B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast
B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast

Episode 1667 · 8 months ago

5 Challenges Facing Creative Teams with Russ Somers

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In this episode, Benji talks to Russ Somers, CMO at Lytho.

Creative teams face numerous challenges, today Russ identifies his top 5 and we spend the bulk of our time providing remedies to these issues that are so often prevalent. 

Conversations from the front lines of marketing. This is be to be growth. Welcome into be to be growth. Friends, today I'm joined by a fellow Austinite, Russ Summers. He is the CMO at life, though, Russ, welcome to be, to be growth, and thank you so much. Awesome to be here. Love the show. So, Russ, you have a track record, a history maybe, I would say, working with creative teams, and today we want to get into a lot of the man the conundrums, right, the things that get in the way sometimes, the problems we face as creative teams. But give me some background as to the vantage point you have in the work you've done with creative teams. Sure, I mean my perspective, and I've shared with this with you before. Marketers, there's two parts to it. There's math and magic, right, yeah, there's the quantitative part, the data, and that's where I grew up. I was the classic marketer, Not Classic Marketer who, for the first five years of my career I opened excel, I opened spss, as all kinds of statistical software. I never opened powerpoint, I never opened illustrator. And then when I moved into startups, one of the first ones I joined was called in Poto. We were in the video commerce space and we realize that, yes, we had great technology to put on our customers sites to make video shoppable, but they needed content, and so we moved into creating content and there I started really what I would call a love affair with the creative side of marketing, the magic as opposed to the math. They both matter, but when I found it in Voto, and what I found in subsequent roles is the real power of marketing is in the creative and that's, frankly, what led me to life, though, because we serve creative teams, we help them do better, more impactful work. So the opportunity to work full time with that community was just absolutely not something I could pass up with...

...that unique vantage. But I love it that you started on nor of the math side. I think we need marketers that have per view into both, if it adds such a value to the teams that were on but now being on the the more creative side of things and working with these teams. What are some specific challenges, because this is where we want to go today. What are those key challenges that you see sort of across the board when it comes to creative teams and the things they're facing. been what if, after this conversation, you asked me how did the show go for you and I was silent? Wouldn't that be a little weird, very awkward? It would be super awkward. But this is the reality of the creative team. Fifty five percent of creative content teams rarely or never get quantitative feedback. They do all this work, they're creating. If you work for Papa John's, you're creating a pizza flyer campaign. If you work in the digital space, you're creating a landing page in a website. But what if you never got a peep about how that information work for your stakeholders, who had all kinds of opinions? Let's make it blue, let's put it over here. But then when you actually go, what results are we getting? You get no data. So half of them almost get no data. Only seventeen percent get it always or often. And so in this in this world where now the workflow is change, we're now all remote, lots of things and change in our work environment. If you don't have that feedback loop telling you that your creative performed well, you're kind of dead in the water in terms of knowing your value to the organization, while seventeen percent like getting feedback, that is a low, low number. I mean, how are you supposed to do great work if you don't even know if you hit the mark right? Well, this comes down. It's really interesting you say that, because this comes down to your definition of great work, and all too often creative work is based...

...solely on subjective criteria. I like it, I love it, it looks fantastic. All of those things are flattering, but they're not useful feedback when you can actually say we're putting this has had out in the wild and in the creative brief you told us what results was expect we're expected. That's where the briefing process is where where you need to start saying what are the what are the intended outcomes? We think this will increase website traffic by twenty percent over the next year. We think this pizza flyer campaign will generate a five percent response rate. Whatever it might be, you actually should be specifying that up front as your work with their creative team, because creatives are problem solvers. You tell them what objective you're trying to hit, they will find ways to hit it. But if they're kept in the dark, they can't help with that. And then we're reduced to can you make it blue? Can you make it pretty, can you make it pop? Yeah, basically viewed as output machines. Right, exactly. And what happens with anything else that is viewed as an output machine in business? It becomes a cost center, not a profit center. And you say we need to process invoices, but it doesn't drive business when we close invoices. Well then you're going to offshore that process and do it as cheaply as you can. And the problem with doing that with marketing is sence. The magic component is what really makes it work. You can't commodify the magic. You can't just, you know, send that all offshore or do it with fiber or whatever, right. And so you're actually hurting marketing performance paradoxically, by focusing only on the performance metrics and not understand in the impact of the creative while you brought up creative briefs and I think a lot of companies we go we have a creative brief and maybe not so informative, maybe not quite hitting the mark. What do you see there when it comes to the structure of creative reason some of the pain...

