Ending the Timesheet Time Suck

ENDING THE TIMESHEET TIME SUCK

If you pay your agency based on billable hours, how much time do you think you spend each year arguing about scope, disputing overages and worrying about how many agency people are dialing in to a meeting? How does that compare to time spent on actual work?

The awful truth is that timesheet administration takes more time than you realize and the impact on the work product is bigger than anyone ever lets on.

Earlier in my career, I worked for a large New York agency that required me to meet with a “business analyst” each week. Her primary job was to tell me where we were spending too many hours and where we needed to cut back. Guess where we always needed to slash hours? 

CREATIVE TIME. LITERALLY, THE WORK PRODUCT OF THE AGENCY.

It became my job to limit how much time a creative team could spend on a problem. I’m ashamed to admit that I actually uttered sentences like, “We only have 34 hours left on this project, so please work quickly,” or “Only record 34 hours on your timesheet for this project.” And, I was downright depressed by how much work I saw my colleagues put in above and beyond what they were “allowed to” in an effort to bring the best possible work to our clients. 

Today, an entire hours-tracking industry has emerged, completely dedicated to supporting the billable hours model at agencies with software that provides timesheet tracking, productivity reports, under-earned/over-earned reports, etc. It’s created a belief system that agency value can be measured exclusively on spreadsheets.

But getting to a great idea is an iterative process, filled with false starts, almost-great ideas, edits and redos during the journey from brief to concept. The focus throughout has to be on pushing through to a breakthrough idea, not sticking to the budgeted hours.

THE IDEAS ARE THE WHOLE POINT OF AN AGENCY.

That’s why we only price ourselves on a project basis. It gives us more freedom to focus on the problems we’re solving, protects clients from financial surprises and fosters a better agency-client relationship.

Sure, there’s always the risk we priced it wrong but the reward is being treated as a valued partner instead of an overpriced vendor. If we invest a little time here and there, we believe it’s always time well spent.

What it means to be a drummer

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DRUMMER

Rolling Stone recently put out a list of the top 100 drummers of all time.

We have a lot of thoughts on the list, but there is one drummer, ranked #5, deserving of a full-on blog post:

Robert A. Reeder / The Washington Post

HAL BLAINE

When we saw his name, we were happy to see him so high on the list.

Way above flashier names with questionable talent. (Ahem…Steven Adler.)

Because Hal Blaine knew what it meant to be a drummer.

He did whatever the situation called for.

If a simple, steady backbeat was the order, Hal could do it.

If a show-stopping solo was needed, he could do that, too.

He didn’t need to be the center of attention.

But he had all the talent to be that, and more.

Instead, he did most of his best work as a session drummer.

Defining the sound for dozens of different bands on hundreds of albums.

And then often teaching the touring drummer how to play their own songs.

He says it best in the article: “I’m not a flashy drummer. I want to be a great accompanist”

So if you were wondering why we named ourselves Kickdrum.

One of the answers is Hal Blaine.

Earning perspective

EARNING PERSPECTIVE

Advertising is an industry that can famously get all wrapped around itself. We create things that look like ad campaigns, then we evaluate the quality of those campaigns versus other campaigns. We see a great campaign and challenge ourselves to make our next campaign even better. And sure, that’s useful to a point.

But from regular people’s perspective, the competition isn’t other ads. It’s everything. The entirety of life is competing for their attention. So you’ve got to find inspiration from places that aren’t just other kinds of advertising.

That’s why when Kickdrum heads out for inspiration, we look outside of marketing courses and ad festivals. Our social feeds are already chock full of stuff other agencies are doing and “industry-relevant” articles. We want to be inspired by how people outside of marketing are getting people to listen to what they have to say, bring them together to tackle their cause, and get them to take action.

At the Cusp Conference in Chicago we heard from, among others, street poets connecting with young men in need of direction, environmental activists transforming the clothing industry, the woman who wrote Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls, and a guy who plays the clarinet with whales.

We want the work we make on behalf of our clients to be effective when stacked up against real-world competition. When we hear people outside of marketing talking about how they communicate, we always learn something new.

It’s comfortable to pontificate on Twitter about marketing as an academic concern, but our job is to reach people in the real-world. To get that perspective you have to make yourself step outside of the marketing sphere.

You’ve got to earn it.

Posts-Increasing sales is not your marketing objective

INCREASING SALES IS NOT YOUR MARKETING OBJECTIVE

At some of the talks we give to business groups, we like to ask the audience a question: “What’s your marketing objective this year?” The only answer ever given is “increase sales.”

