Episode 2

Crafting Solutions in Creative Operations

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In this episode, Simon a seasoned creative operations consultant with over 35 years of experience speaks about the evolving world of creative operations. From starting in a traditional studio setting to setting up transformative and structured creative processes, Simon speaks to our host Arijta on the ever-evolving landscape of creative operations.

  • The potential of AI in creative operations and how it’s more of a co-pilot than a replacement for creative teams. 
  • Challenges like visual anomalies and biases in AI-generated content and ethical AI practices.
  • The future of AI in digital asset management operations, where AI can classify assets and create more meaningful taxonomy.

Simon Evered
Freelance & Creative Operations
Arjita K
Director, Growth and Business
Development, Artwork Flow


Arjita: Hi Simon, welcome to the Creative Operation podcast by Artwork Flow Thank you for taking out the time today to meet and chat with us. It is really great to have you with us and do this chat. Why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself to our listeners in our community.

Simon Evered: Thank you. My name is Simon Evered. I'm currently a creative operations consultant, but I've been working in the creative industry for over 35 years now, starting in a studio, varying different roles from very traditional background through to what is obviously a largely technology driven industry. Yeah, give you a bit of background of my history.

Arjita: Great, I'm really looking forward to this chat. So Simon, as you mentioned, you have 35 years spent in the creative industry. And I don't think creative operations as a term or as a department existed when you started. So why don't you walk us through what were some of your formative roles? What did creative operations look back 20 years ago if you look back and how has it evolved? Over the last two to three decades that you've been working in the industry.

Simon Evered: Sure. Well, I was kind of lucky and unlucky at the very beginning as a newbie in the industry. My boss went on holiday for, he went on honeymoon for three weeks and the two guys, I and a senior guy to me and we were basically given the keys to the business and I was told that I had to answer the phone, talk to clients, deal with suppliers and the management of the company. In a way that was my first foray into running a creative operation. Um, and, but the real kind of breakthrough for me came in the early, early noughties when I was working in an agency, Banner Corporation, and I had the opportunity to make a decision whether I wanted to go into a, set up a studio to go into art direction or go into creative direction. And my decision was to set up a studio.

Arjita: Okay. 

Simon Evered: Because that's where I felt I was more confident. And it was like a gut feeling. That's where I felt my real skillset lay. Thankfully, my boss at the time said that was the right decision because he thought that was my strength as well. So kind of, that was the first opportunity I had to actually set something up from scratch. You know, putting a team together, putting processes together, workflows.

setting up supply relationships and just delivering the job that I knew I had to do. And, you know, being given direction from the boss as well. So that was the kind of the first kind of real foray into operations where I wasn't just responsible for doing a job myself, because I had my day to day job, but I actually had to make sure everything worked and that included the IT side, communication side. So I was very lucky that I was kind of given the opportunity to go in the direction where I kind of felt, you know, where my strength was.

Arjita: Hmm, right. So you've worked with, you know, brands across the board, you know, different industries that you've worked in. So how, you know, how would you describe that? What is the kind of transformation, you know, that previously inefficient creative processes and, you know, now with tools and technology, how do you bring efficiency into? You know, these various kinds of industries that you work with in the context of creative operations. Like, you can describe it broadly and then maybe we can get into specifics of a couple of such things.

Simon Evered: Yeah, I mean, the way Creative Operations has evolved is, you know, obviously the technology, you know, originally there wasn't much technology, but as things evolved, you know, whether it was, you know, we went from a traditional workflow to a PDF delivery workflow, sending files down the telephone line, then there was the automated workflow so you could just push command P.

Arjita: Yeah.

Arjita: Mm-hmm.

Simon Evered: And not only would it print something for you, it would file it, it would, you know, color manage it for you. And so the, the evolution of technology has allowed creative operations to not just increase their efficiency, but also their capabilities as well, you know, again, in the early days, you know, uh, to have a team who were just focused on print, all of a sudden you've got the digital content that needs to be supplied, that digital content was a combination of static and animation and video, all of a sudden you needed the technology to help you deliver animated content. Then there was automation, resizing, dynamic content, driven from a database. What technology has given us is to be able to do more with the same or with less people. And from doing things repetitively, those boring jobs like saving PDFs into the right location or sending them to the right printer. That's stuff that your team generally doesn't want to do. So if you create an automation process to allow them to do that, you know, they just hit one button and it goes off and they can get on, be more creative, you know, do work that they're more interested in. No one likes doing the boring, repetitive stuff. So technology's made those types of roles.

