On Episode 54, we’re talking in-house creative management with InMotionNow (https://www.inmotionnow.com) CMO Alex Withers (https://www.linkedin.com/in/awithers/). Last year, in Episode 17 (https://www.confessionsofamarketer.com/17), we chatted with Alex about why CMOs should listen to creative. It was a powerful episode and I’ve wanted to have Alex back to chat again, and the release of the In-House Creative Management Report (https://www.inmotionnow.com/project-workflow/in-house-creative-management-report-2019/) gave me a good reason to ring him up. We cover the background of the report, the key conclusions, how a closer creative and marketing relationship can benefit both sides, the always-fun creative brief, and how creatives can use data. Lots packed into this chat.


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Mark: Alex Withers, welcome back to Confessions of a Marketer. Good to have you back here again.
Alex: Great to be here, Mark. I enjoyed our last session together. I'm looking forward to talking about the Creative Management Report today.
Mark: Yeah. And your new 2019 in-house Creative Management Report is out. Can you tell me why you produced this report?
Alex: Yeah, so we work closely with a lot of different thought leadership bodies. inMotionNow is committed to the creative and marketing collaboration and how creativity can sort of grow and be the best it can be within the marketing and creative organization. And as a result, worked with a lot of thought leadership bodies like InSource and iHack and others. We sort of obviously have a big parts of the HOW Design Live mission and the Adobe Max program. So, what we do is we work with InSource every year, who is a thought leadership body that focuses entirely on current betterment of in-house creative teams. And we really want to understand the dynamic between marketing and creative, and how that dynamic is changing over time, now marketers are adapting to bringing creativity in-house, and how creative teams are flourishing or not within that environment.
Alex: Most marketing organizations have got some type of hybrid model of outside agency and in-house team. We're seeing that shift towards in-house, and we just want to be a part of the conversation and help people on that journey.
Mark: Yeah, and one of the conclusion is that creative and marketing need to strengthen their relationship. How do you propose that they do that? How can they do that?
Alex: Well, I think it's ... A lot of it is feeling some of the best practices that have permeated the agency/client relationship role on time. I think one of the challenges of bringing people in-house is that the Marketing team sees them as an in-house kind of factory floor group that they can just bark orders to, now that they're within the building.
Mark: Right.
Alex: There's also this element of, I've always wanted, and I was taught by, I think you talked about this last time, I'm a wonderful guy, but in actual time, a guy called Gordon Willoughby who was my kind of boss' boss, he ran the Marketing group, and he taught me the value of using agencies as an extension of the team and being true strategic partners versus a vendor. I think that there's a lot of marketers that don't treat agencies like partners, they treat them like vendors. And so as creative teams move in-house, the Marketing team still treats them like a vendor, and doesn't embrace the fact that they're strategic partners. And the whole benefit of an in-house agency or an in-house team is to be a true business partner to the organization. But I think marketers need to evolve beyond their, "Well they're just the factory team that's producing the work. We own the campaign, we own the brand," when in reality it's a joint effort.
Mark: Yeah. And, that whole use of the term vendor early on in one of the episodes of the podcast, I asked a guest how you could improve vendor relations, and he said, "Well, stop calling them vendors."
Alex: Right.
Mark: So, you take that relationship inside and you still consider them vendors. It's kind of funny.
Alex: Yeah.
Mark: So, what are the benefits of a closer relationship? Some of them may be obvious, but there may be others that aren't.
Alex: Yeah, I thought that was one of the fun bits of the report this year, actually, that what we did is we took a data cut. We did a lot of data cuts of the information. We had over 560 survey respondents across marketing and creative roles, everything from operational roles, designers, all the way up to kind of Director and CMO level. And, when you did the data cut and looked at happy teams, productive teams, you could look at, well what are they doing differently to unhappy teams and unproductive teams? And some of the benefits of stronger alignment is faster time to market, right, you're spending less time kind of arguing over the brief or the kickoff project. You're spending less time with inefficient status updates. You're spending less time on ineffective feedback and review cycles that are suboptimal based on style of feedback, method of feedback, rounds of feedback, clarity of feedback.
