Transforming Your Team
Get strategic with your
creative team.

In the old model of creative agencies, there was a combined strategy and writing team to brainstorm the brand messaging, and then a creative team to take the messaging and “make it pretty.” But with the teams being separate, the actual execution of the message suffered.

In this webinar, Adam Morgan shares all the benefits of combining creative with strategy. You’ll learn:

  • Why keeping the teams closely linked will yield better creative results
  • The importance of developing strategic skills
  • How to build strong partnerships throughout your organization
mentioned in this show:
adammorgan
Adam Morgan
Executive Creative Director Adobe
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The Stoke Group
Digital Marketing and Full-Service Content Agency

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Transcript

Adam Morgan:

All right, starting out with sound. And now, video. Starting here, my presentation. I'll give you a loud clap, to sync sound with video. I'll get started.

Adam Morgan:

Welcome back to Real Creative Leadership. I'm your host Adam Morgan, executive creative director at Adobe. Excited to be with you, here again, and today's topic is really interesting. Our topic today is how to transform your team from ticket taker to strategic partner. This is a really important topic, it's something that I've dealt with many times over my career, and I'm sure many of you are dealing with it right now.

Adam Morgan:

I don't think it matters whether you have a large team or a small team, being a creative leader is all about creating that right environment so that you can have awesome experiences. And then, using your seat at the table of leadership to then drive better experiences, and better creative vision for your whole company, that's what it's all about. So today, we're going to talk about how do you transform the team, how do you help them not just be a set of hands, not just be production, but move past that, and start to become something more valuable to the company. And strategic partners is what I call that better value.

Adam Morgan:

So what does this mean? Sometimes, transforming your team ... A lot of times we think, as creative leaders, that we really need to just focus on the craft. It's all about getting our art directors to be better art directors, our writers to be better writers, our video people to be better at creating video. But there's more to it than that, and sometimes ... We're going to talk about how a new modern workflow has really changed things. Sometimes when you're transforming your team, it's more than just those hard skills. There are a lot of soft skills that they need to learn as well, like adding strategic value, and we're going to talk a lot about that.

Adam Morgan:

Today, we're going to talk about how you evolve from that production mindset. When I'm talking about a production mindset, a lot of times, younger, newer teams, most of the work that they do is really production. When I say production, it's just taking someone else's ideas and putting it together, technically making sure it's all solid, adding some art to it. But really, it's just the final step of making things pretty. If you keep your team as a ticket taker team, you're never going to become a greater value, a bigger strategic value to the company. People are always just going to see you as a production resource, or a cost center, or something like that. We're going to talk about how do we get that better.

Adam Morgan:

But first, I want to start with some background, because this whole philosophy of how you organize your team, or how you mature as a team, starts way back in the '70s. I'm going to start with story about Bill Bernbach. If you any of you have not heard of him, Bill Bernbach was the owner of an agency, DDB. Back in the '70s, he came up with a revolutionary new way of organizing the creative department. Back then, the way things worked is that you had strategy and writing were all the same person, they were the account people. They would take care of all the plans, the strategy, the marketing, all of that, and figure out the messaging. And then, they would just go ahead and write up all of the ads, write up all of the marketing. And then, send it over the wall to the art department. The art department, back then, was just production. Their whole job was just to make things look pretty.

Adam Morgan:

Bernbach looked at this model and he realized it just wasn't working, there had to be a better way. So what he tried, which is really fascinating, is that he removed the writing away from the strategy department, and created copywriters. Copywriters, he teamed up with art directors and designers, and made them a creative pair, or a creative duo. Then, he sent those two off to work together, bounce ideas back and forth between each other, between them, and come up with bigger and better ideas. Really, his purpose of doing this was to focus the writing, so that the writing was no longer just a functional act, but it became more of a creative act, more of an emotional act rather than a logical act, if that makes sense.

