There comes a time in the evolution of the Creative Services team when just responding to client's requests isn't enough. You find at some point that the requests are repeated or not coordinated from the same client. You realize that if there were some organization or advanced planning; the communications products would work better together. That is the time that as the Creative Services team, you need to be proactive and strategic in helping clients maximize their communications spend. It is at that time you "step up" and become more valuable to your clients as a consultant rather than mere order-takers. An outside agency would help the client be organized in their communications efforts, but the internal Creative Services team knows the client better, has a vested interest, and can more effectively make recommendations to maximize their communications budget. Here is how:

Put the client on a communications plan. Meet with the client at the beginning of a campaign, quarter, or preferably, year to plan their communications. Find out what they did last year, what worked, what didn't, what they'd like to see differently. Also, find out from them what the competitors are doing, and what seems to be working for them and what isn't. You also need to know what their business goals are, how will management evaluate them. Do they need to raise revenues by 10%, increase attendance to events by 10%, increase college hires by 10%, and increase brand perception by 10%? Whatever it is, those are the targets for the communications plan.

Set up metrics. Find out from the client--in a formal face-to-face (if possible, on the phone at least, NEVER by email) meeting at the beginning of the budgeting year. (You want to be a part of the budgeting process, so they know what to submit to achieve their goals.) What metrics process did they have in place last year? What return on their spend did they get last year? What needs to be improved to better track their results? Agree on a process, so that the assistant via email communicates the metrics gathered to you in a frequent and timely manner, e.g., weekly at noon on Fridays. When the email doesn't arrive, you will need to email the assistant, cc'ing the client that you didn't receive the metric, e.g., XXX number of college resumes received, XXX interviewed, XXX offers made, XXX hired, and to please resend. Only with accurate, frequent, and timely reporting will you know the effectiveness of your communications plan/spend.

Follow through continually with the client. A weekly meeting is appropriate with a client who has a moderate to active plan. Are the goals of management still in place? What, if anything, has changed--in the industry, in the marketplace, with senior leadership's vision--that needs to be accounted for in the plan? With continual tending and tweaking, the communications plan will effectively communicate to the target audience(s) and get the results the client needs.

Keep up on industry happenings. This allows you to make suggestions to keep ahead of competitors. Clients will appreciate these "heads-up" and can be added to the plan.

Choose the most effective approaches to attain the business goals. Rather than running a full-page, 4-color ad in The New York Times, perhaps your target audience would be better reached through social media. The result is that you have now delivered better results for a fraction of the price.

The importance of an annual communications plan is effectiveness. By spending the client's budget so that it most effectively reaches the business goals, you have maximized their communications spend. By planning ahead, you are able to plan the products and strategies so they work together to get the messages to the target audience(s), so they take the appropriate action, e.g., buy the product/service, think more highly or more preferably about the company, attend the event. The plan is integrated.

Additionally, if there is media buying involved, you can garner media discounts by buying in advance. Media most often will give you a 3x, 6x, or 12x rate or volume contract - but it must be arranged for/signed in advance. Also, if you know the media rep well and you are a good customer, they may have special promotions. They may be willing to add metallic ink at no charge, or add some editorial about your company in the issue with your ad. Sponsors of events in which your company is buying a booth or advertising in the sponsor's publication, may allow one of your executives to be a speaker. Exploring these "out-of-the-box" options also helps maximize your client's budget.

If your department is funded via chargebacks, there is the efficiency gained through Creative Services that helps save the client money. With a communications plan, the Creative Services leader knows what work to expect and when, so they can plan for resources--saving the client money. Last minute freelancers cost the client more money that utilizing your benched staff. A communications plan also allows for your designers to do their best work, planning for the time to do the work, rather than getting the work at the last minute. So, the second part of maximizing the client's communications spend is maximizing the Creative Services process, to include:

Get the job right the first time. When meeting with the client, for the campaigns for the year (you may need to revisit/meet again at the start of each campaign to verify continued accuracy of goals), get all the information at once. Have the designers working on the client's projects, the writers, traffic, etc. all meet with the client face-to-face and fill out the Creative Briefs together so they can get their questions answered at the beginning without having to chase down the client for additional information. Work out an approval schedule at that time, ensuring all involved create the schedule for the client and their ability to deliver, and confirming that the client is available on approval dates. Constant reiterations cost the client money and dilute the creative product quality.

Anticipate hiccups and plan for them. Contingency plans work. If snow is coming, how will the jobs meet their deadlines? If someone is sick, how is quality and schedule maintained? If FedEx doesn't arrive, what happens? The process must run smoothly and accurately--so planning for hiccups will ensure your client's budget isn't wasted on inefficiency. Of course, not everything is 100% foolproof all the time, but your efforts are the ones keeping the budget working for the client, not against them.

Ensure the efficiency of the process is adhered to. The process of the Creative department is there to best deliver high-quality and effective communications on time and on budget. Ensuring that the process is accurately and smoothly being followed, will work to maximize the client's communications spend, not waste it.

Through a little advanced planning, following up on and monitoring the plan with metrics and industry ideas, and keeping to efficient and effective delivery processes in Creative Services, not only can you maximize your client's communications spend, but you will find that they think of you as a communications partner getting them the results they need. And when you do that, your value and respect within the organization as a "go-to" group that contributes to the bottom line and success of the company will increase--creating a "win-win" scenario for the client and Creative team alike.

Cella's Beyond the Creative(tm) training for in-house creative service leaders has been called "the perfect blend of education and collaboration." Now you can save $150 by registering by January 31 for the inaugural session of Beyond the Creative 3.

Cella Consultant Susan Hunnicutt is an expert in using marketing and communications to achieve business objectives. She works with organizational leaders to assess their needs, determine their goals, analyze their resources and develop an action plan and recommendations to meet these goals. Susan's value proposition is taking a growing in-house creative team "to the next level," not only in metrics but also in systems and processes, quality control and increasing the number of high-profile and quality client projects.