Alex: If you can create a process and collaboration with marketing and creative, all of a sudden the machine is better-oiled, and as a result, you can get more content out to market faster, without sacrificing quality. If we're gonna keep up with the demands for content, without sacrificing quality, we have to improve process, and we have to improve collaboration with our creative partners.
Mark: So how do you actually go into a creative and marketing group and improve process? Is that something ... Is there a secret sauce there to improve the flow of work, to improve the way in which people work together? Is there something that you can enlighten me on?
Alex: Yeah, there's a couple of things. I don't want to be too self-serving around the role that emotion plays in that. So I'm gonna focus, go up a level and from a true kind of thought leadership perspective, it's a combination of the human element and the technology element. From a human element perspective, it starts at leadership. And, as a CMO, I have got to lead from the front on creating equality and parity between the Marketing Team and the Creative Team. They both have an equal voice. They both have a valuable voice. One is not the internal client of the other. One is not a service organization. They are both strategic partners, producing outstanding work. So that has to start at the leadership level. And then I have to push that down to encourage collaboration, to encourage mutual respect, to make sure that we have an SLA that we stick to, and one team can't railroad the other.
Alex: So that's the human piece of it. You combine with the ability for the teams to embrace each other's areas. So, marketers are much stronger marketers if they understand the creative process. Right? A number of times I've heard a marketer go, "I don't understand why I can't have something by the end of the day. I mean surely that's just five minutes on the market."
Mark: Yeah.
Alex: Versus having a true conversation around, "How long does it take to create a print ad? What are the process steps in creating a print ad or a banner ad or social media post, or whatever you're producing?" And understanding that the creative is not a black box. They have their own processes. And I'll tell you that I have in my career, if I look kind of the other direction in the core process, I have become a better CMO by having spent in Sales. I've run Sales teams, and I've also at one point in my career, I was an individual contributor as a Sales guy. And that made me a much better Marketing partner to Sales-
Mark: Yeah.
Alex: Well if you flip the other direction, why shouldn't Marketing take the same approach in understanding the creative process and vice versa? So, that's the human piece of it. And then the technological piece is hey, Marketing and Sales have got all this investment in the Marketing stack, you know Salesforce, Cardo, Marketo, HubSpot, multi-touch attribution software, email software, I mean my goodness, what is it over 7000 technologies in the market stack now? And so what we do here is we provide that platform to allow Marketing and Creative to be more efficient together. So, I think it's a combination of human asset leadership and understanding and mutual respect, combined with process improvements driven by technology.
Mark: Yeah, and one of the big sources of pain between Marketing and Creative is the creative brief. And yet a really good one can kinda spark joy in everyone. So how can that creative brief itself and the process surrounding it be improved?
Alex: Well, I mean, it starts with just having one. I mean, it's amazing, we have lost the art of the creative brief, and the respect for needing a creative brief. The minute we move teams in-house, marketers thought that was a time-saving, cost-cutting, process-reducing move. And what then ended up happening is you've lost that collaboration at kickoff, which creates misunderstandings on what the creative work is. The Creative Team is not briefed strategically on the business objectives of the project. And as a result, the project really derails right from the start. And so, the idea of improving the briefing process is critical for getting things off on the right foot.
Alex: So, let's start at the floor and say, "Hey, guys. Let's not use the water cooler as the briefing process. Let's understand how to more effectively brief the Creative Team." And one of the ways you avoid this Marketing desire to not do briefs is you create dynamic briefs. And what does that mean? It means the brief adjusts to the asset or campaign that's being produced.
Mark: Right.
Alex: Marketers hate filling out briefs. Even when I was a brand manager in passing, briefing my cover guard and ad agencies on a major campaign, I still didn't like filling out the blooming brief, but I didn't have to do it very often because things lasted longer in market in those days, right? Now, there's this constant velocity of campaigns, and so marketers don't want to fill briefs out every day. That's seen as an admin task they don't want to do. The admin tasks all now fall on the Creative Team to run around the building, trying to get the information they need. So, we have to start with yes, have a brief, have a brief that adjusts in questions and length, and investment for the Marketing Team, based on the depth, breadth, and channel specificity of the campaign. If you can make briefs easier for marketers to fill out, and then route to their Creative coworkers, you've got a better chance of them actually completing them. You've got a better chance of the project getting started the right way.
