October 2015

Where, oh where, did my budget go?

Managing your package design spend

Where did the Budget Go?

By Keith Beckelheimer | Director of Strategy | gravity

If you’re a marketer or design professional you’ve likely asked yourself this question before. The phone rings and it’s your agency letting you know that last round of design revisions has all but exhausted your budget. What do you do? Cut back on upcoming research? Dip into your overall budget or scale back on another planned initiative? Your options are few, and none of them are very comforting.

What if you could track your package design spend in real or near-real time, and use that information to proactively manage your budget and make better decisions? Well, by leveraging technology, many leading consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) are well on their way to doing just that. They’re answering not only, “What is my current design spend?” but, “Am I using it as efficiently as possible?” and “Are my design suppliers/agencies underestimating, or are we guilty of scope-creep?”

The truth is, actionable metrics in design are achievable, provided you have an agency that maintains a robust database (with good electronic records) and honestly assesses and attributes overages. Let’s face it, as creative professionals it’s hard to say… “Yeah, we’re struggling with this” or for a client to admit, “I guess I led you down the wrong path.” However, without that level of honesty, any metrics you track won’t be actionable. If both sides can be open and objective, the steps toward proactively tracking your spend are actually pretty simple.

At Gravity, we’re fortunate to share a company-wide order entry and analytics system, but there are also several business-reporting software options commercially available. Start by determining what information is most meaningful to track. Perhaps, for you, it’s an overall report comparing real time costs to your original quote. At the same time, your team or management may be interested in more details, such as:

  • Total number of projects by category/sector or brand
  • Types of projects by brand or category
  • Project duration (budgeted versus actual)
  • Budget versus actual spend (by brand and/or project)
  • Design brief revisions (scope-creep)
  • Revisions (causes, amount of requests, costs, etc.)

After determining what information is most important, consider sharing the collected data. Team members can then customize their own personal dashboards using charts, graphs and tables best suited to how they’d like to see the information.

Long-term, all this information serves as a valuable planning tool to help set budgets for the upcoming year and aids in the evaluation of internal and external processes. It’s also comforting to know that your agency is treating your budget the same way you are – with real-time monitoring and care. Ultimately, real-time data empowers teams to share current information and make better budget decisions.

Keep in mind that with business intelligence reporting for package design, as in any other business, it takes time to gather enough data to deliver a clear picture. After a quarter or two, though, you should have a pretty good idea of where your budget has gone.


Keith Beckelheimer is Director of Strategy at gravity, a strategic design firm specializing in consumer packaged goods. In partnership with Phototype, its parent company, gravity assesses and delivers unique business intelligence solutions to its clients. To learn more, contact us.