...points around it. Well, we just did a deep dive on this with a company out of Australia called better briefs, and this is their whole business that work very closely with creative briefs. I don't remember the exact statistic, but it was right around I think sixty to seventy percent of marketers said that their creative briefs were comprehensive and covered everything that was needed, and maybe twenty to thirty percent of creative teams agreed. So there's a big disconnect there in what even should be in that creative brief. And this is where, again, thinking of the two teams is two separate teams hurts us because we don't sit together physically, your metaphorically, now that we're virtual, right, we don't spend that time together collaborating to understand what the desired outcome is. so you decide what the outcome of the campaign is and then you call in the creative team. Well, how about you call them in earlier? How about there in the metrics reviews so they understand the impact? I mean crazy thoughts, but you can't influence the outcome when you don't have visibility to the outcome, and that's where to I think the creative team can set themselves apart by using their own agency to know more of the business outside of just their creative department, because we lock ourselves and I put myself here too, because I'm a very creative by nature, so it's not in my normal tendency to lean heavy on the math side. Where you started rusts where I got it. I got around myself out in a sense, but we can. We have agency there to learn and lean in and then the business should be looking over at the creative department going hey, we should get them into more of these these meetings, in these crucial conversations. Right well, and that some of the creative directors I've worked with at a couple different companies have really shaped my thinking. They're in being very forward and pushing themselves into that process and asking questions, and it's really interesting when that happens. been to watch a medium...

...switch from why is the creative director here? We're talking about go to market strategy, and then this very quiet person, because creatives are problem solvers by nature, can toss out something that nobody had even thought of. That turns out to be a really a real genius solution to a problem under discussion. So bringing those teams together I frankly have never regretted. It's always it makes me super happy when you see that start to happen. You know, another pain point I know a lot of creative teams feel is there's just too many stakeholders. We have the thing, we got to do push through, but there's so many people with eyes on the project. Was Voice into the thing? How do you experience that as an issue? What are you hearing as well as teams and going while there's just so many stakeholders and we got it. We got to boil down the voices we're hearing from. Well, I mean there's two pieces to that right. One is you have far too many stakeholders. The other is you can have a lot of stakeholders if you have sort of a construct for who is a decider and who is an input giver and Opinion Giver and in what order those things want to happen, because usually what happens when stake colder feedback goes awry is, let's say I've got twenty five stakeholders and twenty four of them have been heard from and are good with it and then at the last minute one swoops in and takes the role that I like to call project pigeon of swooping in and pooping on the whole thing. Right, I like that. And then you're back to revisions. One of the things that we do, and working with teams, is we're able to set up this sort of feedback processes and sequences so you get so you can get the feedback from the right people first and sequence when you ask for feedback. In the old world, and then you are not old enough to remember this, I would expect, it was very common in inhouse agencies for...

...the creative team to walk around with envelopes to get sign off on the work and you had on that envelope written the order of people you're going to get feedback from. Digital processes of kind of blown that up where we ask everybody for feedback all at once by default. But it doesn't have to be that way. With the right tools you can structure it just as succinctly as at old school and yet also have all the benefits of you're moving as fast as you can at a digital world, which means that one of the metrics you see impact on is number of rounds of review. Typically, what we see in the market is our customers typically have about three rounds of review. No, what was it? It was, I believe, thirty three percent of assets approved on the first round of review, which is super cool and that's a sign that you're doing it right. But not everybody is. And we'll get more into some of these solutions. And how do we move past just the pain points here in a second and want to keep establishing because honestly, we could have a conversation that lasts will far too long, longer than a typical podcast episode, just around the problems we experience as creative teams. But I'll hit on a couple more here before we get to any sort of solution or way forward. Another one, and you you touched on this a little earlier and I want to expand on it, is this idea of being a prophet center. We have to realize we are a prophet center. What is that breakdown where so many creative teams operate from a different space, or even teams as a whole going and they just cost it's a mindset shift. Right. If you are fortunate, you have leadership in the organization that recognizes inherently the value of creative work. Because we all watched the Super Bowl Camp Super Bowl ads, you know, a couple weeks ago, right, and nobody talks about the quantitative aspect of those ads other than the coin base one where you ask how many scans were there and how long did the servers stay up?...

