As a freelance copywriter, I write articles about best practices and tips for better managing creative projects. I’m a bit of an efficiency nerd, so I genuinely get a kick out of brainstorming, ‘how can we do this better?’ While Google is my go to for research, I draw inspiration from my in-house studio role as a copywriter and editor in trade publishing. That means I get to experience it too - the good, the bad and, sometimes, the ugly.
In a typical week, I juggle anywhere between 10-15 projects at varying stages of production - within part time hours. Yep. That means I’ve got to be super hero organised. The bonus is that I have approval power for our smaller projects (the bulk of our work) because of a tiny clause about ‘editor’s discretion’. But when I’m managing larger projects that involve business partners and multiple stakeholder input, my super powers for prioritising work and check lists can’t always save me. Why? Because the more feedback that flows into my inbox, the more I have to rely on email to manage approval workflow.
But isn’t email a great communication tool? Umm, yeh. But it’s not a great way to collaborate.
Yes, email is great for every day, simple (simple being the operative word here) communications. However, using it as a tool to manage feedback and approvals on large/ multiple projects when collaboration is critical, it’s on par with the horse and cart. Here are the main issues I encounter with email approvals which I find slow down production.
1. My email clogs up faster than you can say ‘tennis match’.
It might go something like this. I see an email from a stakeholder that confirms, say, a tagline. Great. While I’m saving it to the server, ping, a new email and someone else has another idea. Then, ping, someone wonders where that list of suggestions is from a previous meeting. Meanwhile, ping, another stakeholder likes the second tagline because it really exemplifies the brand. Before you know it, ping, the previous person has come back with that list of suggestions. And so forth. The point here is not to disparage creative minds at work who obviously need to brainstorm. Email just isn’t an effective way to do this.
2. The spidery web of endless, confusing email trails.
I arrive early in the morning to check through my emails and have to scrawl through reams, and I mean reams, of text trying to work out who said what and when and, after all that, what was the final decision? Often, I’ll have to follow up with another email to confirm the outcome. Sigh.
3. Everyone and sundry gets cc’d on emails or not at all.
The truth is, external stakeholders don’t always know who they need to cc on emails, especially at the beginning of a project. Hence, they follow the safe tact of cc’ing absolutely everyone in. On the other hand, emails go around and people’s names drop off, sometimes mine, and then I receive second-hand information which is important feedback from someone in my team. Meanwhile, resources gets wasted because there’s no way to control the flow of information.
4. Creating and referring to an audit trail of feedback is mind blowingly tedious.
I tend to set up multiple folders within a project folder on the server in an attempt to make it easier to locate feedback later on. It’s time consuming, especially when there are loads of them, but it’s policy and I can’t afford to lose the information. Later when I’m making a list of changes, I have to go into each saved email to find the information I’m looking for. When I’ve completed the list of changes, I add the words ‘DONE’ on each file..
What’s your experience managing creative projects with email approvals?