Sure. Yes. Of course.

When the CEO asks the marketing team what their objectives are, it’s easy to say “driving sales through the stratosphere,” and send a now-smiling CEO on her way. No one is going to argue with making “increased sales” a goal. (Except, apparently, one start-up ad agency in Ohio.)

But increasing sales isn’t a marketing objective. It’s an outcome.
In fact, it’s the outcome. When marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, customer service, and logistics all meet their objectives, sales go up. Every business is built to grow, and every part of that business is working towards that goal.

Marketing’s contribution is vital. It’s the part that can create, change or reinforce a consumer behavior. A good marketing objective should explain what behavior will be influenced and how that change connects to sales.

And to do that, you’re gonna need to do some math.

Think about it. The CEO is allocating her budget based on the overall business objective of increasing sales. The head of manufacturing has numbers that justify an ROI for that big-ass machine he wants. The head of logistics has numbers that explain why more warehouse space will increase efficiency. And then the marketing director shows up and asks for more money to get more Facebook likes.

[Facepalm]

Increasing Facebook likes might be worth investing in but a business case has to be made. And it can be. A marketing objective is connected to the business objectives the same way that a new machine is. It requires a little due diligence when it comes to understanding conversion rates and data, but the only way to get a respectable marketing budget is to use concrete language backed by numbers that the CEO respects.

Then there’s always the ace in the hole.

When the head of manufacturing projects the ROI of the new machine and the head of logistics projects the ROI of added warehouse space they are both counting on getting more customers.

And that is going to take some marketing.

Killstorm your way to marketing brilliance

KILLSTORM YOUR WAY TO MARKETING BRILLIANCE 

You need to get your team quickly aligned and excited about a brand-new, breakthrough strategy idea—time to schedule a Killstorm.

No, that’s not a tragic misspelling of brainstorm. It’s what we call our process to rapidly evaluate, eliminate and generate ideas. (We didn’t mean to name it that exactly but it was said once in a meeting and, well, here we are.)

The basic idea is that instead of gathering together to generate a bunch of quick ideas from scratch, we bring a wall full of rough ideas to the meeting and the brand team comes in and starts pulling down the ones they don’t like, debating the ones they do and, interestingly enough, coming up with a few new ones along the way.

By the end of about an hour, we’re down to two or three that the room has embraced and decided to move forward with.

The response we get a lot is

WOW. THAT WAS WAY EASIER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

Yup. There are a few reasons for that.

First, it is definitely way easier to react to ideas. Criticizing existing ideas is a more familiar mode of thinking for most people and getting from 20 ideas to two is a nice quantifiable objective that everyone can work together to accomplish.

Killstorms also eliminate internal political dynamics. Since the agency folks wrote out all the ideas in the room, they feel a lot freer to level criticism without worrying about hurting the feelings of their co-workers or being wrong in front of their boss.

And it gets to better thinking, faster. The early ideas are all up on the wall, so time isn’t spent discussing minor variations of the same idea. That’s not a criticism of any given group’s creativity. Typically, the first ideas you have tend to be the same as the others in the room because everyone’s coming at the problem with similar inputs. Instead, the time is spent making those ideas better or spurring new ones.

A Killstorm isn’t right for every situation but we fervently support challenging conventional wisdom for the sake of better, faster work–even if that means resorting to violence.

For the Record

FOR THE RECORD 

The latest news, opinions and insights from the Kickdrum team.

ENDING THE TIMESHEET TIME SUCK

If you pay your agency based on billable hours, how much time do you think you spend each year arguing about scope, disputing overages and worrying about how many agency people are dialing in to a meeting?

KILLSTORM YOUR WAY TO MARKETING BRILLIANCE

You need to get your team quickly aligned and excited about a brand-new, breakthrough strategy idea — time to schedule a Killstorm.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DRUMMER

Rolling Stone recently put out a list of the top 100 drummers of all time.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DRUMMER

Rolling Stone recently put out a list of the top 100 drummers of all time.

INCREASING SALES IS NOT YOUR MARKETING OBJECTIVE

At some of the talks we give to business groups, we like to ask the audience a question: “What’s your marketing objective this year?”

EARNING PERSPECTIVE

Advertising is an industry that can famously get all wrapped around itself. We create things that look like ad campaigns, then we evaluate the quality of those campaigns versus other campaigns.

EARNING PERSPECTIVE

Advertising is an industry that can famously get all wrapped around itself. We create things that look like ad campaigns, then we evaluate the quality of those campaigns versus other campaigns…