But that's not not normal. Usually you talk about the creative concepts and which ones really stood out in which ones didn't. So it starts with leadership that understands the value of creatively standing out. But it also starts you raised a really good point on the agency of the creative teams. Are they walking across the hall and having that conversation of what's it? What's the output this is going to generate and how do we know that we're successful? You think it's like less than twenty percent of CEO's have a background and marketing. So you have to do a lot of extra work from the marketing department, from the creative department, to continue to put yourself out there and go hey, this is how we drive profits and put it at the forefront of the team's mind early and often, and then from there. You know, then it becomes like, oh well, we love what the creative teams doing, we love what marketing is doing, the value that they add. But to assume that your your they're going to see the value add that assumption is is going to get in the way and breaks down communication. It does all sorts of things, unintended consequences, I would say. Right. I think it absolutely does. You simply have to not assume that people are going to understand what you're doing. And it's interesting how when other areas of marketing we've gotten kind of used to it. Nobody shows up saying I know how to use Google, so I know everything about Seo. Right, you assume when you're SEO team meets with your leadership that they're going to need to educate. Let me explain the three branches of Seo and how things work etc. Creative leaders need to take on that same mantle of when they walk in, explaining here's the role of creative in a well run campaign and here's how you see the difference in terms of campaign response. One more issue I want to hit on, and that is what that skill sets now are way more complex and my opinion,...

...what's needed and so I know what you think on that one. I heard an audible. I yes on that one. But what are your thoughts there on the development of what's required? It's a really good question because we a lot of time and I'm glad you asked. A lot of times we talk about creative is though it is just a group of visual or graphic designers, right, but you're right, at this point multi media is expected. You've got to have people with fluency and video, with people in fluency and audio for podcasts, people who understand the many different social media formats and what works and what doesn't, because what works on tech talk is not what works on Linkedin, right, and so you need all these skill sets and that's a very that requires you to keep track of your team skill sets and know, yes, I've got twenty people and it looks like we have a lot of bandwidth, but I understand that I have only two video people that are skilled there and the next three big projects are video projects. So that's a huge issue. You know, and basically we keep hearing this from creative teams that they're expected to work much faster than seventy three percent of them say this. But then also that they are needing to now increasingly outsource and work without outsourced partners where they have specialized skill sets, because a big reason used to be you brought on additional contract creative resources to increase your bandwidth. Now typically the driving reason is there is a skill set that we don't have that we need, whether that be video, audio something else. So I don't want to jump to solutions because I said I wouldn't do it, but I do have a follow up question for you on this one, because you said track skill sets and there's a way that this naturally happens right where you're just in conversation and someone's passion comes out or a special project comes up and someone goes, Oh, I can do that video. But what are some ways rust that you have tracked or you see teams tracking people's skill sets beyond just the...

...traditional like this is what you were hired for, kind of stick in your lane? Well, there's a couple pieces. One is obviously a good leader to an extent knows that information. They always know what what their people are capable of and they push their teams to increase their skills. So you know, a lot of times a good leader will not only be asking what are you good at, but what are you interested in and could be real good at? That we can upscale the skill that you can learn how come out and do our team or invest in development, which is huge. Then the other thing is, frankly, you know, good tools do have that capability. We recently added to our workflow solution resource management to enable you to assign specialties and know who on your team can do what, understand their workload, etcetera, so you can sort of start to now see those bottlenecks and whatever you're using for project management tools, you should be thinking of it that way. How do I see if the demand that's coming down the pipeline is going to match the skills that my team has? Okay, so we're going to go back through this list basically, and now we'll just start to dive into some solutions that I love the one you just gave there, but I'll just kind of rehash for us some of these problems that we're wanting to address in this episode. One was this idea that often creative teams are viewed as output machines. Second one is that these creative briefs aren't informative enough. Yet too many stakeholders. We have to realize right as a creative team, that we are a profit center. Make sure people are aware of that and we're talking about it. And then that final one was a skill sets are far more complex. So when it comes to creative teams being viewed as an output machine, one thing you brought up to me was this idea of a project management triangle and would you walk me through some of that Russ and I think it...

...would be informative as a potential mean, I know, not solution right, but part of the missing piece. Well, it's a tool, right. It's just a mental tool for thinking about things. And just you know, the project management Tryad is super simple. You've got cost, scope and time and those are the three legs of the triangle. In the middle is quality, because qualities what you're trying to produce. But almost any leg of that triangle can be shortened to some extent. If you've got twelve weeks to take something to market and something happens and you need to cut it to six weeks, what do you do? You look at the other legs of the triangle. Well, can we reduce scope, because you can do something that takes twelve weeks to do, you can do about half of in six weeks, or do you increase budget right where you say gee, the time need just got compressed. Can we throw budget at it to bring more people on to get the work done quicker? And there's obviously not every project can be accelerated in that way, but the fundamental insight is you're always struggling to allocate resources wisely and if you understand that time, scope and cost can be traded off against each other, then you can have those intelligent conversations with your stakeholders to say, if you want to accelerate the timeline, here are the options. We may reduce SCOPE, we may increase budget, etc. But it helps put you, as a leader of that team, in the driver's seat to use that framework. Is there anything outside of that framework that you've found to be particularly useful as it comes to trying to shift the narrative that we aren't just this department that is consistently just an output machine? You know a couple of things. One, obviously, is to maintain metrics on your team so that people so that you can easily demonstrate here's how fully loaded we are, here's our average number of rounds of revisions, et Cetera, just sort of those basic throughput mess metrics. Yes, we're talking about efficiency, not results,...

