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Meet the Odd Couple: Creative + Operations

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“Creative operations is all about operationalizing creative production, which sounds like an oxymoron. It’s that Don Draper plus Henry Ford combination.”

That’s the odd couple Krissie Harrigan described when we asked her to share her thoughts on what creative operations is, who’s doing it and why. Krissie is the Marketing and Demand Generation Manager at ConceptShare, the lead sponsor of the Creative Operations Summit, which gathers leaders in the discipline to share challenges and solutions to creative operations management. The first signs of this emerging role were noticed in 2011 and since then thousands of Creative Operations positions have been created and filled in industries as diverse as Retail, Financial Services, Medical, and many more.

Creative operations brings structure, process and metrics to the creative process to optimize timeliness, capacity and costs. It involves looking at the creative process like a supply chain and figuring out where to optimize each step to produce more with the same (or fewer) number of people.

Creative operations emerged as a distinct, formalized function in organizations over the past five or six years. Back at the start of this decade, there were only a few pioneers in creative operations roles, like Macy’s Vice President of Creative Operations Mike Monroe, (now Group Vice President, Project Management, Marketing Operations) or Prudential’s Vice President of Creative Operations Kevin Brucato. Today, there are 2,000+ people with creative operations in their job titles. They typically have a background on the creative side but, in addition to creative chops, love process and organization.

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The demand for creative operations was driven by the the 3Vs: volume, velocity, variety. Marketers are generating more and more campaigns driven to feed a growing number of segments, channels, and devices. And that has led to an increasing volume and diversity of content being produced. And in today’s increasingly competitive world the time that marketers have to react to opportunities is perpetually decreasing. Fueling a need to get that growing number of campaigns and variations (and they assets they need) out the door quicker than ever.

At first, creative directors tried to take on both operational and creative responsibilities by simply working harder. Besides being unsustainable, the new dual role pulled them away from creative endeavors and forced them to spend more and more of their time on operations. That’s when Don Draper realized he needed Henry Ford. Creative directors began to bring on creative people who understood the stakeholders and steps in production, had an affinity for establishing processes and embraced technology solutions.

If you’re wondering whether you need to add a dose of Henry Ford, Krissie recommends a fairly simple self-test. Regardless of your organization’s size, think about whether the creative team struggles to make deadlines, works a ridiculous number of hours or is perpetually stressed out by production demands. Those are all indicators that it’s time to evaluate how the team is working and look for ways to make them more efficient. The answer is not necessarily more people or more technology – so hold off on that RFP.

First ask whether there is a well-defined process for creative production. If you’re already documenting that, then congratulations – you’ve taken the plunge into creative operations. For the rest of you, before you start scouring LinkedIn or searching for the next cloud-based solution to solve your efficiency challenges, Krissie suggests first asking:

  1. Do you have a well-defined process?
  2. Who are the people involved?
  3. What are their dependencies on each other?
  4. What are the gaps?

Get that documented so you have a clear bird’s-eye view of where you are today. Figure out where you want to be in terms of speed or capacity so you can spot the bottlenecks and gaps. Then you’ll see whether you need more people, more technology or just a better process.

As you might expect from an operational role, there are ways to measure progress in creative operations. Companies with mature creative operations functions, such as Best Buy, have key performance indicators in place. These can include tracking cost per asset, cost per performance (for digital assets), review-cycle times, number of revisions before approval, the time from asset request to publishing, and asset reuse. If collecting those measure seems daunting, don’t despair. Just remember that creative operations is a relatively new field, and those KPIs are generally used in the most mature organizations.

The spark that sets off creative operations in any organization starts with a question: Do we need to be more efficient? 

Learn about how digital asset management can streamline your creative operations and accelerate your creative workflow: 

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