Adam Morgan:

So by moving the writers over into the creative department, and creating what was essentially the birth of creative advertising. Bernbach was known, as well as his agency, of coming up with amazing big ideas. Before that, they were all very straightforward marketing, advertising ideas. Buy this, get this, whatever it was. All of the ads, and commercials, and things that Bernbach's team came up with were just emotionally connecting, and they told stories, and they had journeys. They were full of big concepts and big ideas. But, it all started with him moving writing over into the creative department, and creating that unity between art and words.

Adam Morgan:

Why did that work? Let's think about it. First, the strategists, they were doing a good job. They had to balance all that logical work. They had to come up all the metrics, the data. Where are we going, what's the plan, what are the goals? What is the audience, what is the campaign direction, what are all of those things? As a marketer, you have to think about all of those elements. Then they thought, since they already knew all the stuff about the product, or they knew all the information about where the campaign was going, it made sense just to have them quickly write it out because it was efficient. So they could write the message, but then they were distracted with all that other work.

Adam Morgan:

The result was they were great at articulating the message, but the execution was okay it wasn't great. Then, they would just toss it over the wall to the art department, and make it pretty, but there was that huge gap. Bernbach saw that gap, he saw that he needed to marry art and words because when you put words and pictures together, and you make both of them more emotional, that's when you get better advertising. That's when you get something that connects with the audience, that draws them in. By moving the writers off, and making them a creative person, the writers were really able to focus on emotions. They were able to merge and make those connections, bounce ideas with the art directors. As a result, that discipline became our modern creative department.

Adam Morgan:

Now, understanding that, my experiences growing up as a creative ... In the mid 90s, when I started my career in different agencies, that partnership between a copywriter and a designer or art director was critical. Working together with my partners, we tried things, failed at things, it was really that synergy between the two that really made a big difference. Later on in my career, when I had been focused more on other things such as strategy, and plans, and other things ... In fact, I went back and got a Master's degree in strategy because I wanted to better understand that side of equation. I can completely see the two different disciplines.

Adam Morgan:

When I got my Master's degree, they don't teach you to become a creative person. They teach you how to become an amazing strategist, how to focus on goals, how to focus on campaign direction, and vision, and metrics, and all of those great things which are really, really important. And on the other side, really focusing people as creatives really helps them get really good at the craft. They get good at articulating ideas, they get good at coming up with ideas faster and better. And really, a big part of that today is the new workflow that we have.

Adam Morgan:

We have content velocity, where we have to come up with ideas, and campaigns, and banner ads, and emails, and everything at an amazing rate today. So being able to focus wholly on either the creation aspect, or focus wholly on the marketing aspect is really, really important. I've seen that, in my experience, of being able to focus on one or the other.

Adam Morgan:

Now, let's talk about how there was the old model, that Bernbach disrupted. And now, let's see how some of that still plays in some of today's businesses. I see it really happen in startups or mid-size companies, and they fall into that historical trap. Because what happens is, they're starting out small, or they're very scrappy, and their marketing people really have to put on a lot of hats. As their doing the strategies and the plans, and working at everything, often times it's just as easy to quickly, like it was in Bernbach's days, come up with the creative, or write the thing out, write the piece of content, write the ad, whatever I may be. And then, hand it over to some designer to make it look good.

Adam Morgan:

Really, what ends up happening in a lot of these companies is the art department becomes production only. It's just like the old days. Art is just thinking about how do I take those words from the account people, or from the strategist, and have it come to life in pictures. Now, that is a different model when you look at smaller companies or startups that are doing that, that think that it's better to have the writing and the strategy together, and then the art separate.

Adam Morgan:

But, if you look at today's top world class agencies, they follow the Bernbach model. They put their writers, and art directors, and designers in a separate creative department, and really focus on the craft, and really have them work on creating better idea, and bigger ideas, and better storytelling. And then, allow the strategy or the account people, or project management, to really focus on the other things. The goals, the plans, the strategy, all of that, for marketing.

