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The State of Creative Workflow Report 2023: Key findings & bonus insights

6 min read
Katie Oberthaler
Earlier this year, in conjunction with the American Marketing Association (AMA), we put out a call to creative teams to give us the nitty-gritty on their creative process.

We wanted to know what the ongoing challenges are in producing creative content today: What’s holding their teams back from churning out stellar work or expanding capacity? What roadblocks lead to missed deadlines and angry stakeholders or frustrated teams? What’s the biggest stick in a creative’s craw for getting assets approved and over the finish line? Where does the real chaos lie–and what’s causing it?

The survey responses from creative operations managers, designers, and teams large and small were enlightening–and somewhat unsettling when we pulled back the curtain on how creative campaigns are executed today. 

We’re excited to announce the full survey results with the availability of The State of Creative Workflow 2023 Report–the definitive set of industry benchmarks for marketing and creative operations managers.

Here's a preview of just some of the insights we found from creative teams of all sizes. Download and read The 2023 State of Creative Workflow today.

Creative work is rarely creative 

Creative work is tedious–and not because teams are spending more time creating. In fact, the bulk of creative work isn’t actually creative at all. 

Creative and marketing teams are spending a vast majority of their time on soul-crushing administrative tasks like chasing down input from stakeholders, trying to find files, or clarifying project updates. 

In fact, only 28% of survey respondents devote over half their daily workload to actual creative endeavors. For creative and marketing professionals tasked with meeting rapid deadlines, that’s a lot of wasted potential!

Read more on exactly which daily tasks slow down creative work--and how to fix it →

Bad feedback is derailing most creative workflows

Even with a well-staffed team of creatives, a mind-boggling chunk of this wasted time is squandered by creative operations managers and creatives themselves chasing and clarifying feedback.

Almost half of respondents (48%) said that they spend at least five hours per month chasing feedback. 60% of respondents said that they frequently have to spend time simply explaining to external stakeholders how to give feedback on creative work.

Getting notes on creative work can sometimes seem like a fruitless odyssey, and creative teams seem to be yearning for having effective systems in place to ensure that it is delivered and received in a timely manner.

Read more on how to avoid bad feedback →

A poor creative workflow has hidden costs

Ultimately, a broken creative workflow has a ricochet effect across the business. Bad feedback, missed deadlines, and busy administrative work can unleash devastating consequences on projects, revenue and logo churn.

  • 88% of surveyed creative teams admit to having compliance issues with their work due to chaotic (or lack of) review processes. 
  • 30% said they’ve absorbed additional project costs due to bad feedback or missed deadlines 
  • 82% of respondents said that at least 5% or more of their creative projects simply end due to bad feedback.

Not optimizing creative production work in the same manner as other businesses process is leaving valuable time and money on the table and opening business and brands up to unseen compliance risks. 

Read more on the unseen costs of a poor creative workflow →

Bonus findings: Team and project structure lack critical standardization

When we dug even deeper into the creative process, we found a lack of standardization within project and team management undercutting a team’s true creative capacity. 

Among growth-hungry companies, team size varies widely. There seems to be a wide gulf in opinion amongst leadership teams about what’s required to properly staff a creative team to take on more project growth.

We found that 65% of creative teams at small firms and 33% at mid-sized joints reported their teams had a whopping 12 members or more. 37% of respondents at mid-sized companies and 30% at small firms said their creative teams were eight or fewer. 

Proper staffing and resourcing becomes absolutely critical when juggling the stress of project and client growth.

  • 39% of creative team members work with 7 or more clients or internal stakeholder groups at once. 23% work with 10 or more clients or stakeholder groups.
  • 70% said they're hustling on over seven different projects or campaigns weekly. 
  • 57% of creatives, three to five versions of a project typically occur before it can be dubbed "done." A quarter admitted their team churns out more than six different versions of each creative deliverable.

Without the right team sizes, even the most innovative team will drown in project volume and stakeholder management.

Within this creative project management, we also found a recurring lack of clarity around project briefs and project status that drastically slows down teams or led to extraneous versions and rework. Scoping is a major issue within project launch and project review. 

  • 19% of respondents who need more than three versions to wrap up a project revealed that their projects are largely scoped ad-hoc, without a solid form or template to streamline the process. 
  • While 86% of respondents said they use some kind of creative project brief, 32% said they aren't storing this vital info in a transparent, interconnected manner throughout the entire creative process.
  • 43% confirmed that feedback on outdated versions is either an occasional or regular headache in the creative process. 

Not only are many creative teams reinventing the wheel for each new project, but they’re sending around the wrong versions for review. This lack of clarity in project briefing and review can drain valuable creative time as team members grapple with outdated or irrelevant feedback or lack of project guidelines.

This lack of standardization is a ticking time bomb, making it even more daunting for creative teams to manage the mounting pressure from juggling countless projects and stakeholders–hindering the real north star: business growth. 

Read more on the core areas for creative project management improvement →

The creative workflow is an untapped value driver 

These findings in The State of Creative Workflow 2023 Report underscore that there is a major urgency within the creative process. Suboptimal creative workflows are more common than not and are costing brands and agencies of all sizes valuable but often unrecognized time, budget, and creative capacity.  

However, we also found that there is a huge amount of unused creative firepower and capacity within creative and marketing teams. The impact of marketing campaigns themselves on the bottom line is well-proven, but the gains from optimizing the behind-the-scenes creative workflow process itself are a nascent yet vital area of business optimization. Streamlining processes, centralizing intel, and building effective communication and feedback throughout the creative gauntlet is an untapped area of business growth.

Download the full report today to read all of the insights and recommendations for how to build a well-oiled creative workflow that tackles each one of these creative challenges. 

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