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.

In a world of endless content production, we spend little time thinking about the impact of our 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, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about extensively at Storyteq.

If you’re experiencing challenges in content production, maintaining a cohesive brand, and boosting your localization efforts, you need to put a plan in place so you can manage high volumes of content in a way that still allows you to put quality at the forefront.

It has never been more important for brands to understand how seamless workflows including the scaling of ad production—which, in our opinion, is the leading driver of performance—can lead to quality creatives hence impacting your audience’s interest.

In this article, we dive into how brands can succeed when facing high content demand and share key insights on the crucial role creative operations has courtesy of Connor McDermott, Digital Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG) and Sophie Britton, Strategic & Creative Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG).

What is creative operations?

Creative operations 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—sometimes called “creative workflows”—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)

If you look at the term in more detail, the words “creative” and “operations” seem to be clearly contrasted. You’d ask yourself, “How can something as free-form and elusive as creativity be part of an environment of processes and workflows?”

Lisa Calgaro, Creative Operations Manager at Wieden+Kennedy, a global independent agency that creates strong and provocative relationships between companies and customers, told us recently that creative operations is the process of connecting with all of the departments involved in a creative initiative 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.

The challenges faced by creative operations departments

Today, the production process is siloed and sequential. 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. 

This siloed process prevents communication and transparency between media and creative, which is required for successful data-driven campaigns. As marketers, you need to involve the creative agency, media agency and production shop throughout the campaign process and ensure ongoing communication.

According to Sophie Britton, Strategic & Creative Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), one of the major bottlenecks her department is dealing with is capacity. 

Despite facing a fast and efficient technology-enabled pipeline that is primed and ready for distribution, a marketing department’s efforts are being slowed down by more creative production hurdles.

Organizational silos are an issue for both large and small organizations. This leads to barriers that stand in the way of team collaboration and communication, reduces efficiency, and hinders the flow of information.

Departments and roles are not always properly defined, and systems have been added over time. Processes naturally evolve to accommodate incompatibilities 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.

Information silos, disconnected workflows, multiple systems, and poor asset taxonomy – all can turn creating and delivering assets into a difficult and time-consuming process.

Implementing long-term, scalable solutions as early as possible can help stop your brand from these challenges and more. But how do you achieve this? We broke down this process into three major elements.

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

3 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.

Hence, it’s important to look ar creative operations as three pillars:

People

Operations teams play a critical role in building processes to drive revenue growth and deliver value. But rapid business expansion often makes it challenging to prioritize initiatives, report on what’s working, and scale processes to prevent inefficiencies.

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.

Marketing and creative departments are not only inherently cross-functional, they also work across extensive networks of external partners — from design agencies to media buyers to freelancers. These knowledge workers often operate under very tight deadlines.

According to Guido Derkx, CCO at Storyteq, in order to align your teams and goals, “It’s crucial to consider the entire value chain as one integrated flow because from ideation all the way up to ad optimization, everything is fully connected.” 

“That doesn’t mean you need to completely re-organize the way you’re doing things, but you must stimulate different teams (or external agencies) to work together”, added Guido.

In addition to that, Guido recommends not directly throwing away your current way of working and taking an agile approach.

By encouraging your team to buy into a collective vision to collaborate in a scalable manner, you work towards eliminating organizational silos in your workplace, thus priming your brand for success.

As Connor from ITG shared with us: “One of the key ways to unify marketing and creative teams to achieve real-time content production is for the operations team to adopt an always-on approach, balancing the workload and assessing which jobs need to be undertaken through a formal process, and which can be done at pace.”

For instance, when it comes to managing creative requests at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), there is a high demand for assets and a limited supply of designers and copywriters to produce it all. 

The team members receive requests from all over the business so it’s crucial to be fully aligned. These requirements range from digital ads to physical promotional products like creating 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—ads, images, videos, and other media 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 would 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.

With old workflows, you simply cannot provide fast, efficient resolutions, but with modern processes, you can take control over these efforts.

For instance, we’ve found that of all the issues with online advertising, brand conformity 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, this means, you need to be making all aspects of that product accessible to the market you’re looking to enter – translating it in the right language and adapting it to the local market by maintaining all the possible nuances it may require.

As you begin to weigh all these options, consider your internal processes and how you work with your global teams. 

We know that not all companies have the same needs as their volume can vary. If you’re a global brand with high-volume, you may need a robust platform and well-defined workflows to help you manage longer, more complex, multi-touch cycles to scale your ad production.

For instance, some large consumer brands have both centralized and decentralized workflows:

Centralized workflows: A centralized team is responsible for creating all the assets for all the markets; one team will create all the campaigns for all the markets and push them directly to their ad management platform and DAM system. Everything is managed from a centralized perspective. Having one single source of truth ensures they have all the creatives in one single place.

Decentralized workflows: To enable local markets, teams can easily push their assets towards their DAM system and from there, stakeholders can individually and automatically make the required changes. Finally, the output can be validated by the QA process they have in place.

As a consequence, creating global content can seem unattainable if you don’t have the right workflows – or the resources to maintain it.

At Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), the creative operations team follows this process:

  • They receive all briefs and resource requests via an email group so they can plan, estimate, and schedule the resource that is required for each job.
  • All briefs are divided between the operations team/project managers to see them through.
  • The team then helps estimate jobs, question them, add them to the brief, schedule them, and help collate the assets.
  • They use a scheduling platform called Resource Guru which is an online calendar for all their resources; they also use Jira/Canopy to help manage through some of the jobs while Synergist is used to track all costs and estimates.

