How to Lay the Groundwork for Creativity in a Busy Digital Agency

How to Lay the Groundwork for Creativity in a Busy Digital Agency

26th November 2019

In a busy digital agency, life can be demanding, exciting and stressful. To be creative within that environment is not always easy; so anything you can do to improve conditions and encourage the creative process will ultimately benefit your company and the clients you work with.

You need to be striving for order amongst the chaos wherever possible. A good way to come at this is to look at some of the key potential problem points that may be preventing your creative team from working to the best of their ability.

Many of the potential blockers you and your team are likely to face can be divided into the following categories:

  • Unwillingness from management to try new ideas
  • Clients not understanding your approach
  • Poorly implemented or non-existent processes
  • A lack of investment in tools
  • Poor communication

In this piece, I’ve looked to tackle each of these issues and present some solutions that should hopefully enable your team to get past difficulties; to ultimately work more effectively and create more successful content!

1. Be Willing to Try New Ideas

Within the content and outreach team at Evoluted, we have a variety of different projects ongoing at any one time. Very rarely is link building not integral to this work and it’s certainly something that everyone on the team is responsible for.

Anyone that’s tasked with creating content and trying to gain coverage for it almost every day would probably admit that it isn’t always an easy task, so it’s important to constantly evaluate and adapt the approach your team are taking.

In order to be successful, you have to give your team the freedom to try new methods and approaches; otherwise your strategy will fall short.

Give your team the platform to present new creative ideas and then be willing to fight the value of that work to other tiers of management. Explain that trying new ideas is integral to you delivering them the results they want.

Some tips to get new ideas through the door include:

  • Pitching new ideas gradually. If you show success with one or two new ideas; you’ll be more likely to get buy-in for future ideas
  • Being prepared, concise and firm when pitching new approaches to top-tier management
  • Presenting examples of where the approach has worked elsewhere (if you’ve researched a tactic and want to try it for yourself, for example)
  • Not promising the world. You’ll just fall flat on your face. Instead, explain potential successes in realistic terms

2. Invest Time in Educating Clients

To drive success through content in SEO, you sometimes need to think outside of the box. This can lead to creating content that might not necessarily make a great deal of sense to clients, at least initially.

Don’t assume that clients understand why you’re chasing links and why their strategy to date might have been unsuitable. It’s your job to explain to them why you’re taking the approach you are with their content and to help them understand the value that work will ultimately have.

Some of the things I look to do with our content clients to help explain our approach to them include:

Holding Periodic Meetings

  • Sit with clients and walk them through the creative process. Explain in clear terms the value the work you’re doing could ultimately have
  • Explain why (if required) a stale approach to content simply won’t work for driving links – and why failure to address that might lead to content marketing failure

Creating Educational Resources

  • Create concise, informative documents that you can use to help explain your approach to clients and give them a useful point of reference moving forward. Use clear terminology and don’t get too wrapped up in technical language
  • For bigger pieces, map out your aims for content pieces and summarise the rough direction you’re looking to take with your content (for example: overview, structure, potential link opportunities etc.). Share these with clients
  • Create case studies to educate clients; so that you can show them exactly where your approach has worked before and the results that brought

Involving the Team in the Initial Pitch for Work

  • Whilst you obviously want to secure new clients and grow your business, it’s important to work with people that understand your approach and the value it can have. A good way to establish whether you’re a good fit for each other is to be very up front about the approach you intend to take with content; using insight from your creative team to influence discussions

3. Introduce Logical Processes

The best ideas rarely come at times of chaos. You need to give your team the space to be able to think, ideate and develop ideas. Whilst this isn’t always easy in a busy digital agency, it really is something worth committing to.

With this in mind, anything you can do to improve efficiency is sure to be welcome:

Shared Calendars

A calendar system for your content work is a great way to keep all those working on any account in the loop.

At Evoluted, we use Asana for this process and it’s a great project management tool that allows you to break down pieces into subtasks, set deadlines and adjust priorities. This helps to improve efficiency and break down content tasks so that they include room to fully plan and ideate great content ideas.

A shared calendar with clients can also be useful, as it enables them to see what creative ideas you’re working on and plan in any other work they require within the schedule.