Adam Morgan:

We really can learn that we need to move a lot of us back over to that Bernbach model. It works so well, and we have proof that big agencies make it work, but yet so many companies don't see the value in it, and they keep splitting those two things up.

Adam Morgan:

Why else, why should we keep art and writing together? You know, I talked about how it's focus. Sure, everyone can write, but maybe not everyone is amazing at it, or quick at it. We can all try different things, we can all try writing, we can all try design, and recognize good design. We can all try a video. But, we're just not fast at it, or we're just not skilled at it. A good copywriter really focuses on the craft, they really understand concepting, bringing together emerging new ideas together. Writers and designers together, they both focus on big campaign ideas, big TV spots, or videos, or email campaigns, whatever it may be. It's really that focus on the craft that's important.

Adam Morgan:

Second, I've found over my career that creatives really need a blend of inspiration and guidance. They're just a different animal, they're focusing on those emotional journeys for customers, for customer experiences, and so they really, really get deep into emotions. They're not even focused on logic, or any of the other things like business strategy. So often times, you can see a creative early in their career, they have to focus on those creative experiences and the craft, versus all the other things. I found that they need a different management style. Creative people need that inspiration, otherwise they're on that creative rollercoaster. They just feel like they're failing, or doing awesome, or failing, or doing awesome, all the time. It takes a different management style to focus on creatives, and help inspire them, give them guidance, give them creative direction.

Adam Morgan:

In fact, there are a lot of studies out there that the best people who should be giving creative direction are the people who have done it already, who have lived in the trenches. Not a marketing manager, not a VP of marketing, but a creative director whose working in the trenches, with his team, or her team.

Adam Morgan:

So we need creative leaders today to create those environments. Just like the best agencies, that's still happening at agencies, and we need it to happen at mid-size, startups, we need everyone to see the vision of really creating a full creative department that has all the disciplines in it.

Adam Morgan:

What about, now, let's say if you do that. You have your great creative department, it's got writing, and design, and video, it's all separated. Sometimes people will say, "Well, the problem here is that now we see a gap between strategy and writing, now we've made a different gap." They're concerned that all right, now I've made all the plans and the strategy, and I tossed over the wall to the writers, and maybe they're not understanding it right and they're going off on a tangent, and they're just not getting the right things. Totally get that, and it's really important. But, the answer isn't to peel off the writer's back and put him on the strategy side, the really answer is working together.

Adam Morgan:

Let's be honest, both sides want a good experience, and we both need to agree on the value each side brings. We need to understand that marketing can own the plans, and the strategy, and the metrics. And the creative department can own the creative execution, the creative strategy, the words and the pictures. Then, by working together and really understanding the strengths of each side, and coming together and working as strategic partners, that's when you create a better environment where you can create great customer experiences. That's where you need to get to.

Adam Morgan:

If you don't have all of those elements, and I'm going to talk about it in a minute, of the maturity model, the best plan is to create a creative department that is super mature, and understands all the things that they need to in terms of marketing strategy and business strategy, but really focus on creative strategy. Then together, they can work and own their side, but work with the other side, to be really, really close.

Adam Morgan:

An example of this for me, when I was at Adobe, the content strategist lead, a woman named Stefanie Condie and I, we got really, really close. She ran with all the strategists, and I ran with all the creative execution. And together, we worked really, really closely. We'd have weekly one-on-ones, we'd work with our team, we'd go through plans. Even someone on my team, Matthew Rebeck, has come up with a model called the Tuesday Model, of how the two sides come together and really work together, each side bringing in their strengths to benefit the whole. For me, it was a great experience. We were real close, we felt like there were no gaps, we were constantly in communication.

Adam Morgan:

And yet, Stephanie and here strategists brought awesome ideas, "Here are ways that we can improve our content, here's where we can go with our content, here are the metrics and things we need to hit." Then on our side, on the creative side, we wrote great stories, great art, great illustration, whatever it was, bringing together to create an awesome experience, and we created a lot of great content.