Not so redundant. They've taken the mundane stuff out the way because it ensures consistency for a start, if nothing else, and it then allows your own team to develop their skills and expertise and roles where they potentially want to go and that includes things like video animation, as well as just kind of resizing, or maybe it's a little bit more design rather than just being, you know, just being an artwork.

in some respects. So that's where I think technology and it's going exponentially now. You know, this, the AI, where can that take us? It's still, I don't think a lot of people know where it's going to take us. But it's worth investigating if nothing else, because again, if it can make us more efficient, if it can make a better product, if it can mean that we can

make it more efficiently and sell it cheaper to our clients, they're happier. But there's also that level of, you know, how far does it go? Does it take jobs, for instance? You know, I'm hoping it won't be. I think anything it will do, it will, like other industrial revolutions of the past, it will create different types of jobs. And the boring stuff will just get set aside.

Arjita: Let's just see. Absolutely.

Arjita: Absolutely. So I think, you know, from various chats that I've been having on this podcast, and, you know, we've been talking about how AI can be more of a co-pilot for the creative industry rather than, you know, being the industry itself, there's a lot of lot more of creativity that can be explored once all of the mundane tasks are taken out of, you know, taken out of the picture. So now, you know, coming back to your experiences, any particular project or any particular implementation that you did in your, across your career, you know, could be a recent one, could be an old one as well that, you know, you thought was a very transformative project. And I ask this because you know, we have had, we've had, we've had conversations with, you know, Creative Ops professionals where they have mentioned that there isn't a lot of content out there for them to learn from So, you know, why don't you walk me through one of your projects? You don't have to take a game or anything just like you know, what was the problem statement? How did you solve it and go about it?

Yeah, it's a very simple project that I've got in mind and it's a very recent project. I was asked by a CRM agency to come in and help them build a creative process because they didn't have one. And what this meant was that the creative team weren't working in a consistent way, there was no control.

Arjita: Mm-hmm. Okay.

Simon Evered: Kind of more importantly, there was a lack of trust from the other teams on the creative team because there was no control. There was no consistent way of working. So I came in and I did a discovery phase with the agency. So I spoke not just to the creative team, but the project management, account management, delivery, strategy, IT, and kind of got a picture of what the problems were from their perspective, not from the creative perspective alone, but from their perspective. And what came out of that was a consistency issue. There was no brief. There was no formal way of booking work in. And the big thing was the head of creative, who was an incredibly talented, very knowledgeable person in the CRM space knew a lot of technologies, a lot of stuff. He was a bottleneck. He was the problem in many ways. You know, he took on too much. And by taking on too much meant he didn't get work done, which meant he let down people. So from all this information, I kind of, I drew out the main problems, presented it to the management team. And on top of that, drew out a very simple process. They had three phases - concepting, design, and then HTML build. And just said, okay, now these are the phases of your projects. All we need to do is put steps within each phase and build the roles and responsibilities. So you have a briefing process, which kickstarts, this is all in theory, by the way, the briefing process kickstarts the project, the brief then helps book that project in, timings are agreed.

And then you allocate the tasks within the process to the individual. So if there's a guy who's coming up with concepts and ideas, you build, you bring that in, you tell them when you need it. You then have an approval process. When everything's approved, you go to the design stage. Again, that's booked in with an individual in the design team. They have a deadline to work to. They have an approval process to work on.