...but it's still gives you a window, so you've got a leg to stand on. And then the other that I've seen is this is super simple. Ask A ton of questions. We're used to the idea of creative projects start with the request. Creative project should start with a conversation and that conversation should be documented in the brief. So never accept this is what the business ask for. Ask why did the business ask for this? Can I talk to you? Tell me what outcomes you're trying to drive with this? Can we document those? When will mey? We measure against those? It truly is just a mindset shift, which leads perfectly into what we said. Creative briefs Aren't informative enough. If it's going to be a conversation over just a request, how are we navigating that? What is that practically look like? Is it another meeting, or is it just that request is far more detailed and gives opportunity for some some push and pull? What do you think? And around that rust? That's a really good question, because when you ask, is it another meeting. My own flat reflexive thing was none of us need more and meeting, and I almost I must. I don't know how I'll throw up in my mouth or something. Are Yeah, exactly, and I get it. It might need to be for something complex. But really the big thing, and you know, the guys from better brief spoke about this far more eloquently than I can because they're experts in it, but a big piece of it is iteration. Then yeah, rather than you give me the brief and I take the brief as a given, whether it's facetoface, zoom to zoom, acing by email and slack, let's go back and forth and fine tune that brief till we both agree that it's got all the information we both need. I think that that iteration process, that back and forth, it changes the perception of being an output machine as well, because if you're just saying yes to requests and it's like yeah, well, anything that's requested of us, are creative team fulfills and just pushing it out and we're kind of in the silo over here and we do the thing that the communication...

...back and forth that locks it in to where you better understand it and then also have the ability to push back some proves your value and your worth over time. So I love that. Anything else there on creative briefs that you would go hey, make sure you include this or value adds that we can we can have there to the creative brief process. Really the only thing I would say is take nothing for granted. Assume the people you're writing the brief for don't know anything about sort of the you know, sort of the implicit assumptions of the business, except etc. Just make them explicit, spell everything out that you can and then work through it in iteration to figure out what needs to be kept in what needs to go away. Typically in any editing process you end up with a longer document first in a shorter document second. So don't be afraid to put the information in there, whether you need it or not, and then iterate and whittle it down. The scope of things and determining what the true scope is. Right to know. I think that helps in the iteration process as well. Like if you're going back and forth, you're going to understand how involved is this about to be? But to know and watch out for for I think what we said is like scope creep. It's that the terminology that you use us. It is indeed. I love that idea and I think it's a huge part. It's like you start saying yes to everything and man, it gets complicated and you don't realize the scope of what you committed to. Well, and this, you know, for a classic example of SCOPE CREEP, and I'm glad you use that phrase because it reminds me of a classic example. You know, I might brief you in and say that what we need is a landing page and a content asset for people to download. Totally cool, that is what I need. What about social ads to promote that? What format will those ads be in? What channels will they be on? Will they be video ads, in which case there's also a need for video content, because that does to perform...

...better in adds, as I'm sure you know. So that's a classic scope creep thing where we would assume, somebody might assume. The team will know this. Of course we're going to want social heads. No, don't assume. You probably better ensure that it's documented in there. Continuing down the list here, which we kind of mentioned, part of the solution around too many stakeholders, but I'd love to have you reiterate their what your thought processes around. Okay, there's a lot of people are who are going to have eyes on this, but who can actually who needs to sign off on this, who actually is a full on stakeholder versus someone that maybe just you know, is taken a look but isn't necessarily have to sign off. Any any practical tips on sort of easing the burden that is too many stakeholders? There are two pieces to it. One is are familiar with the concept of racy? No, it's a project management concept. It's was responsible, who is accountable, who is consulted and who is informed. So take your stakeholders and think about where they fit in terms of giving the feedback, because you're going to have really only a couple of people that would be responsible right or accountable to the deliverables in there, and awful lot of other people are going to fall in the consulted or informed. So when you think about it, you've got just a few stakeholders likely that can have true veto power or true send it back and start overpower, and most of the there's are consulted are informed. So whatever process you use, make sure that you're using tools and or process that can keep those two categories of stakeholders separate. And then the other thing is the order, the sequence with which you get the feedback, because, again, blasted it to everybody at once usually has terrible results. You've got people you're going to want to have feedback early, and they're often the consulted and informed ones that just have good opinions to weigh in with, and you...

