I would claim that any company working with branding & creative agencies can save 20-40% on fees if they improve their internal decision making processes.

There is a reason why creative and design agencies are limiting the round of changes to 2 – 3 rounds. The thing is, if you have a clear idea of where you are going and if you know what you want, you don’t need more. We see it over and over again, a good brief leads to good design options, that in turn leads to good campaigns. If you want to know how to structure a good brief to create a new visual identity for your brand, you can download this example.

When an agency receives a brief and give you a quotation with 2 rounds of changes, the following is normally supposed to happen:

The first version – version 1 – shows options of various designs, the second refines your chosen option and the third really just tweaks to adjust. If the project goes beyond the quoted round of changes, the agency will invoice for the added work. E.g. at Lime Agency, we invoice 25% for each additional round of change which covers the additional costs and time spent on the project. 

Obviously, this is not the desired outcome and all parties (agency included) prefer to fall within the initial scope of the project quotation for reasons of time management on the agency’s side, and for reasons of budget on the the client’s side. Yet, we have often come across management issues that have caused budget increases close to 300%. So how can that happen? And most importantly, how can it be avoided?

How Roles and Responsibilities Affect Costs Of Creative Projects

In most companies, there are clear guidelines and responsibilities. If you choose to go with an advertising campaign and you are the marketing manager of that product, failure or success – will be on you! You have your objectives and have to report results and progress to your managers, but YOU are the one taking decisions on how you want to achieve those results.  

However, in some companies, even marketing managers have to get approvals from their superior on collaterals as simple as website banners. Or marketing managers put in charge interns they don’t fully trust or don’t have a full understanding of the brand to liaise with agencies – adding yet another layer of approval in the decision making process and additional opportunities for mistakes.

The solution here would be to involve the final decision makers at key moments of the creative process such as the briefing session and the delivery of version 1, making sure they are giving input from the start and making the most important creative decisions before asking the agency to make any other minor changes.

Unfortunately, in our experience, it is not how that works, and projects that seemed straightforward and simple have turned into nightmares of unnecessary back & forth for both client and agency.

12 Rounds of Changes for 1 Simple Website Banner

To our great despair, due to similar situations, we have had projects where we find ourselves doing up to 12 rounds of changes on a single banner. Just as an illustration we are describing here how such a project could go: 

Tuesday afternoon: We receive an email from an intern about a banner that is supposed to go up on one of our client partner’s website. The only information we get is the name of the partner’s website. Turns out, the website is part of Google Display Network and there are a lot of various options for both size and format.

WEEK 1
Tuesday afternoon:
We ask about the size and the format, the intern gets back to us saying that the banner is 250×250 in jpg format. We then send over a quotation and the intern arranges for it to get signed by their boss. The quote for the project is 500 SGD as this is a pretty straightforward job and we are familiar with the brand. A signed quotation gets back to us quickly.

Wednesday afternoon: We send 3 options for banners in 250×250 in jpg format.

Friday afternoon: The intern wants to see a combination of option 2 and 3.

WEEK 2
Monday afternoon:
We send over the 4 reworked options – this is considered version 2.

Wednesday morning: The intern is happy with option 4 but needs to tweak the text a bit.

Wednesday afternoon: We send back the final version 3 of the banner ad. At this point, the project is supposed to be finalised and ready to be finalised, or so we think.

Friday morning: We receive a call from the intern, apologising for the additional changes, it turns out that the ad was not supposed to be 250×250, but rather 728×90! This was due to an internal miscommunication on the client side, as the intern had been removed from the list of recipients for the e-mail including the final decisions on size. The information he had was obsolete but the marketing manager didn’t update him as they thought he was included in the communication.

Friday morning: The change of size involves additional work on the agency size, longer than we can accomodate on a project that has already used its 3 rounds of change. So, we send over a quotation for 2 additional rounds of changes, equivalent to 250 SGD.

Friday late night: A signed quotation is received.

WEEK 3
Monday noon
: We send 2 options for the updated banner (version 4), same artwork as had been approved previously, in jpg and in the new size.

Monday afternoon: The intern chooses option 2, and just have a little text change.

Monday afternoon: we send across the reworked banner, now version 5.
We once again believe that the project is finalised and approved.

Wednesday noon: We receive a Whatsapp message from the intern, apologising for hassle – the banner was supposed to be an HTML ad, not a static jpg! The partner website, upon receiving the jpg banner rejected the format and requested for the animated banner instead.

No written emails had been sent to confirm this as it had been agreed upon by the partner and client CEO over dinner a couple of weeks ago. Therefore, it is a surprise for all parties.

Wednesday afternoon: We send across a new quotation for SGD 1000 including 2 rounds of changes – HTML ads take more time to create and require other skills.

Over the following days we use the 2 rounds of changes and the intern is happy with the result. We are ready to invoice – by then, we were already in version 8.

Friday night: An email comes in with comments from the intern’s manager.
There are additional changes, and we learn that this is the first time that the marketing manager is seeing the banner.

WEEK 4
Monday morning
: We are already at version 8 and the intern has used up all the round of changes from the previous quotation, so we send anew quotation for 2 additional changes (500 SGD)

Thursday: After getting approval of version 10 from the marketing manager, the agency is ready to invoice the project.

Friday, 2pm: We receive an e-mail from the marketing manager. He just had a monthly brand review with his bosses, there are additional changes to the banner. They are not minor. It needs some rework but we need to have a quick turnaround as the banner needs to be up Monday morning.

Friday 4pm: We send a quotation for 2 extra rounds of changes with urgency fees (625 SGD).

Friday 5pm: We receive signature on quotation.

Friday 9pm: After 2 rounds, we have a final approved version 12!

In the end, the banner ad cost, in total, 2875 SGD. That is 187.5% more expensive than what it could have been if the intern had been properly informed and briefed before briefing the agency, if the marketing manager had given feedback in version 1 AND if the brand committee let the marketing manager take decisions on simple banners.

Save Your Changes And Money For More Interesting Stuff

So, why do we complain? More money for us, right? 

The truth is, behind every agency are humans, and, as humans, we want to have meaning and purpose. We want to move forward, support our client with new ideas and constructive things that will bring value to their brand. Spending 4 weeks on back & forth on a minor banner is not productive for anyone, and is a real waste of money. Money that could be better invested in creating enriching brand experiences for customers.  

So yes, we would like companies to get more streamlined about their decision making processes, so that they can save time and money for all parties and allowing all of us to bring real value into this world instead of hustling and creating unnecessary stress.