Simon Evered: And then when that's approved, it goes through to the next phase and so on. And when I proposed the workflow in principle, everyone thought it was great, but obviously there were some concerns about, okay, how are you going to, how does it work? They had a workflow, very simple workflow tool that they were using, but they weren't again using it for all clients. They weren't using it properly. They were using a free version of it as well, which didn't help. So I proposed that they buy some licenses that freed up more, you know, functionality for the technology. And we effectively built their process in this workflow tool. The tool itself was Trello, which is a relatively simple tool. They, they, there was familiarity there. So people, you know, when you introduce new technology, the lead time's a lot longer. So because there was a bit of a time, time was of the essence for me to get this up and running, it's using what's familiar. So the majority of people knew Trello. They accepted it. And then what we did is simply build nice little automation. So when one task was effectively completed, the person pushed a little button, saying it's complete, it would automatically move it to the next task and notify the person who's in charge of that task. There you go. So at any one time, you know, the knock on effect was at any one time.

Anyone in the team, not just the creative team, project management, account management, delivery could go and see exactly where all the projects that were booked into creative were at, who they were with, what the deadlines were. And if there were any issues, they would have chaos within each of those projects. So the project is a Kanban style approach. So you had a project and that project literally moved from stage to stage on the Kanban chart. And it wasn't rocket science. It wasn't, but what made it work was it was, it was simple and it was clear. And it meant that everything did the same. It was all the same process. There was no, if there wasn't a need for design, it was just an HTML build. That's fine. You put the project straight into HTML, but the process itself still required approval. Everyone knew where it stood. So that for me was really good and they gave me a recommendation on LinkedIn as well, which was lovely. But that was a really nice simple project whereby you just took something that was chaotic and gave it some order and faith in the creative team was restored. The head of creative has now got his workload properly managed. He's

Simon Evered: Being able to delegate some of the approvals that he was taking on to some of his senior team. So it helps the senior team then develop their skills and their progression. If you don't give people the chance to grow in their jobs and they just live with frustration, they will leave, simple as that. If you've got a happy team that are being given opportunities to develop skills, experiences, et cetera, then the team as a whole becomes a better team and then the other departments think, what a great team you are. You know, it's simple, but, and also as a final thing, the process isn't set in stone as things develop as, as needs change, there's always an opportunity to tweak the process, add things, take things away, you know, it's, you know, I'm a firm believer in get it started, see how it works. And when things don't work, you change them, you know,

You don't try to get everything perfect before you start. You move things forward. And they haven't come back to me and said, it's not working anymore, Simon. So hopefully it's all okay.

Arjita: That's interesting. And so, I want to dive a little bit deeper into this particular project. So for example, you designed everything, you did the strategy, you built the Trello boards, you built the entire process, then getting their team to use it or the implementation part that we call or the product adoption part, right? How do you go about that? How did you go about making sure that they're using the process and the boards that you build for them?

Simon Evered: Well, firstly, you build in time to train the team up. You make sure that you set the system up so everyone has the correct level of access. So if they are a designer and your system requires the type of account they have to be a designer account, you make sure everything, so you get everything in place. And then you go through that training session and we did it team by team. We trained up the creative team.

We made sure that the existing projects were put into the new system and everything was sorted out in that respect. So it wasn't the case that we had two systems running. Everything was moved across. You then go through with the other teams and we know project management, account management, account management is probably the most challenging because they all had their own clients. So we had to make sure that we made sure we, we trained them up and then they could

do that training in relation to the way they work with their clients. Because the different clients have slightly different ways of working. And one particular client wanted access to the inner workings of the creative team, which again, I challenged the team on was why is a client seeing how. You guys are working that you shouldn't give clients access to your back room, because when you have, you don't want people to know you've got problems or issues or mistakes happening. You just delivered to the client.

But we had a period of once we launched, and we did have a launch day, once we'd launched, I was then focused on seeing how those projects were going through. Being on hand to answer questions like, oh, how does this briefing work again? What should I do? It's familiar. You get everyone working on the system, because if you train someone to do something and they don't do it for a week, they'll forget how they've done it.

It's like any train. So we did the training literally. You know, we'd already launched the system. So it's almost like live. We actually did a live briefing project with each of the teams so they could actually then see their part of the process actually in action and we just then monitored it and when people had a problem again, we, um, we could solve it.

