The State Of In-House Creative Operations

A survey of more than 400 creatives and marketers sheds light on ways CMOs can improve marketing efficiency and effectiveness in order to drive business results.

The State Of In-House Creative Operations

by CMO.com Team

Posted on 04-07-2018

Creative is the soul of marketing. It fuels campaigns. It differentiates a brand in a noisy market. But if the creative message and value proposition aren’t resonating with the intended audience, then the medium, mode, reach, and frequency of distribution don’t really matter.

Recently, inMotionNow teamed with InSource, a nonprofit professional trade association dedicated to in-house creatives, to survey more than 400 U.S. creatives and marketers about their creative operations. To be clear, the “2018 In-House Creative Management Report” wasn’t a study of creativity but rather a study of how in-house creative work gets done.

The study uncovered several findings that I believe CMOs will find useful in their continuous efforts to improve marketing efficiency and effectiveness in order to drive business results.

Even Creative Runs On Data

Creative doesn’t always get credit for its focus on business results, but this survey found that 55% of companies measure its value of creative based its impact. This was closely followed by audience feedback (51%) and stakeholder satisfaction (48%).

CMO takeaway: As InSource board president Andy Brenits put it, creative is no longer a fancy art department, but one that delivers value to the business. The pressure to create data-driven goals has expanded into the creative team.

This means CMOs have to figure out how to take the most subjective part of the marketing organization and put a management framework around it that enables them to justify existing and future investments in creative, whether that is growing the internal team or partnering with third-party agencies.

Efficiency Is Paramount

Most creatives will tell you they serve the needs of many, but the survey quantified this in a way that should be revealing for marketing leaders: 85% of creatives serve 10 or more internal stakeholders; 60% serve 20 or more; and 38% serve a staggering 50 or more.

That said, most creative teams are quite small. Roughly three-quarters of respondents (72%) work in teams with nine or fewer members. It’s not uncommon for a team of fewer than 10 creatives to support the demands of 50-plus stakeholders in businesses with $500 million or more in revenue.

CMO takeaway: It’s imperative that creative operations are highly efficient. The team must be well-organized and find ways to maximize the time it has to do its important work.

In the report, Trish Olives, manager for the YETI Creative Studio, noted her team hit its stride when the brand added a traffic manager to juggle deadlines and worry about resource optimization.

“In short, the operations person worried about project management and deadlines, and that allowed our creatives to just live in the creative space—to ideate, brainstorm, and collaborate,” she told us. “Which is exactly the reason we have creatives in the first place.”

Creative Needs Better Collaboration

When asked to rate challenges on a scale of one to five, respondents most frequently cited volume and pace of work. This is not surprising, since creatives are increasingly being asked to create more content for more channels and on tighter deadlines.

It’s also not a new phenomenon. A 2015 study conducted by research firm IDC and commissioned by Adobe shows creative teams were producing 10 times the volume of content they once did. Much of this increase in demand for creative content is a result of new digital mediums and marketing automation.

CMO takeaway: Many years ago, as a young marketer, I had a boss who was famous for saying creative work should only “take five minutes on a Mac.”

Because marketing managers tend to be closer to sales, it’s easy for a CMO to get caught up in this line of thinking. However, standout creative that makes a defining difference not only takes time, it requires a relationship between marketing and creative teams to be truly symbiotic. In other words, one side doesn’t become more dominant than the other.

Marketing should both understand creative and have a healthy respect for the process. Marketing can’t skimp on collaboration and still expect the creative for a campaign to meet the desired vision in short order. The art and science of marketing must live and work in harmony.

The Key Lies In The Brief

The study found that while the creative brief and project intake are the first steps in the creative process, these are also the biggest challenges in creative workflow, according to 42% of respondents. In addition, some 67% said obtaining the necessary information just to begin work was difficult or very difficult.

CMO takeaway: The data-return loop demands that marketing must improve the quality and frequency of campaigns at greater speeds across more and more channels and segments. The temptation is to begin viewing the creative brief, indeed the entire creative process, as transactional.

“If we—marketing shops and creative teams—treat the creative brief as a checklist, then we are likely to only achieve transactional quality content,” LexisNexis’ vice president of marketing told us. “If we treat the creative brief as a strategic and collaborative process, our creative assets will be thoughtful and deliberate, and drive more successful outcomes.”

This means defining a process, with service-level agreements, and then enforcing the process with rigor from briefing to business outcome.

Reduce Administrative Tasks

Most respondents (48%) said creative projects are reviewed and approved in two to three days; about one-third (29%) said it takes a week or longer. Add to that: Most said they spend between three to seven hours per week on administrative tasks; about one-third (24%) said they spend seven or more hours per week on admin tasks. That’s about one full day every week, or 20% of creative time spent annually.

CMO takeaway: Professional sports teams hire equipment managers so their players can spend more time on the field practicing. If the players were to spend their time fussing over equipment, the organization might not get the maximum value out of players that they hoped for when they hired them.

The analogy fits here, too. The survey shows creatives are spending too much time on non-creative tasks. CMOs can’t bury creatives in chasing approvals, updating status reports, or attending a deluge of meetings and still expect their best creative work.

A leader’s role in business is in many ways to allocate finite people and resources for maximum benefit. Inefficiencies, even in smaller parts of a marketing organization, will unnecessarily weigh down the overall group.

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