A common myth is that the development of creative marketing content happens in a smooth linear fashion, thanks to the toil and ingenuity of an inspired designer, writer, illustrator, or other such right-brain maker. That idea is especially appealing to project managers and heads of marketing who'd like to oversee that ostensibly straightforward process with their spreadsheets and Gantt charts.

But the reality is less Gantt chart and more goat rodeo.

Ideas, drafts, and iterations are tossed around almost at random. Feedback and approvals go back and forth—and sometimes sideways. Unanticipated obstacles knock progress off course, and too often great ideas are thrown onto the dirt and trampled into dust. Inevitably, the goat wins.

It isn't easy to find a balance between the two extremes of super-efficiency and chaos.

Creators typically like to work on a more ad hoc basis, and understand that the twists and turns that creative projects take are often necessary to produce something great. Imposing an overly rigid structure might help tame the goat-led chaos, but it stifles the creative impulse. Yet not having a process at all leads to a mess, because creating great content is not just about that core creative services team.

From Simple to Complex

The most critical stage of any creative project is the collaboration stage. Creative collaboration begins when that initial brief, idea, sketch, wireframe, photograph, video footage, or other visual elements are shared and discussed with the wider marketing team. What was at first an insular, individual period of creation is now a team effort, and suddenly effective progress becomes much harder to manage.

Running the entire gamut of marketing programs and campaigns that can include videos, websites, print ads, email marketing, social media promotions, and so much more, requires way more input than a typical marketing department can provide. Marketing is more like the nucleus around which erratically orbit internal creatives, external freelancers, agencies, and production houses—not to mention the project clients from Product, Sales, and the exec team who will demand input and approval.

You're thinking about that goat rodeo again, right? But if a Gantt chart isn't the solution to taming this chaos, how can you impose enough order on creative collaboration to help the process run more smoothly that doesn't kill ideas at the source or dampen the enthusiasm of the creative team?

The Path to Creative Content Success

Here are five ways to reach a successful outcome for any creative marketing content undertaking.

1. Get goals, visual identity, and core concepts aligned from the start

Spending time on the creative brief is critical to spelling out exactly what it is that the project is endeavoring to do and which business need it will solve.

A written brief won't paint a picture of the project's visual ambitions, but mood boards (physical or digital) can be effectively used to ensure everyone is aligned with the visual direction.

Finally, solicit feedback from outside the core creative team early on. The outsider's perspective can often make a critical difference.

2. Create an effective process that works for everyone

In a recent survey of 400 marketing and creative professionals, 75% noted that their team has no effective creative process. Providing stakeholders with an easy way to check in (without the inspiration-killing burden of update emails) is a great start and will help avoid bumps down the road. Then establish key phases where input and approval from the client or stakeholder is required. When you've nailed a design direction or a campaign tagline, be sure to explicitly secure the approver's buy-in so everyone knows the project is ready to move on to the next phase.

3. Centralize feedback for maximum efficiency and transparency

All comments, input, and feedback should be collected in one central place so every collaborator can see what's already been said or asked and answered. Having a central location helps avoid overlapping as well as repetitive comments, and allows fertile discussion of the work in progress.

For visual content, context is paramount, so all assets should be aligned with feedback to avoid miscommunication. This is especially important for multichannel campaigns with lots of different kinds of assets (video, image, print, digital, etc.), because the entire campaign needs to hang together and you don't want to invest a lot of time providing the same insights and feedback across the teams working on different creative assets.

Finally, close the loop on all feedback so that reviewers will know that their ideas have been heard.

4. Create an efficient and productive approval process

It's difficult to impossible for any approver to rubber-stamp something if their first look is at the final version. They're bound to have opinions, so the earlier in the process they provide them the smoother the final approval will be.

Be crystal clear about who provides final approval and what exactly they're approving. Make it as easy as possible to view and approve the work, especially for senior decision-makers, who may be off-site and who likely have limited time. Make sure each approval is documented to avoid issues down the road.

5. Have a system of record for creative collaboration

Most people consider the tools of the creative trade to be popular authoring tools like Adobe Creative Suite or Sketch which are used to create and develop a piece of content. But once that content is shared and the creative collaboration stage kicks off, marketing and creative often lack the ability to capture all the metadata around the shared file: the reviews, approvals, and discussions mentioned above. As fundamental as Adobe or Autodesk is for creation, it's just as important to have a system of record for your creative collaboration.


  • Increasing demands for creative content have made it imperative to put a process in place that brings right- and left-brain thinkers together without dampening the enthusiasm of the team.
  • Start with the creative brief to ensure everyone is aligned with the vision and what business needs/challenges it must solve.
  • Maximize efficiency and transparency throughout the process, including the approval process, and create a system of record for creative collaboration.

Follow these creative collaboration best-practices on your next creative project, and make something great without goat rodeos or Gantt charts.

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Goat Rodeo or Gantt Chart: Five Better Ways to Creative Content

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image of Deborah Holstein

Deborah Holstein is CMO at EverString, provider of predictive marketing software and sales development solutions. She has 15+ years' experience in technology marketing leadership roles focused on B2B and B2C SaaS businesses.

LinkedIn: Deborah Holstein

Twitter: @dholstein