One of the most challenging parts about managing marketing, design and agency work is the internal-external collaboration flow between stakeholders.
Many projects require a large amount of feedback outside of your immediate team, such as client projects, approval of product or design licensing use and more.
Gathering feedback between internal creative teams and external stakeholders can be a chaotic process of monitoring commenting, change requests and new versions across email inboxes, chat threads and follow-ups.
This process often leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to delivery deadlines and the client experience. There are several ways to more seamlessly incorporate external collaborators into the review process.
1. Capture external content with intake forms
A recurring challenge with creative project management is that it’s often difficult for internal teams to incorporate content created by external collaborators into internal project workflows. When new project content, like a design brief, is submitted, someone internally usually has to then forward the content onto the right people and manage all the different versions.
The internal-external content problem can be solved with intake forms, which are web-accessible forms that:
- Enable partners, clients and others to directly submit content to your team for use or review.
- Apply a complete review workflow to submitted content, including routing and approval steps, notifications, stages and security controls.
This option not only makes sure that content from outside collaborators gets into the right hands every time, but it also automatically creates an audit trail that can be referenced throughout the entire production process.
2. Group reviewers to control content feedback
With creative work, many stakeholders need to give their approval – but not everyone needs full access to the content at all times.
Review groups can be helpful for delineating roles and responsibilities – internally, by team or review step, and for external reviewers – prior to the start of a project.
For instance, one could set up a review workflow that sends content to different internal groups and then finally the client. The client group can be set up to be notified only when a new version is created, or via other action-based triggers throughout the review process.
Gathering feedback between internal creative teams and external stakeholders can be a chaotic process.
NHS Inc, which manages multiple skateboard product lines and licenses its designs to several partners, uses different review groups to facilitate concurrent feedback from its branding, creative and licensing teams on new product designs submitted from international partners. Multiple teams can provide their input throughout the design process without holding up the collaboration process with licensees.
Separating collaborators into functional review groups, with different levels of access and commenting abilities, at various stages of the content creation process enables you to better control and speed up the feedback process.
3. Use minor content versions
Creative teams should also consider how they approach content versioning during review stages with clients.
The typical way to label versions is v1, v2, v3, and so on. Depending on your project workflow, this might not be the ideal process. By the time content is shared externally, you could be sharing what is now known as v3. That often causes some confusion and leads clients to ask: “Hey, what happened to v1 and v2?”
You could start a new version at that point. However, this approach separates the original content and the version created just for client review, breaking the link between internal action and external feedback, and requiring your team to keep track of activity on two separate documents.
Using a minor versioning structure for your projects allows versions for internal review to be labeled as vX.1, vX.2 (where “X” is the major version) and enables you to share only major versions with clients and avoid any confusion.
4. Separate internal conversations with private commenting
There are often times when you need to share content with clients – but not all the ongoing internal discussion around changes and updates as feedback is given.
For example, once you’ve completed a new ad design and shared it with your client, they may start adding comments to the project that require in-depth internal discussions to resolve.
You might not want to have external reviewers see the conversations taking place in response to their comments. Typically, you’d be forced to take those conversations to email, chat or phone. This method not only breaks the audit trail around the proof, but it makes it more time-consuming for your team to collaborate with internal reviewers.
This problem can be solved by allowing customers to enable private comments for specific reviewers’ groups in a certain stage. Private discussions can then take place on the content and only be visible to reviewers in that particular stage, while at the same time ensuring that all annotations remain as part of the project. You can then choose to make those comments visible to all reviewers once feedback has been resolved.
5. Stop ‘scope creep’ by locking content past deadlines
As we know, in the creative world, ‘final’ is often a relative term.
Even after a content piece has been approved, it’s common for change requests and feedback to roll in after everyone has given approval and disrupt the production process and delivery deadlines, especially if the right people don’t see content far enough in advance to provide feedback or are reviewing older versions of content.
Locking content from additional modifications and versioning after approval decisions have been made solves this 11th-hour feedback problem.
For instance, an agency that manages numerous daily direct mail design orders uses proof-locking with automated reminders to enforce a 24-hour deadline with every single client. If any new requests for changes are sent after a deadline has passed, an automatic email is sent outlining the costs required to make those changes. As a result, the design team has drastically improved delivery timelines, allowing them to move onto new project requests faster.
In summary: Make feedback effortless
Managing external collaboration doesn’t need to be time-consuming or chaotic. Small changes to project and file structures can drastically improve the ease of sharing, modifying and approving content, and keep projects secure and on schedule.