Dear Creative Leaders: AI is Your Ally

It’s time to embrace an easier path forward.

Image source: Adobe Stock Premium Collection / Maskot.

These days we all have to do more with less. Adobe’s State of Business Creativity Survey found that creative teams have to churn out 65 percent more content than they did just five years ago. Creative workflows are much more complex. Attention spans are shorter. Content overload is the new normal.

How is it possible to work harder and smarter with less? Today’s knee-jerk reaction is automation. But what does that really mean? The term has become so shrouded by its own overload that it’s difficult to define.

As creatives, we understand that marketing automation traditionally references the tech stacks that unify and deploy our email and digital media campaigns. We know that data automation lives behind the processing of big campaign data into slick visualization dashboards. Dozens of related terms swirl around these: omnichannel, artificial intelligence, machine learning, algorithms, personalization, and so on. But it’s rarely clear how the jargon applies to the actual act of making great creative work.

As a creative marketing leader, it’s important for me to understand this landscape. But as a leader of large creative teams, I have a specific automation question to tackle: What creative tasks can be automated to allow my teams to do more with less? Additionally, as a creative by heart, this sparks an important philosophical challenge: If creativity can be automated, should it? Let’s explore creative automation.

How creative automation (already) works

Most marketers are aware of the massive amount of automation already taking place in a media buying and demand generation. Tech-centric marketing teams have been scaling their skills through AI-driven automations for years. Could automating creative concepting, writing, and design become as normal as automating keyword optimization?


Algorithms are writing minor league baseball news. Enterprises and agencies turn to AI optimization daily to collage high-performing keywords into click-worthy email subject lines. Some in the art world even argue that AI painters are introducing entirely new styles of art.

But can the proverbial robots of the AI age really replace the human creative spark? That depends on how we keep score. An algorithm can probably “write” email subject lines that consistently drive more clicks than a human opponent. We’ve yet to see a hardcore copy-smith stand down the algorithm like John Henry vs. the Steam Drill. My guess is that it would end more like Kasparov vs. Deep Blue.

That said, I think it’s extremely unlikely that an algorithm could best a writer at generating copy that sticks to human brain cells because of its humor, heart, or wit. As creatives, we weld human experience and emotion with ingenuity and intellect to craft works that strike real human heartstrings. Algorithms will learn more and more about what creative content influences human decision-making over time. But they are far from channeling actual childhood memories or hard-earned life lessons into emotive brand anthems or breathtaking design systems. Empathy remains unprogrammable.

Image source: Adobe Stock Premium Collection / Maskot.

How creative automation works best

This doesn’t mean that AI automations won’t become some of our most trustworthy creative collaborators, though — in fact, they already are. If you’re a young photographer, you probably never had to remove red-eye manually. History lesson: It sucked. Back in 2004, Adobe’s Jon Brandt made it so that you’ll never have to.

Adobe has been applying artificial intelligence to our tagging technology for years, resulting in features like Adobe Experience Manager Asset Smart Tags and smarter search in Adobe Stock. We now take for granted the ability to tag hundreds of images automatically with the help of our hidden AI allies.

And after 15 years of AI innovations at Adobe, Jon is just getting started: “We’re just scratching the surface, both in the artistic possibilities and the efficiencies we can gain from artificial intelligence.”

Get your team AI-inspired

In this series of articles, I will share personal experiences, lessons learned, and Adobe insights that help creative leaders educate and inspire enterprise teams in this era of evolution. But none will be relevant without accepting this foundational reality: it’s time to actively embrace and apply the power of AI to our creative leadership.

So my first Dear Creative Leaders aspiration is this: get your team AI-inspired. Here are 3 things that you can act on today:

1. Make it clear from the top down: it’s time to automate annoying creative obstructions

In my experience, automation is an irrelevant term to your average creative team member because it’s ambiguous. As we noted earlier, to many creatives, marketing automation translates into the need for more creative assets so marketers can deliver more variations of emails, landing pages or social ads. Data automation feeds report decks that creative teams often never see. And existing creative automation features go unseen. A clear understanding of the dozens of tasks (and hours) that creatives could save is a game changer.

Takeaway: Define creative automation for your organization, and activate your leadership teams to disseminate its importance from the top down.

2. Keep it positive in the trenches: Remind them AI is a friendly robot

Until we as creative leaders help to demystify AI, creative teams will likely continue to be skeptical of its value — or worse, scared of it. Creative automation may come across like Skynet, but I think it’s actually more like Wall-E. It’s a friendly agent that can help your teams automate the mundane work that consumes them, like fixing image errors, tagging photos, and other menial tasks that keep them from what they want to be doing: being creative.

Takeaway: Educate your team on the AI integrations that currently make their lives easier, and reward them for presenting new optimizations. Adobe Sensei brings numerous AI innovations to our products and offers extensive thought leadership to tap into.

Image source: Adobe Stock Premium Collection / Maskot.

3. Stoke the fire, often

Anyone working in a large-ish organization has dealt with the constant stream of memos, agenda-less meetings, and TPS reports. But few of those corporate habits ever really affect team behavior — especially creative teams. When it comes to embracing new creative automation tools, some positive reinforcement will go a long way.

Takeaway: Find an educational strategy that you can institute and stick to. Whether it’s simple email updates, a helpful Slack channel, or monthly meetings with subject matter experts, consistency is key.

At Adobe, I’m honored to play a role in the marketing of enterprise creative tools that make creatives better, stronger, and faster, while, at the same time, eliminating the repetitive, redundant tasks that hold my own teams back. As our Adobe Sensei team likes to put it: clearing the path for magical moments. Stay tuned for the next episode of Dear Creative Leaders where we will dive deeper into the power of automation in the creative process.