with the appropriate department managers and assigned traffic person before work begins. No account management team member should give out work without notifying the project manager.

Client approval of the estimate
• When the account group gets client approval of the estimate or a signed media schedule accounting should be notified to begin the invoicing process.
• The account group fills out a start work - job plan form and initiates, if necessary an internal start-up planning meeting.
• The project manager should schedule all internal work related meetings. An agency master calendar should be kept to manage all meetings scheduled.
• Any jobs not covered under a fee based arrangement,  should not be started without signoff of an approved estimate and/or media schedule.
• Signed estimates should be distributed to the production staff and the CSD.

Project management
• The project manager tracks all work internally, making sure deadlines are met within in each department (creative or production) in order to accommodate the master schedule.
• The project manager should work with the CD to determine availability of the account’s assigned lead creative team or assign alternative creative team if necessary. 
• The project manager should maintain a digital “job bag or jacket.” Each round of changes should be tracked and placed back into the job bag so a job “history” can be created.
• Upon job completion, the digital manager department should create a final digital copy example of the creative and manage a post project process.

Internal approvals
When routing the agency work, please keep in mind that it takes time to circulate the work through out the agency. If a key person is not available to sign off on the work, notify the proper supervisor or account team to ensure that their is a replacement signature.
Key signatures for routing work:

Comps for internal presentation:
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD

Comps for external presentation:
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD
• AE
• Partner / VP

Production - Round 1
• Production Artist - or Interactive roles.
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services

• Studio - interactive or traditional 
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services

Final Release:
• Studio Artist
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services
• Client

The New Creative Stage
• The account group meets with the team to discuss the creative brief, the project, and to discuss the timelines if necessary.
• The AE is responsible for all client copy and art approvals. The AE sends the client the artwork for approval keeping in mind the client submission guidelines. Although work may be posted to the agency site, the AE must view the posted work before notifying the client.
• Internal reviews are required prior to presenting work to the client.
• The project manager keeps a copy of all the creative presented for the job bag.
• Production meets with creative before presenting creative ideas, to confirm production costs would remain within budget. This can happen at the creative review stage as well.

The Copy Stage
• The AE provides the copywriter (and other team memebers) with client materials, holds a start-up meeting if necessary and notifies the project manager of client changes.
• Copy should be proofread and routed internally before circulating to the client.
• Upon internal approval, (in an editorial environment), copy should provide text to traffic and would forward to the art department. Usually the copywriter and art director work together as a team.

Revising Existing Creative
• The account group is responsible for client approval of additional costs, an accurate media schedule form, and the appropriate change order form(s).
• Prior to handing the change orders to the project manager the AE reviews the client changes, makes sure changes are clearly marked. The account manager should review their changes with the traffic manager prior to the hand off. The project manager would make sure all corrections are understandable before handing over to the staff for changes. Copywriter and Art Director,
• When the creative is received from the project manager, the copywriter / or AD reviews the changes and then gives the changes to the AD, who oversees the revisions.
• The changes are made by the art department then given to project manager for circulation.

Routing to the Client
• The client should be made aware of some important facts concerning their responsibilities in approving creative or media schedules. That they are responsible for approving the schedule, and should return the materials back to the agency in a timely manner. The agency should remind the client that if the materials are not returned by a designated time, that the projects deadlines could be in jeopardy. The client should also understand that the excessive changes could cause the schedule to be changed.
• The account management staff must get approval from the project manager or department managers for changes that effect the existing schedule. It is always more prudent to get back to the client with a realistic deadline than provide one that you are uncomfortable with.

Client approval of creative
• The Account executive is responsible for circulating the creative, layout, copy, artwork, storyboards,scripts and media schedules directly to the client
• Although the account executive does get a “final signoff” from the client. The account executive is responsible for ensuring that the client’s changes were made to the client’s satisfaction.
• Client changes and approval steps are repeated until final client copy/layout approval—at which point the account staff would notify the project manager to begin production.
• A “prepro” or preproduction meeting would be scheduled prior to the layout being turned into a final produced piece.

Executing the creative
• After client approves a creative concept, the art director designs the piece (or with a designer) makes final selects on execution style, selects the photographer or artist. The art director then discusses with the production and account staff the costs of the artwork if the agency does not have an art buyer.
• A production schedule is then created.
• Art director, production and art buyer coordinate schedule, costs, shoot(s) and/or illustration and inform traffic of status.
• Client approves additional costs if necessary.
• The shoot happens, post production happens, and the project manager keeps the account team informed of client approval needs, timing and changes.
• The production work is approved internally before presenting for client approval.

Scheduling the media
• The Media department produces the media schedule based upon the clients needs and the approved internal schedule.
• It is the AE’s responsibility to follow up with the departments to make sure you are meeting your deadlines. If the creative, copy or art materials come in late on your timelines, you must make sure that you change your media schedules to reflect a realistic
date to meet the publications’ closing dates.
• Media Traffic would call all media sources to review if the media schedule information is accurate.
• Traffic would follow up with the media to ensure that the materials have been received on time and would be inserted properly.

The Production Stage - Post shoot. 
• The AE gives project manager a signed off copy (or approval) of the creative.
• Production produces the work based on the production specs and the ad is circulated internally until all parties approve.
• The AE is responsible for releasing internally approved work to the client for final signoff. No work should be released by the agency without final approval from the client.
• Revisions to the work would be treated as with all client revisions and generate a client change order.
• The studio should not begin any work before unless there is a signed production estimate for any changes.

Final review of materials
• The project manager should circulate any final materials with the last client signed off for final internal approval, qa or proofreading.
• When the material is approved, the project manager makes a copy of the material and the proof is sent to the client for final approval and shipped to the vendor.
• The client must sign off on the material before printing or release.
• If the client or agency makes changes, a change order is generated and materials are corrected if necessary. If the agency is going to incur additional cost, the client must be notified and the costs approved by the client.
• Samples should be circulated within the agency for review before the materials are shipped to the client.