Creative project management: The 2024 playbook

creative project management_header

Why do creative projects fail? It depends on who you ask. Some blame the budget, others cite confidence issues, and a select few pin it on the project manager. 

But the real roadblocks run deeper and can usually be sourced back to one of these three common offenders:

  1. A lack of defined project objectives and milestones 
  2. Unclear business objectives or a lack of a common vision 
  3. Misalignment between business and project goals 

Whatever way you slice it, 70% of all projects fail

This figure highlights just how important creative project management is. With huge content demands, marketing compliance concerns, and tight deadlines to juggle, the creative industry is crying out for better project management workflows.

That’s what we’re walking through today.

Stick around if you’re a marketer, creative, or PMO looking to learn:

  • Five pillars of creative project management
  • Four stages of the creative project lifecycle
  • Six best practices for creating better creative work faster

Centralize your creative approval workflows

Set up automated workflows to keep standards high across all your teams and content.

Five pillars of creative project management

They say the creative process can’t be rushed. Unfortunately, any marketer or project manager knows that behind every great creative project is a giant ticking clock. 🕰️

A solid project management process can cut through the noise and offer a framework to speed up content production. So you achieve better results.

Here are the five core pillars of successful creative project management:

  1. Set clear and achievable deliverables to align all stakeholders with a common vision
  2. Clearly define and assign project tasks so everyone knows their role – creative project management software can automate this process and help you manage milestones 
  3. Facilitate creative collaboration and stakeholder communication within a single tool   
  4. Provide project-level visibility to check progress and bottlenecks – this highlights where resource allocation is needed
  5. Define a structured creative review process to make the handover of assets as smooth as possible 

Here’s how the creative approval process looks in Filestage. 

project dashboard brochure

The four stages of the creative project lifecycle

The end result may be different, but creative work passes through the same project lifecycle as any other type of asset.

Getting concepts from your creative team’s brains to an audience requires four key steps. Here’s a closer look.

Stage one – Initiation 

This is where you lay the foundations for creative success. You’ll agree on the core details of the project, including:

  • Goals – setting clear expectations for everyone involved and aligning them with business objectives
  • Timelines – defining a realistic roadmap with critical milestones 
  • Budget – agreeing on a set budget and how you’ll allocate resources
  • Deliverables – aligning expectations on what you’ll deliver 
  • Reporting – how you’ll track the progress of the project 

Scope creep is very real. So, you’ll need to document all of this information in a project charter.

Stage two – Planning 

The next stage is to break the creative project down into manageable tasks. Once you’ve done this, you’ll assign them to the relevant team members.

Now’s also the time to set milestones so senior stakeholders can easily visualize project progress. You should also start capacity planning to calculate what resources you have and where you may need additional support.

Stage three – Execution 

The execution is where the magic happens. Team members and freelancers collaborate, communicate, and get it done.

You’ll decide how best to keep the creative work flowing. For instance, using time tracking software or other PMI tools to manage your workload and stay on course.

It’s also where your creative team may start flagging blockers that you’ll need to address.

Stage four – Creative sign-off 

Cue the canned applause! Your creative content is done. Well, except for the small matter of getting sign-off (it’s actually a pretty big job that can take weeks if you don’t have the right process in place).

For context, our research shows it takes an average of eight days and three versions to get each creative asset approved. 🤯

This is where creative project management starts to splinter off from standard procedures.

Creative assets typically require more rigorous content reviews and approvals, especially in industries regulated by strict marketing compliance standards. 

Different teams (marketing, design, legal, external agencies, clients, etc.) all need to review the final product before it goes to market. They also review it from different angles and perspectives. When not managed properly, the process can easily become long and disjointed.

The best way to drive this is to set up a custom review and approval process. That workflow will allow you to manage stakeholder feedback and content iterations from one centralized tool.

Six best practices for faster, better creative projects

Creative project management is an art and a science. It’s tough to balance giving creative teams enough artistic freedom while still following standard project management techniques. But tough isn’t impossible.

Here are six best practices for more efficient creative project management.

1. Assign a project owner

First things first, every creative project needs an owner to keep the train on the track. With so many collaborators in the picture (graphic designers, copywriters, legal), your project can very quickly get diluted. Cue an incohesive final product.

By having a project owner, you create a North Star. Everyone knows who to turn to when they hit speed bumps, and you have a clear vision to lead the way.

It also frees creative teams up to do what they do best: create. 💡

2. Nail your creative briefs

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re not using creative briefs in your artwork management process, you’re leaving yourself open to issues.

This document is the blueprint for your project’s success, aligning everyone with a single creative vision. 

Start by designing a creative brief template. It should include:

  • A project description
  • Deliverables 
  • Reference work 
  • Technical specs
  • Branding guidelines

Once you’ve designed the brief, the creative project manager should present it to key stakeholders during the kick-off meeting.

Only then should you start assigning tasks to your creative teams.

This simple step can keep your project laser-focused on the goal and vision (without descending into chaos.)

3. Automate creative collaboration workflows

They say AI will eliminate 80% of project management tasks by 2030. That’s good news if you’re a creative project manager who spends way too much time on manual tasks. 

Automation is your new best friend. You can put repetitive manual tasks on autopilot and focus on the big-picture tasks that will drive your project’s success.

Creative project management tools like Filestage do the heavy lifting for you. 