As the ITG team has shared with us, setting up processes like this one helps them to organize and plan out workflows ensuring that the best people are on the best jobs to help them deliver the best results for their clients.

Technology

Creatives spend more time creating digital content than they’d prefer. That means they need to constantly generate countless, nearly identical variations of each asset – and that is time-consuming. In fact, one of the most common issues creatives face is getting too many requests for new collateral and too little time.

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 in place a scalable system. That’s why teams increasingly rely on technology to do the heavy-lifting. 

There are other tools you’ll tap into to ensure project completion from workflow management tools which help you manage, approve, and plan projects, creative automation platforms, which help you automate creative production to DAM systems, which help you store, share and organize digital assets in a central location.

At Storyteq, we believe that creative automation is the type of 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. In addition to this model, it also allows local markets to re-use content and adapt it to their needs within certain boundaries.

Connor from Inspired Thinking Group (ITG) also highlighted that creative automation is key in this aspect of your job because it helps you free up your team to work on the more intricate and complicated jobs.

With proper technology in place, you can offer the ability to create content at scale, opening up more opportunities while reducing risk. This helps you balance the need for reach with the quality of content that matches your brand.

Promotional material or Storyteq's Guide on Creative Automation

Winning in an era of content overload

How creative automation closes the content gap and frees up time to create

As a global brand, your role is to ultimately create a vast gulf of quality between automatically produced assets and your original assets.

It may be more difficult than ever to be first or faster, but the incentive to be better is the greatest it’s ever been.

​​That’s where creative automation comes in. In order to increase the volume of assets required, 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.”

To get ahead of this game as a global organization, here are four things you should consider doing today:

1. Define a clear strategy 💡

2. Maintain a strong brand globally 🌎

3. Produce amazing creatives 🖊️

4. Focus on creative variety 🖼️

1. Define a clear strategy 💡

Before even considering content production, one of the most valuable things that creative ops can do is ensure there is a clear strategy in place that will move teams and processes throughout the creative and production stages. 

While your team owns everything from planning to execution, it is also limited by resources and deadlines so setting up the right direction is key. As Sophie from ITG shared: 

“Beautiful, creative campaigns are obviously important, but they can only achieve the best results when they’re backed up by great strategy and insightful thinking.”

Sophie Britton, Strategic & Creative Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG)

As content production grows, carefully align your strategy with your branding to ensure cohesive and sustainable growth.

In practice: Set up actionable goals to reach the right audience with your content. Offer them a more personalized experience by addressing them based on who they are or where they are located.

2. Maintain a strong brand globally 🌎

While data can significantly help your creatives’ performance, when done wrong, it can also impact it negatively. The pitfall happens when you decide to use one-size-fits-it-all creatives.

For companies trying to rise to the ranks of brands like Apple or Google, make sure that whatever you’re testing, you lead with the brand first. If something you’re testing feels off the mark from your brand aesthetic and tone, don’t compromise on it.

In practice: Create content variations that you need at every level, in terms of language, copy, and ad format so that your brand stays consistent no matter where you run your campaigns.

3. Produce amazing creatives 🖊

We all know that clear writing is the product of clear thinking. Similarly, in design, amazing visuals, compelling copy, and eye-catching, creative content are also the key elements that tell your audience a more engaging story. But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Creatives that stand out are the result of a great creative team and an even stronger production process.

“Creative stand-out is so important these days. We’re all flooded with content, day in, day out, meaning people only really pay close attention to something that’s different, engaging or personalised to their unique tastes and behaviours.”

Sophie Britton, Strategic & Creative Operations Manager at Inspired Thinking Group (ITG)

In practice: Go beyond the cookie-cutter type of content by freeing up your designers to create original concepts instead of constantly doing repetitive work.

4. Focus on creative variety 🖼️

Working at a creative-first company, we have no shortage of ideas to tap into. When our team launches campaigns, we create the iterations we want to test and see what performs best.

For instance, for our “Shaping the Future of Creative Production” guide campaign, we launched a series of variations of the same banner ad created in our very own Template Builder each with a different colored background and copy, to see what would get the highest click-through-rate. In a few days’ time, the lighter, medium-rectangle one was the clear winner, and we optimized our ad spend towards it.

In the next round, we took the winning banner and tested different formats and sizes as well as new copy to learn what resonated better with our audience. These kinds of low-risk, high-reward tests can give you valuable insights to take into account for your future work.

In practice: Tap into multi-variate testing to find the optimal medium, subject, and content format. Create several variations of your asset to test the impact of different elements or messages.

Takeaway: 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. 

Even if you don’t buy the argument that we’re on the cusp of scaling ad production automatically, it’s worth recognizing that these problems already exist today. 

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. 

And these ideas—crafting a clear strategy for your production teams, continuously testing visuals, and designing creatives that speak to your audience—are becoming more important for standing out from your competitors, carving out a lucrative niche in a crowded space, and future-proofing your content production strategy.

Andreea Serb
Content Strategist at Storyteq
Andreea is a content strategist at Storyteq and is passionate about writing, storytelling, and cross-functional collaboration. When she’s not busy typing away, you will always see her reading a good book.

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