Creative operations: Why your team should create brand-compliant content at scale

When it comes to creative production, the shift to digital-first experiences has posed unique challenges. Not only do brands need to design and adapt their content at scale but their ability to create new content and evolve quickly radically determines their fate. Through effective creative operations, you can get the best creative work from your team, while hitting deadlines and working human hours. Read on to find out how.

In a world of endless content production, we spend too little time thinking about the impact of our creative workflows. As we’re going through planning, creation, and delivery, how do we build processes and systems that cover all the touchpoints of a campaign delivery?

We believe that thinking deeply about how marketing and design can work together is the difference between a good process and a world-class one.

If you’re experiencing challenges in content production or maintaining a cohesive brand, you need to put a plan in place to manage high volumes of quality content. Creative directors cannot be expected to take on both operational and creative responsibilities by simply working harder, as this will result in low and poor quality output, not to mention burnout. 

In this article, we dive into how brands can succeed when facing high content demand and share key insights on the crucial role of creative operations, courtesy of operations managers from Inspired Thinking Group (ITG).

What is creative operations?

Creative operations (or “creative ops”) describes the formal structure and workflow a brand sets up to unify its resources and assets, and ultimately streamline processes and performance. 

Broadly, creative operations is defined as making the creative process within a business more structured, helping team members move faster and produce better work.

The responsibilities of those who work in creative operations include:

  • Defining the creative processes in your company and understanding how they can be improved.
  • Identifying gaps in technology that are holding back your creative teams, and using tools to address them.
  • Optimizing creative processes, so that the final outcome is always of the highest quality.
  • Setting up clear metrics and KPIs to quantify the success of creative projects.

Creative operations is a function that is uniquely positioned to solve certain challenges for rapidly scaling organizations, and that works within, alongside and sometimes outside of the established organizational structure of a company.

“Creative operations works best when it’s complemented by a strong and well-defined company culture. When you have a culture that is outwardly positive in its approach to automation and creative operations, everything will start to fall into place.”

Connor McDermott, Digital Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG)

Lisa Calgaro, Creative Operations Manager at global creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, told us recently that creative operations is the process of connecting with all of the departments involved in a creative initiative. This is to ensure smooth processes, effective collaboration, and successful projects. 

We believe that any brand interested in making their creative production processes more efficient, productive, and compliant would thrive if they invested in creative operations.

What is the point of creative operations?
> Creative operations is a function that is uniquely positioned to solve certain challenges for rapidly scaling organization and processes.

> With the higher demand for creative assets, a big aspect of producing content at scale is getting organized across teams, departments, and even countries.

> To do this, look at creative operations as three pillars: people, processes and technology. Ensure seamless alignment between marketing and creative teams, and the processes they follow, and implement technology to do the heavy-lifting.

What is the difference between project management and creative operations?

There are many crossovers between project management and creative operations. Basically, creative operations is project management applied to creative projects and all creative company endeavors. 

A contrast also lies in the fact creative operations management is more about assessing existing management of creative projects and adding people, processes, and technology to streamline this management. It is about continuously improving, whereas project management oversees what already exists and keeps these parts moving. 

The challenges faced by creative operations departments

Today, the production process is siloed and sequential, preventing communication and transparency between teams. Each party completes its portion and hands it off to the next with little feedback.

We learned that brands are now facing some key challenges that make them rethink the way they work because of:

  • Higher demand for creative assets
  • Complex processes
  • Compliance requirement

As such, a big aspect of producing content at scale is getting organized across teams, departments, and even countries. 

Processes naturally evolve to accommodate creative production hurdles and before you know it, your company is looking at multiple points of access for content assets, different ways of sharing those assets and different approaches to managing and approving them. Before you are fully aware of it, all of these can create a strong ground for brand inconsistency.

Implementing long-term, scalable solutions as early as possible can help prevent your brand from facing these issues and more.

The 3 pillars of creative operations: 1. People, 2. Processes, 3. Technology

Three key pillars of creative operations

As we’ve learned earlier, creative operations is a commitment to continuously improve the workflow system that supports the creative work done by your team.

Coordinating work is challenging no matter what team you’re on. In fact, an Asana report states that 83% of global knowledge workers say their teams aren’t as efficient as they could be due to not having the right processes in place.

For this reason, it’s important to look at creative operations as three pillars:

People

There is a variety of organizational structures between marketing operations and creative operations.

Structurally, some brands position creative operations as a subset of a larger marketing department, while others have their creative operations structured as an internal agency model managing requests from external marketing clients. Regardless of the structure, ensuring a seamless handoff between creatives and marketing and the other way around plays a crucial role in delivering timely content.

For example, when it comes to managing creative requests at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), there is a limited supply of designers and copywriters to produce the high volume demanded.

The team members receive requests from all over the business so it’s imperative to be fully aligned. These requirements range from digital ads to physical promotional products like creating interactive screens.

For example, for Costa Coffee, a British coffeehouse chain, the ITG team created promotional materials that play on their Marlow self-serve coffee machines so they needed to be adaptable to updated UX/UI advancements. 

But in order to deliver on this wide range of creative needs, the team needed to utilize various platforms, processes, and tools to manage all of their projects from inception to delivery.