Simon Evered: If there were any particular issues, we also had a spreadsheet for recording particular issues, because there are some issues you couldn't solve. Well, they may have come up with a suggestion, or is it, can we do this? Please? Is there any way we can attach a file and send that onto the client? And you put these requests into data, into a spreadsheet, I should say. And that was for the head of creative to then review every, let's say every month to say, okay, are there some features we can add here? That makes it a better process. But implementing it as you have to, as soon as you implement it, you have to have that time to make sure that you support the team. And it wasn't just me, it was the whole creative team knew the process. And so I said, anyone in the creative team could help the team, but also we had champions in each of the other teams. So there was a champion in account management, project management.

Simon Evered: So from their perspective, there was a go-to person in their team who could also solve some of those problems or put those requests in if they thought there was a request needed.

Arjita: Great. So, you know, coming to the budgeting side of it and, you know, managing so many different stakeholders. So, you manage a lot of projects at scale. How do you decide or how do you keep yourself within budget and how do you allocate resources between internal, external vendors, agencies and do you have a qualification process for the same as well?

Simon Evered: Going back to my days when I was head of creative studio at Hayes as part of the marketing there, it came down to planning. So as a creative studio, I needed to know what was coming down the line, the types of projects, the skills that were required. And depending on the business, because obviously we work with 22 different business sectors in the company. So there was an accountancy and finance business. There was a

Simon Evered: Education business and IT business, all of whom had their own recruitment. There was a recruitment business. They had their own recruitment requirements, their own marketing plans to increase their businesses. Some of them had a budget. Some of them didn't. So there was also a priority because from a business perspective in the UK, I was well aware of the business plan to promote the five key industries, which was engineering. healthcare, education, IT and technology and HR. They were the priority businesses. So when the projects were beginning to appear, you knew what you could prioritize and you knew what you couldn't prioritize. I would also then talk to the manager, the marketing manager, as well as the business stakeholders and say, okay, well, you know.

What kind of budget do you have because that would depend on what we can deliver for you. Invariably, we work with very tight budgets, but there were certain projects that were flagship projects. There's a salary guide. Every year we produced a salary guide and we knew when it was coming. I always booked a freelancer because it was one of those projects. They didn't work on anything else. There was this one big project. We had a deadline.

That deadline was a hard day. I could not move, but I had a very experienced freelancer who I worked with for many years, who trusted him. He knew how we worked. So I could book him well in advance and make sure that I had the budget ready for him in that respect. With the other stakeholders, the other businesses, it really came down to how well were they working to their marketing plans, because quite often when you work in an in-house environment, someone will come up with an idea.

An opportunity to present at an event or to sponsor a local business guild. And it did become a challenge at times, but generally speaking, it depended on what was required. If there was a need for, like in the digital world, better looking content, so animated content or video content. If your team doesn't have that capability, then you need to look to get that, that freelance talent team. If it's a bigger project and you're working with an agency, you just need to make sure that again, there's that, what is the budget that we've got? And then you build that brief and you brief that agency into work. Here's our budget. What can you produce for that budget? And, but the, and,

On top of just budgeting and resourcing, it's also any sort of resource, external resource needs management, you know, whether it's an agency or freelance, you have to manage them. And that's another thing that can often decide whether or not you do bring a freelancer in because sometimes on some of these projects, actually, it's going to take you longer to brief somebody in if it's urgent than just to give you a team actually, we need to fit this job in guys. Let's get it in.

And they all understood that, you know, if we get external resources in, it's a cost that comes off your bottom line. So if it means, you know, we're spending less money, then quite often, if you've got a good team behind you, they say, no, we can take that on ourselves. But obviously the other thing is to, you know, set up your capability, you know, your training programs to make sure that you can, your team are more capable of producing more and better and more sophisticated work as well. So you're less reliant.

And then the freelancing side becomes, and the agency side becomes really a matter of delivering something that you just need to deliver because you don't have enough time. You're maxed out.

Arjita: Hmm, got it. Interesting. So to summarize, you know, you would say two core things, which is one is the priorities of the overall business in terms of goals and industries. And second one would be the capabilities that you have internally capabilities and bandwidth basically versus how much you want to outsource.

Simon Evered: Yeah. And, and having that vision, that's why the workflow tools that, you know, project management tools are so important. If you can see what your team are working on, you can see, and it, and even better, if you can provide data to your boss to say, this is how busy my team is. If they're working at 80% capacity or 90% capacity where I've worked in the past, you've got proof that you've got evidence to say, I need some resource. Cause obviously.