Adam Morgan:

All right, that's the future forward model. But, this partnership only works if your creative department is mature. Meaning, a lot of times when it's a less mature creative department, that's where they're just a set of hands, that's where they're just only focused on production. You really need to move along that maturity model, there's four steps to it, to get up to where you're at a strategic partner. Because again, I talked about content velocity, the fact that we have to create so many things all the time. We have to do hundreds and hundreds of emails, and social media, and banner ads, and videos, and all these things, and it's just happening faster, and faster, faster because of all the channels that we have to distribute on.

Adam Morgan:

A lot of times, because of that content velocity, then we often times let creative strategy fall to the wayside. What do I mean by creative strategy? Creative strategy is where we as creatives are looking at that bigger pictures, and we're using our talent, and our skills, and the craft to create better experiences because we're seeing how it impacts the bottom line. We're seeing how it impacts marketing strategy, how it impacts metrics. It's really the idea of taking all of that marketing and business strategy, and then how do we come up with ideas that are creative, that can solve those problems, so creative problem solving. If we want to add value, we have to move past that production mindset up to creative strategy, and creative partnerships.

Adam Morgan:

Let's talk about the maturity model. I'll talk about the four steps. Step one, that is production only, and that's the first step of a creative department. That's when we talk about ticket taking, meaning you'll set up some sort of a system where all the different marketers will put in tickets, and those tickets will say, "I need this ad," or "I need this thing." As a ticket taking team, you just take all those projects, put art to it, create the assets, and then throw them back into your digital asset management stack, and then pass it back off to the marketers. And then, they take it from there, and they add words or things, and then blast it out. That's a ticket taking model. Again, it happens a lot with smaller startups, or medium sized companies. Or even, sometimes big companies. But that's just step one, the basics in the craft.

Adam Morgan:

So next, step two is what I call integrated disciplines. That's more of the Bernbach model, where you're bringing a diversity of skills together. You're going to bring writers together, and designers together, and art directors, and videographers, and directors, and audio people, and whatever it may be. It's just bringing all those disciplines together so you have a diversity of skills, and then that team works together to incubate, and come up with better ideas. That's the Bill Bernbach, the beginning of that model.

Adam Morgan:

But, I think we've progressed beyond that. The next mature stage is what I call the idea generation phase. In the idea generation phase, this is where it's all about big ideas and visionary campaigns. A lot of our big agencies are well known for this, right here. That it's not just a matter of having a diverse amount of skillsets on your creative team, but also making space and time to really focus on concepting and idea generation, and really make sure those disciplines aren't just there, but they're working together. Again, this is where Bernbach started this whole trend of working closely together, but I say it moves beyond just writer and designer, it's really as a team. Maybe it's writers working with videographers, maybe it's art directors working with video, or production, or whatever it may be, to make sure that your ideas are better. I would say, the output of that phase is bigger ideas.

Adam Morgan:

Then finally, the fourth step in the creative department maturity model is what I call creative strategy. This is where creativity really is integrated. It's not just a matter of focusing on the big ideas, it's a matter of understanding how is creativity going to impact business outcomes. It's where the creative department understands, and they think about business strategy, they think about marketing strategy. And then, they use all that to come up with creative strategy of how creativity is going to help improve all those things, how it's going to be involved, how it's going to add value to all of those steps.

Adam Morgan:

Because sometimes, creative strategy may not be just the big idea, the big campaign idea. Sometimes, creative strategy is we need a better system in place for better storytelling, or we need a better system in place to find customer stories, or find the ideas. Or maybe we need a better system in place, in order to bring form factors to life, whatever it may be. It's the idea that we're using creativity and strategic thought together, to impact business outcomes, that's the fourth and final step. And the big takeaway from that is it's not just thinking bigger on big ideas, it's bigger thinking about the business.