Costa Coffee creates promotional materials they play on their Marlow self-serve coffee machines. They need to be adaptable to updated UX/UI advancements.

Processes

The creative team is responsible for content creation, whether that is ads, images, videos, or other media to be used in campaigns, at events, or in stores. Before you even begin scaling this work, many teams deal with the inefficient process of managing briefs that will most likely get lost in long email chains.

With proper creative operations in place, a marketing department can provide briefs in a structured way so everyone is aligned on creative needs, messaging, and deadlines before work begins.

For instance, we’ve found that of all the issues with online advertising, guaranteeing brand compliance is one of the most challenging for marketers.

While poor campaign results typically stay within the business, an ad appearing next to the wrong content or visual can easily result in social media criticism.

So if you’re promoting a product or service internationally, you need to make all aspects of that product accessible to the market you’re looking to enter. This might mean translating it into the right language or adapting it to the local market by maintaining all the possible nuances it may require (which is, transcreation). 

If you’re a global brand, you need a robust platform and well-defined workflows to help you manage longer, more complex, multi-touch cycles, whether that is a centralized or decentralized workflow.

What are centralized and decentralized workflows?

Centralized workflows: One centralized team is responsible for creating all the creative assets for all market and pushing these directly to their ad management platform and Digital Asset Management system.

Decentralized workflows: To enable local marketing, teams can alternatively push their assets towards their Digital Asset Management system and from there, stakeholders can individually and automatically make the required changes.

Take the review and approval process as an example for needing robust processes. It is essential to the successful deployment of digital creative assets, but everyone across teams should have full clarity on the system for this, in order for it to be done in a timely manner. Questions such as these should have certain answers:

  • Who is responsible for giving feedback?
  • How is this feedback sent and received? 
  • How are these feedback incorporations made? 
  • When can the edited content be officially delivered or published?

Technology

With the multiple advertising channels that exist today, along with ad fatigue, there is a demand for creative designers to generate countless, nearly identical variations of their creative assets.

But as long as you have the right tools, your team can deliver. To cater to multiple markets and stay on top of compliance and branding, you need to put a scalable system in place. That’s why teams increasingly rely on technology to do the heavy-lifting. 

Creative Automation platforms, along with Digital Asset Management systems and other workflow management tools, can ensure smooth project completion. At Storyteq, we believe that Creative Automation is the type of technology that helps global brands to safeguard creative excellence by centralizing global ad production, driving down costs, all while enabling a faster go-to-market strategy. In addition to this model, it also allows local markets to re-use content and adapt it to their needs within certain boundaries.

Where does Creative Automation fall in creative operations?
> Creative Automation is a platform that helps global brands to safeguard creative excellence by centralizing their global ad production, driving down costs while enabling a faster go-to-market strategy.

> This falls under the creative operations umbrella because by managing workflows and timelines for creative work, you set up those processes to hit deadlines while keeping projects on-time and on-brand.

> Crafting a clear strategy for your creative operations, continuously testing visuals, and designing creatives that truly speak to your audience, are all important for standing out from your competitors.

How Creative Automation closes the content gap and frees up time to create

In order to increase the volume of creative assets produced, you need a platform that can handle the workload.

“Automation working in tandem with creative production delivers a more complete package.”

Connor McDermott, Digital Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG)

Through Creative Automation, you get to save a great deal of work when creating, producing, and delivering content. This falls under the creative operations umbrella because by managing workflows and timelines for creative work, you set up those processes to hit deadlines while keeping projects on-time and on-brand.

Connor from ITG shared: “Creative operations helps us to organise and plan our workflows, ensuring that each job is undertaken by someone with the most appropriate skillset to deliver the best possible results for our clients. Automation, especially Creative Automation, frees our creative minds to work on more intricate and complex jobs.”

Key takeaways

  • If you’re experiencing challenges in content production or maintaining a cohesive brand, you need to put a plan in place to manage high volumes of quality content.
  • Well thought-out workflows and great technology can boost your teams to create content that is more signal and less noise.
  • Effective creative operations may be labor-intensive. But if implemented and utilized properly, your department can help teams operate at a new level of efficiency, scalability, and quality.

Wrapping up: Future-proof your marketing and creative teams

The market is already awash with unoriginal, duplicative content that fails to engage with your audience. This was more problematic when content production was in its infancy, but today, thanks to collaboration and great tools, it’s becoming ever easier to create vast volumes of premium content. 

The issues we’ve outlined here are simply an illustration of an already existing trend – that seamless workflows and great technology can boost your teams to create content that is more signal and less noise.

Effective creative operations may be time-and labor-intensive. But if implemented and utilized properly, your department can help teams operate at a new level of efficiency, scalability, and quality. 

This is a re-worked piece, originally written by former Storyteq content writer, Andreea Serb.

Aug 23, 2022
Robert Winkel
Robert Winkel
Graphics
Jenni D'Alton
Content Marketing Writer
Jenni hails from Ireland and describes herself as an avid explorer, a sentimentalist, and a connoisseur of trash TV. When she is not consuming every latest film or collection of short stories in her midst, she is out discovering new places to dine or dance in.

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