Why big agencies still cannot deliver digital-Reason #1:

Introducing Creative Lock

by Barry on September 29, 2010

Post image for Why big agencies still cannot deliver digital-Reason #1: <p>Introducing Creative Lock

There are many reasons why big agencies are having trouble moving to digital. While some of them have solved these problems, many big agencies are left behind in the dust. This post is the first of a series that examines these issues.

One of the absolutes of executing digital projects is creative lock. Creative lock refers to a point in time (that is, a milestone) where the creative (including design, copy, editorial, site architecture and wireframes) is locked and no more changes can be made. No changes really means no changes, not even small ones! The exact time that creative lock occurs varies by the type of project. For example, on a microsite development project, creative lock is typically at the point when everything is handed off to the technology team to code. On a display ad project, it occurs when the display ads are handed to the production to be resized and tagged.

In the print world, creative lock is less of an issue because you can modify the layout and copy almost up to the last second with very little repercussion. For example, if the Art Director decided to move a call to action 4 pixels to the right, the cost and schedule impact to the project is minimal.

With the move to digital, creative lock becomes a must. This applies to all types of digital such as display ads, site development, Facebook applications, and mobile ads. The reason is that with digital, a certain process needs to be done in sequential order, usually involving many different people. So if you make a change, you need to redo all of the tasks that were already completed. For example, if the Art Director decides to move the call to action 4 pixels to the right on a product microsite, this requires the art director to work with a designer to revise the PSDs, then hand them off to an HTML developer, the  HTML developer recuts the PSD and updates the HTML with the new design, then the page is handed off to QA to retest the page, and so on (the exact tasks vary by your development process but you get the idea).

While the idea of creative lock may seem simple on paper. The problem is that for most agencies, it requires a cultural shift to grasp this. When you take a Creative or Art Director who’s been developing print ads for their entire career and they are now running a digital project, the idea of creative lock is foreign to them as they are used to tweaking the creative right up until it is delivered to the client.

The solution is to collaborate with the creative team before the project starts to ensure that they understand the development process for digital, and why creative lock. If you don’t enforce creative lock, then you will have cost overruns, the schedule may be impacted, the team will work more late nights trying to get everything done in-time, and you have general chaos, which leaves the door open for additional problems.

Now don’t think that changes cannot happen after creative lock. Changes are a fact of life and we need to demonstrate flexibility. So if changes are required after creative lock, then you need to have a discussion to determine (1) if the changes are really essential, (2) whether the client or the agency pays for the additional costs, (3) how you are going to deal with the schedule impact, and (4) do you have enough resources allocated to do the rework.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Karthik Kumar October 6, 2010 at 9:32 am

The points you make are very interesting, I had never looked at it that way even when the client has said … ‘it is only a small addition’.

Yes and I do think this is because of the print orientation of designers. If, on the other hand, art directors though of digital design as analogous to film production then maybe there would be some discipline in the process.

Or, better still, every project should be preceded by a wireframe and the elements should be locked in place at the wireframe phase itself. Of course that still leaves ‘change the image’, ‘change the colour’, kind of issues, but it may aid in solving at least half the issues.


Andrew Hunt September 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Interesting point Barry, but I while I think this approach is good for development and estimation purposes, the initial requirements for any non-trivial project are always insufficient. This inevitably becomes clear when the project is finally put in front of the creative/marketing/business teams.
I think this would be a very hard sell within most organizations. I would suggest a more iterative, spiral approach to development, with lots of check-ins and prototypes to make sure the initial requirements really capture what’s intended before development has gone too far.


Mat Zucker September 30, 2010 at 5:12 am

Great points, Barry. Creative Lock is a pretty simple idea and so few don’t even try to have one at their own risk and frustration. It’s more of a software approach vs a traditional TV or print one.


Jeremias Stelter September 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm



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