How In-House Creative Teams Can Improve Performance with Data

Four Core Metrics All In-House Creative Services Teams Should Track

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Writers, designers, art directors and photographers are not data-driven by nature. They're more comfortable with pictures, puns and pixels than they are with the metrics and measurements that motivate clients and management.

Perhaps because of this, in-house creative teams consistently list the following as among their biggest challenges: gaining respect from internal clients, proving their value to peers and executives and obtaining adequate funding for headcount.

Like it or not, the key to overcoming these challenges is all in the data.

The exact reports you should be generating as a creative leader will depend on the metrics that matter most to your managers and stakeholders. But focusing on these four core areas is a great place to start:

1. Team hours

An accurate understanding of how team members are currently spending their time will help you increase productivity (by reassigning tasks or streamlining processes) and make it easier to estimate project deadlines. Over time, as you analyze and respond to time-tracking data, you'll get better at meeting those deadlines, which builds trust with stakeholders and executives.

You'll also have the information you need to support outsourcing decisions, the ammunition to push back with problematic internal clients, and the concrete data to justify new hires -- all in the native language of company executives.

It's also important to clearly explain the benefits of collecting the data (e.g., more hands on deck) and to provide clear boundaries with built-in flexibility. As you well know, creative types perform best when they have the freedom to doodle, to think and to exercise their creative muscles without deadline pressure. Consider allowing a certain percentage of each day or week to remain untracked -- left open for this kind of creative experimentation.

2. Project costs

Whether or not your team operates as a chargeback organization (charging costs back to clients), there's great value in tracking your costs. No one knows better than you what the company would spend for the same work with an outside agency. Need to prove your team's value to the executive suite? Start by capturing three simple metrics:

  • The time and costs associated with specific tasks
  • The price a vendor would charge for the same work
  • Your client chargeback rate (if applicable)

An analysis of the margins between the above rates indicates the cost efficiencies you're creating for the organization. This makes it easier to justify additional resources based on your historical data for how long each project takes and the associated costs. And once your team sees that tracking their hours could lead to less personal overtime, they'll catch the vision.

3. Broad project data

Anything you can do to better understand your department's operations will give you the ability to distribute current resources more effectively, get the right headcount to round out your team, and provide evidence of progress made.

Create a master list or spreadsheet to track every project that enters your department, or use project management software. You want a single place to gather and analyze information like the following:

  • What kinds of projects you work on most (online, print, media)
  • Which internal clients those projects are for
  • Who is working on them
  • How long the project takes from initiation to completion
  • How many rounds of approvals are required
  • What percentage of your work is tier 1, tier 2 or tier 3

4. Quality and effectiveness

You could be the most productive creative services team on the planet, but if the work you're churning out isn't meeting the right goals, it doesn't matter how cost-efficient your methods are.

There are certain performance indicators that you -- or your marketing peers -- are probably already keeping an eye on, such as conversion rates for emails or banner ads and response rates to direct-mail campaigns. Numbers like these provide one way to gauge your effectiveness as a creative team, but this is not the only way -- or the most important.

In a recent article, Andy Epstein, author of "The Corporate Creative," outlines five key ways organizations can measure quality:

  • Conduct reviews and critiques with key stakeholders
  • Research and create case studies
  • Conduct stakeholder surveys
  • Solicit industry expert ratings
  • Enter awards competitions

Not all of the above will be appropriate for your organization. Choose the metrics that matter most to your bosses. Is the executive suite most concerned about increased sales? Brand prestige and awareness? Customer engagement online? Higher event attendance? Proactively track the data that proves your work is effectively accomplishing those objectives.

Yes, metrics do matter

Creative teams hate to hear this, but it's true. The more often and accurately you can track your contributions with metrics, the easier it is to show potential growth opportunities, improve productivity and quality and establish your team's value to the enterprise.

An added bonus is the pride you'll feel in knowing exactly how many projects your team completes per quarter or per year, how many of those are on time and within budget, and how much your team contributes to the sales pipeline. Who knows, you may become a numbers person after all.

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