Mark: But, the key is to have one.
Alex: Right.
Mark: Start with having one. Yeah.
Alex: That's right.
Mark: So, one thing I took away from the report is that time is important: time to review the work, time to create the work, all that. So, how can a creative group with all the pressures it faces make the time to do its work?
Alex: That's where the human piece and the leadership piece is critical, but it all comes down to the process. In a Technology world, you chat with the CTO, they'll say that you've got time, budget, scope. And you can't have all three go up at the same time. If you want pivot scope, you've got to give me more time or increase my budget. If you want to save time, you've got to increase my budget or reduce my scope. If you look at that in the marketing and creative world, you can replace scope with quality. Right? So, time, budget, quality. Well, time is shrinking. We've got to produce more, faster, based on analytic feedback, and the ability to continuously improve our assets in market. Budget tends to not be going up. Right? We're always under scrutiny on ROI and how do we justify our budgets every year, so what ends up happening is quality suffers/
Mark: Yeah.
Alex: And if quality suffers, results suffer. If results suffer, you have to put more content in market to try and catch back up again, which means you're perpetuating this awful kind of death spiral of the marketing program. So, the only way for all three of those ships to right simultaneously, is to sort of shift the paradigm and improve efficiency. And the only way to improve efficiency is to put in a better process. Now God bless you if you can improve that process through Excel alone, and create spreadsheets beyond spreadsheets to track process and track projects and share documents on Google Sheets or whatever it might be. The way to do it is to create a workflow from kickoff through to getting an asset out of the door and approved that is efficient. In doing that, both teams are spending less time on admin tasks or inefficiency, and they're spending more time on campaign management from the Marketing side, brand management, than creativity on the Creative side.
Mark: Well, it's a complex world out there, isn't it?
Alex: It is. And it's one that other teams have benefited from. Like my team here, my Marketing team has got wonderful tools to help them automate their world, so they don't have to run around the building all the time. So, why doesn't the marketing and creative process have that same level of automation and that same level in technological investment to drive efficiency? And that's what we're really focused on our end, selfishly, because we are the leading workflow tool for the marketing and creative world. But, it's inevitable that team and that dynamic needs the same type of technological support that other teams in the building have.
Mark: So, to wrap up, I've got a really broad question, which we could probably make an entire episode out of, and here it is. How can creatives use data to measure the value of their work?
Alex: Well, I think we start with the why, right, which is why should they use data? The report talked about the creatives want to have a seat at the strategic table. They don't want to be order takers, they want to be business partners. They want to understand the goals and objectives of the campaign so they can deliver better work that hits business objectives. Well to do that, you inevitably have to have more data in your life. You have to understand the data goals of the campaign. You have to be getting data and feedback on how your assets performed in market. And you have to be getting data on how your process could be improved. Where are the bottlenecks in the process? Who are the repeat offenders on missing approval deadlines or giving bad feedback that spirals the feedback process into sort of a battle over the water cooler versus efficient feedback in the right way?
Alex: So, both campaign data to understand the impact of their work and be better business partners, and process data to understand how they can improve their world is really important. And that's the why. The how they do it is two things. Marketing owns the campaign data. They own the data coming back from, you know the marketing automation tools, the email tools, campaign management solutions. So they've gotta go off Marketing. They're gonna sit down and challenge Marketing and go, "Okay, guys. Just curious, how did it go? What were the things that worked well? What were the things that didn't work well?" Getting that feedback from Marketing.
Alex: And then the second piece is, if you're running your creative workflow in a manual Excel spreadsheet, you're not getting data back from that. If you're using the same automation concepts in your world that the Marketing Team is, then you can get the same type of analytics on your world that the Marketing Team gets on their world. So, deploying technology that gives you analytics and reporting tools allows you to improve your operational cadence and rigor. So then there are the two areas where they need to have better data visibility. One is asking the Marketing team and collaborating, and the other is investing in it on their own team, for their own efficiency.
Mark: That's great. Alex, thanks for joining me. In the next part we have your appeal to the CMO based on the data from this report. Can't wait to hear that.
Alex: Look forward to it. Thanks, Mark.