Filestage is the online proofing platform for brands in regulated industries. It allows you to manage content feedback and reviews for a more streamlined, scalable process.

Here are some creative workflow automation examples you can implement with Filestage:

  • Auto-assign due dates for content reviews
  • Start the next reviewer group when a file is approved
  • Create reusable workflow templates to save time
  • Update a file status based on your stakeholders’ review decisions
Workflow automations

4. Centralize feedback

I recently spoke to experts from seven different industries and they confirmed my suspicions: scattered feedback is the biggest blocker in the creative review process.

When you’ve got marketing and design teams on one side and legal or compliance on the other, your feedback loops can spiral. 

Your best line of defense is to centralize all feedback in one platform (not email, unless you enjoy wasting hours of your life collating out-of-context comments). 

Online proofing software can help you get the gang back together. Filestage unifies all stakeholder feedback in one place, so you can turn actionable comments into to-do lists. 

You can also annotate visual assets like artwork or packaging designs with in-context feedback to clarify hard-to-pinpoint edit requests.

Feedback on packaging design

Here’s an example of how centralizing feedback can save you time.

GroupM is a leading media investment company. It’s responsible for over $63 billion in annual media investments. 

It previously used email to collect creative feedback, but experienced some issues:

  • Missed feedback and versioning confusion
  • Miscommunications were happening more often than they liked
  • The team spent too much time consolidating stakeholder feedback 

Thanks to its large-scale operations, GroupM needed a better feedback system. So it joined Filestage.

“Since implementing Filestage, GroupM has reduced its team’s daily email inbox by 25-30% and significantly cut down on miscommunication.”

Rain Balares, INCA Lead at GroupM

Read the full story

5. Customize your reviewer groups

Want a quick and effective recipe for chaos? Allow all your reviewers to leave feedback at the same time. 

Please don’t actually do this. It’s a really bad idea.

When it comes to reviewing creative content, it’s important to understand who needs to see what and when. For example, legal teams typically don’t need to enter the review process until marketing and design have worked their magic.

By creating custom reviewer groups, you can make sure the right people leave feedback at the right time. This saves you trawling through unactionable comments and prevents security issues.

Filestage is designed to simplify this process. You can easily set up custom groups based on the functional needs of your project, keeping review stages lean.

approved by

6. Get “fat-free” content versioning

Raise your hand if you’ve ever named a file “Final Version” only to make 10 new iterations later. 

It happens. 

That’s why version control is paramount in creative project management. Lots of cooks in the kitchen means lots of feedback, which leads to more content changes and versions. 

Best case scenario? Stakeholders waste time reviewing an old version of your creative asset. 

Worst case scenario? An old, unapproved version makes its way to the public domain. 

Fat-free content versioning means having all your old versions in a centralized platform. That way, you can easily manage which content iteration people work from and save potential disasters. 

For example, Filestage allows you to compare versions and comments side by side so you can easily visualize changes. 

Our AI also auto-compares versions to double-check that none of your edits slip through the cracks.

Pharma packaging compare versions

Throw in a logical naming convention and you have officially nailed “fat-free” content versioning. 🙌

Centralize your creative approval workflows

Set up automated workflows to keep standards high across all your teams and content.

Creative project management FAQs

What are the benefits of implementing a structured creative project management process?

Some of the best creative work can be found stagnating in an old file, never seeing the light of day. Proper project planning is the best way to get your creative ideas approved and into the wild.

Here are the biggest rewards your creative team can reap:

  • It provides a battle-tested framework to help you set project objectives, track progress, and get creative approval.
  • Project management tools and techniques streamline content workflows and help you speed up the approval process for your creative campaigns.
  • Proper communication channels, budgeting, and management of project timelines result in streamlined creative processes and better performance.

How is creative project management different from other types of PM?

Creative project managers use many of the same practices and tools as standard PMOs. But there are some important differences between creative and traditional project management:

  • The nature of creative work means stakeholders need a way to annotate visual assets and leave pinpoint-precise, contextual feedback directly on the artwork  – this is where online proofing software comes in.
  • Creative project management requires a more streamlined feedback process  – scattered feedback is too hard to collate and apply to visual content.
  • Creative work often goes through many different iterations and is produced for different channels  – so a robust version control system is a must-have feature.

How can project managers strike the balance between creative freedom and meeting project requirements?

Creative project management poses some unique challenges. One of the biggest is the nature of the work. Whether it’s a marketing campaign or packaging design, the creative process often requires more freedom.  But projects also have strict deadlines and compliance standards to meet.

The best way to balance this is to implement project management software that’s specifically designed for creative work. For instance, online proofing platforms.

These tools give you the power to control every aspect of the project. You can decide when stakeholders can review creative assets and make sure all feedback comments have the necessary context.

What’s the best creative project management software?

There are lots of creative automation tools on the market to help you manage your content projects. The trick is to find the software that best fits your needs and current workflows. Bonus points if they integrate for a seamless user experience.

Here are three of the most valuable creative project management platforms to consider:

Give your creative projects a competitive edge

Remember earlier when I said that 70% of projects fail? Well, an effective creative project management process can put you in the other 30%.

With a structured process in place, you can build custom workflows, speed up feedback loops, and achieve your goals.

It all starts with the right tools. Creative project management software like Filestage gives you the unified platform your creative teams need to do their best work. 

Ready to streamline creative project management in your organization? Get a free seven-day Filestage trial today.