...may want those earlier in the review cycle, and sort of the final approvers, you know, the ones that can veto towards the end. But you will also may want the final approvers and some of the initial rounds just in case you're so you don't waste time on a direction that they would say, this is not what we want at all. So think about the roles people play and the sequence in which you ask for feedback. Yeah, I think when you don't do that adequately, you end up with a lot of people that don't really can't articulate why they're frustrated because they don't really know. A lot of people saw had eyes on this, a few people had objections. We don't really have it really prioritize the voices in the room and so responsible, accountable, consulted informed. I love that. That idea there and I think there's a lot of just practical ways to walk that out. Okay, how do we begin to instill in our teams this idea that skill sets are far more complex? You mentioned that keeping track of it, but is there anything else we can do to like incentivize our teams to continue to learn and grow and add to their skill sets? What are what are ways that were dealing with the fact that that's just the new reality? Well, I mean a few things. What a good question. In a few things come to mind. They're one is for starters. You should always hire people that want to learn and grow right. So a piece that I'm not saying if your team isn't doesn't desire to learn and grow, you've hired the wrong team, but you may not of cared form it for them in the way that you should. Most people do want to learn and grow, so make sure they come in with that as a desire and that they come in knowing this is something the organization supports. Then, with the sort of flattening of the world, as we now have a whole lot more people to do perhaps less work, as we've all gone gone remote or more work. As we've all gone remote, most teams do report feeling considerably overwhelmed. That's where, again,...

...potentially bringing in outside resources is something that teams sometimes have to do. But the first thing to do is simply know an inventory those skills. What is your team capable of? What are their specialties? You know, I think in terms of priorities, availability, workload and specialties when I'm thinking of teams, team loading priorities. What's important? Availability? Who may have time on deck? Work load are they? WHO's carrying more of the load versus last? And then specialties is where it gets super interested and you say yes, but only three people on the team can do this particular work. You've just got to have that inventory of your team in some fashion. I always love this, getting people's insight on on this question. But what would you rust be willing to outsource from a strategy perspective in marketing, and what would you it's like a Nope, this has to actually be someone on our team full time. What comes to mind when I ask you that? Oh my gosh, it is such a good question and the answer is a little situational. Absolutely, yeah, yeah, I love content to largely be created in house or heavily influenced in house, because we know our voice, we know who we are, we know that we do this because our customers were born to create right. We have those values inherent. So I like content to be in house or heavily influenced within house. Performance Marketing I tend to like in house as well. I know not everybody does things that I am comfortable. Outsourcing are often when you have sort of a temporal need, a short term need, and I was talking about this with a friend today with regards to product marketing. I think product marketing is a whole is a function that must be in house because you really need somebody to understand your customers in your world very deeply. But there are times when you're working on things like your strategic narrative, where an outside person is really, really strong and you need an...

...outside person. You need that skill set, that high power skill set, for a short time. So those are times either you need a specific skill set for a short time or you just need more hands to do the work. Those are the two situations in which I'm most likely to say let's look outside. Love the opinion there. I love the differences and what people are willing to consider around it, and it's always intriguing to ask that question. So as we start to wrap up here, US around these these issues that we all faces creative teams, and then, you know, these solutions I love. I love some of what we got to digest there and just a practical insight you gave. But anything you want to add as we start to wrap this conversation up, just fundamentally think around the whole life cycle of your content. How do you produce it? How do you create it? How do you collaborate on it? How do you store and distribute? You've got to think through that and have a strategy at each place to make sure you're able to stay in touch with your stakeholders and get the input from them you need and get them the outputs they need from you. Fantastic. Well, Russ. For those that want to continue to follow you, stay connected what you guys are doing at life. Oh, give us a best ways to connect easy. Obviously, you can always follow us on social you know we're on all of the twitters, Linkedins, etcetera. Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin. I'm pretty active there. I'm just rust summers, Cemo of life, though, or anybody can always feel free to shoot me an email at rust summers at life otcom. And, of course, you know, feel free to visit us at life though, and sign up. Will send you good information and we won't waste your time with spam. Love it, rust, thank you for stopping by be to be growth today. Bennett's been great talking. Thank you so much, but we're always having conversations just like this that are going to help fuel your growth. They're gonna man, they're going to speak directly to some of the challenges that you're facing and hopefully bring some innovation to the work that you're doing. Never miss an episode.

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