Simon Evered: A lot of people, you know, you've, you know, I've worked for some tough bosses. You said, why, you know, why can't a team cope with it? Why didn't you just give them, you know, give them more talent to work, work later? Well, it doesn't work. Everyone working late all the time doesn't work, you know, to make for a good environment. So you have to have that evidence to say, this is how busy we are. So having sort of project management, you know, using a system like that, rather than working off a spreadsheet, which I've had to do in the past.

It gives you that evidence to say, look, this is a time recording as well. So you can see what time's being recorded. So it gives you that evidence to say, we're at maxed out. We need this help if you want to deliver this campaign.

Arjita: Yeah, got it. Interesting. So I think we are pretty much at the end of this conversation. I didn't realize, you know, how time passed with your, with your stories. I do have a few, you know, rapid fire kind of questions, which are more on the fun side. So let's get on with them. So Simon, if there was one task in the entire creative operation gamut that you

Simon Evered: It goes quick, yeah.

Arjita: Absolutely hate and would like a machine to do it for you, what would that be?

Simon Evered: One thing I really had to do the year-end reviews were always a challenge for me because I tried to do it on a regular basis but quite often getting that time with your team, I didn't hate it. It was more the responsibility I felt for doing it to make sure that your team was on track to do what you wanted them to do. So it wasn't so much that I hated it. I felt the burden of responsibility because I knew how important it was. And also to kind of make sure you've got those objectives in place, that you are managing those objectives, they are for you and they're on track. Because it can sometimes lead to some very hard conversations. And the

Simon Evered: The other, well, I was going to say, actually, there is one other thing is when mistakes happen, I, that was kind of being, having to spend the entire time working out how this mistake happened and having to report that to your managing director or your marketing director. That was, that was always tough because it was always a case of, you know, I could do without this. You hated the fact that you'd made a mistake. You hated the fact that you'd let your team down.

Simon Evered: As a team, let the wider team down. You hate the fact that maybe you've cost the company money. And you've also, as a team leader, is how you're then perceived by your boss. And that's the most important thing, that the boss, sometimes these mistakes happen because something breaks. But sometimes they happen and you don't know why they happen and you struggle to work out how they've happened and you've got to work out how you tell the boss. So that was another aspect that I hated as well. But no one likes making mistakes to be honest.

Arjita: Funnily enough, these are the two things that I don't think can be automated by a machine. There's a huge human angle to giving feedback and I hope not. I hope not. But never say never. Yeah, you never know. But okay, what is your favorite vacation spot that you've been to?

Simon Evered: No. One day, one day maybe, you can ask AI, what the hell happened AI? They go and find out. You never know a vacation sport? I love running. I love getting up early in the morning and having the world to myself. And there are certain times of the year where you can get up at sunrise and go out and you discover a world where other people don't exist and you have the place to yourself. It's a very selfish thing, but running is kind of where I feel really happy.I'm not a fantastic runner, I just love being out there in the countryside, early morning or late in the evening.

Arjita: Got it. Very interesting. If you had a time machine, where or which period would you go back to?

Simon Evered: What even in my lifetime or any time.

Arjita: Any time.

Simon Evered: I'd like to go back to the 60s because it was a real explosion of discovery, you know, for everything. Music changed, fashion changed, business changed. And also, you know, I come from a time when technology didn't rule our lives. And there's also a nice, you know, sometimes you can think back into, you know, your early to Edinburgh back then without Google Maps or the train lines on a mobile device. But I think the 60s were, the 60s for me, I think was always a fun, a real fun discovery decade where everything just kind of became possible. It became colorful. And, you know, from the dark days of, you know, the 40s and the 50s, you know, the 60s really kind of exploded.

Arjita: Interesting. So I think that brings us to the end of our conversation, Simon, it was really nice having you on the Artworkflow podcast. And thanks again for taking the time. And I'm really, you know, impressed by the energy and passion that you still have after working for so many years in the industry. So kudos to that and all the best to you.

Simon Evered 

Thank you. No, thank you. And honestly, I've been very lucky to work in an industry that I love, you know, simple as that, you know, so thank you for having me.

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