Team Catch-Ups

Whilst very few of us enjoy meetings for the sake of meetings; when planned in periodically they can be really useful for the creative process. Try meeting with your creative team every 4-6 weeks for an hour, so that you can:

  • Share important plans
  • Discuss strategy
  • Provide each other with a different set of eyes for pieces being worked on

Encourage Organisation

A chaotic approach to work will cause you problems; reducing the time you can spend on doing work and instead bogging you down trying to create some sort of semblance amongst the carnage.

To avoid this problem; organise, organise, organise. Use reminder applications, project management tools, or whatever else you need to do this. The more effectively you can work in terms of admin, the more effectively you can create and produce valuable work. Some points worth considering:

  • Try and use as few tools as possible to centralise your organisation, otherwise you’ll find yourself updating lists in too many different places
  • Try and encourage a similar way of working amongst the whole team. Internal process documents can be a useful way to push this approach through

4. Introduce the Right Tools

Tools are an important part of the creative process. They can:

  • Provide a way for your team to explore potential ideas
  • Be a great source of inspiration for those times where even the most creative of people get stuck in a rut
  • Enable your team to work more effectively
  • Allow for more effective tracking of work

In the content and outreach environment, potential tools are likely to fall within one of the following categories:

  • Project management
  • Analytics
  • Outreach
  • Ideation

If you’re leading a content team, it’s well worth evaluating the tools you’re using in each of these areas to establish whether there could be a better alternative. Or, if you’re happy with the tools you’re using, you could spend time looking into untried features and training your team to use them instead.

If there are improvements to be made, explain the value to top-tier management and encourage them to invest.

5. Talk to Each Other!

I can’t emphasise this one enough. Whilst it is good to reduce conversations that don’t offer a great deal of value, it isn’t good to just move every single conversation you have into Slack, Asana or whatever project management and instant messaging tools you use.

You still need human interaction.

The creative process can be inspired by speaking to each other and getting heads together. A 30-minute discussion in a quiet meeting room can be so much more fruitful than a lengthy conversation on Slack; where several people are fighting to get their ideas heard; but you’re ultimately left with a confused and muddled message.

Some Actionable Points to Move Forward With

Make Incremental, Valuable Changes

Anyone who’s worked in a busy digital agency will tell you how stressful it can be. Certain tasks will always take priority and that means that things like changes to processes can take longer than you’d like to push through. This, though, is the nature of the beast and all you can do is look to make small improvements where you can.

Rather than being despondent about not being able to change everything you want to now, try and secure a small bank of time each month to gradually push through the changes you want to make. This way, you can focus on one or two things each month; that will eventually stack up over a longer spell of time.

Learn, Research & Be Adaptive

Always be looking to improve your approach and way of working. The digital industry is constantly evolving and sticking to the same tactics for too long can become archaic and stale; ultimately costing you the results you need to achieve.

To help ensure you stay ahead of the curve, some strategies you can look to introduce include:

  • Adding passionate people to your team and being willing to try their ideas
  • Learning from past mistakes and content that hasn’t worked
  • Testing several approaches simultaneously against each other
  • Selectively attending the most valuable conferences and events
  • Encouraging your team to stay widely read
  • Encouraging your team to attend training they feel will help them grow
  • Strengthening yours and your team’s knowledge in areas of weakness
  • Integrating innovative new tools

Be Ambitious, But Also Realistic

With a daily battle taking place for coverage, creative SEO teams are constantly competing for their pitches to be the ones that get attention. This means that the outreach marketplace is increasingly oversaturated.

Of course you want every piece of content you create to be successful, but the nature of the industry means that there will inevitably be failures amongst those successes.

The goalposts are always changing. If one SEO writes that they’ve seen success with link building at a certain time of day, everyone will start trying that approach and then lots of those pitches won’t be seen amongst the noise.

What this ultimately means is that it’s important to be realistic in the demands you place on your team. Of course, be ambitious, that’s what we’re here for. But also show understanding that you won’t get 100 links with every piece of content you create.

Instead, set realistic targets and educate clients around what you’re doing so they understand why a piece might not have worked. Then, learn from any mistakes that have been made (or successes you’ve enjoyed) and use them to improve your content moving forward.


Written By
Sean is Head of Content at Evoluted, a digital marketing and development agency in Sheffield. He’s worked in digital marketing since 2014, having initially spent time with BBC Radio Newcastle.
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