Adam Morgan:

All right, one big note on this. As you mature up that scale, that doesn't mean that there's only one type of style, everyone's just doing creative strategy. You still need all disciplines when you're maturing. Meaning, you need all the career paths. You still need art direction, you still need design, you still need copywriting and storytelling, and you still need production. Production is a critical part of every team. But maybe not everyone has to be super strategic, but more is better. To have enough, maybe it's certain leaders on your team, or certain key members, who are integrating and communicating with marketers, or other teams, or account people. Together, those people need to understand creative strategy, but not everyone on the team. Of course more is better, but I just want to make that note. I don't want someone to think, "I really want to focus on a career path of being really good at production art," and that's fantastic, we need you as well.

Adam Morgan:

It's the culmination of moving from production, to multi-disciplinary teams, to focusing on big ideas. And then, finally, focusing on creative strategy. As a leader, it's your job to transform not only your team, but also all the partnerships you work with.

Adam Morgan:

You have to go out and, first of all, make sure your team understands strategy, is thinking strategically, they're improving their soft skills. But then, you also have to barter and broker with the other teams, just like I did with Stefanie Condie. You have to go out and make those partnerships, those relationships, with the marketing strategy teams. And then be able to integrate those together so that there's no longer territorial issues, people aren't trying to control things. They understand the value of each side, and then they're working together to create better experiences, and then trusting each other. That's super, super important.

Adam Morgan:

So takeaways from today's discussion. First, understand the value of a modern model. Avoid phase one, where you're just a ticket taker. Understand how to get a team with multi-disciplines on there. And then, moving on to bigger ideas, and then finally creative strategy.

Adam Morgan:

Number two, you need to help build those strategy skills. Most of us as creatives, moving up through our creative careers, it was all about the craft. It was all about can I design better, or write better, or film better. You as a creative leader need to help them see beyond that, you need to help your team establish those soft skills, understand relationships, understand and speak what we call "speaking khaki" at Adobe, which is speaking business, speaking marketing. Understanding those things enough that you can go back and think from your creative, emotional lens, and how do I wrap all of those ideas in an emotional, creative blanket, that's what you need to focus on, thinking more strategically.

Adam Morgan:

Then finally, step three takeaway is you need to partner with marketing, and then create that environment where both sides can contribute. It's not going to happen on it's own, it takes a lot of hard work, a lot of understanding, a lot of explaining, to get everyone on board. And then, you have to deliver it. You as the creative department have to deliver better value, you have to deliver creative strategy. If you're going to make time for it, you've got to do it. So you can't just be making things pretty, you have to bring thought and ideas, and why and how that helps the other side.

Adam Morgan:

Well, thank you for listening, that was today's episode on how do you move from being a ticket taker to a strategic partner. Our next episode, next time, we're going to be talking with Katie O'Brien, she's the executive creative director at Wayfair. She's going to talk about how she came to Wayfair, and helped move her team from ticket takers to strategic partners. Super excited to hear what she has to say, we're going to have a wonderful conversation about that. That way, it's not just me talking theory, but you can see in practice how someone changed and transformed a team, and turned them into a team focused on creative strategy.

Adam Morgan:

That's it for today, thank you so much. Again, if this is your first time at Real Creative Leadership, thank you so much for listening on your favorite podcast, or watching on YouTube or here on our website. I guess my ask at the end here is, if you like this, please, please subscribe, subscribe on your favorite podcast, and please share it with those who you think could gain value with more creative leadership skills. So feel free to share with your friends, your coworkers, whatever it may be, we appreciate all of the sharing because that's the only way that this can take off, and we can continue to keep working on this. Again, we're just doing it grassroots right now, but I would leave to get it out to a larger audience. Thank you for subscribing, and thank you for sharing.

Adam Morgan:

Finally, feedback. If this is helpful, please let me know. If it's not, also please let me know. You can leave feedback on your podcast platforms, or you can go to Real Creative Leadership and leave feedback in the comments. We would love to hear all your feedback, so I can continue to make this show better. Thank you so much, and we'll see you the next time on Real Creative Leadership.