By Kevin Gepford
About the Killer Ops series:
How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, to develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.
What’s Special About External Interviews? We’re getting the expert views of people outside our business workplaces.
Why External Interviews Matter An outside perspective will help give us context, inspiration, and confidence.
Research conducted within your team and organization will reveal a lot of great insights about how the place is actually functioning, and what your team thinks about ways to make things better.
Now, you need to get out of the building!
The best external sources of information are:
- Peers or leaders in your company
- Peers or leaders in your Industry
- Meetups and local events
In my experience, the last two are the easiest. So let’s start there. For anybody in creative operations, media management, or digital asset management, the premiere even to attend is Henry Stewart Conferences, held yearly in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Or the Creative Operations Summit in New York, sponsored by ConceptShare. If your focus skews toward Marketing, there is an even larger field of conferences to choose from.
What’s the best way to benefit from a conference? In my experience, just show up and see what happens.
Conferences are such great places to meet likeminded professionals find out what they’re doing. Not all your time will be spent in session — check out the lunch tables full of interesting people enjoying their sandwiches. What are you waiting for? Sit down and introduce yourself! Your goal is to find people who are facing challenges similar to yours — and it does not matter what industry they’re in. Get their contact information, connect to them on LinkedIn, and follow up in the days or weeks after the conference to pick their brain.
These peers can help you with:
- How did they identify their creative or marketing tech needs?
- What technology were they using before, and what are they using now? Why?
- Is creative collaboration a challenge? If so, have they done anything that has made it better since last year? What do they think their next steps will be?
- How is their department organized, and what are their pain points?
- How did they approach their managers about ideas for improving workflow and efficiency?
- Do they have any tips for how you might approach your managers about invest in new systems and technology?
In New York, I’ve attended Digital Asset Management meetups, Product Manager meetings, as well as Creative Operations breakfasts hosted by the very smart people at GlobalEdit. Sometimes there might be free food, or drinks! Not only will you learn from the show, you’ll also make new professional contacts.
Within your company — if you work for a large one, like I do — it’s easy to search the corporate intranet for titles and jobs similar to yours. I’ve made allies, and learned about new systems and workflows from my peers at sister networks. I’ve also made great contacts within the IT and MTS groups. The goal is to move out a layer or two from your immediate circle, and make friends there. The people closest to you are the leastlikely to have new information that you don’t already know.
To discover peers in other companies, LinkedIn is just fantastic. Search LinkedIn topics for content similar to your area of interest. For example, my search would be for terms like Creative Operations. Or start from the top — search a specific company and drill down until you find someone that looks like a good match.
Even someone working for direct competitor may be willing to talk about how they get the work done, and how they move things forward against all odds. They’ll talk even more if you take them to lunch. Go ahead and pay for it out of your own pocket if necessary — don’t let your company’s expense policy hold you back. You need to learn about other environments, how people and teams are organized, how they collaborate, and how things flow from conception through development into production and distribution.
You’d be surprised how receptive people can be when you just message them on LinkedIn or email them and ask for help — and they may even be in the same boat as you. If you’re lucky, you’ll strike gold with someone that has already been through everything, with war stories to share that you can learn from.
Of course you ARE taking notes from these meetings. Patterns and themes will start to emerge.
Your confidence and ability to speak to the issues will grow. And at some point you’ll be surprised by how far you’ve come in understanding the “bigger picture” of your situation — and articulate the challenges, needs, and your point of view.
Over the years, I’ve worked with or gotten to know a number of people who have become trusted advisors. They don’t necessarily know who they are — I don’t make a big deal out of it. But to myself, I think of them as my personal Advisory Council.
A final word on networking. The worst time to start networking is when you’re desperate — like when you’re looking for a job. A great time to network is when you need information. People are happy to make new acquaintances and share their expertise. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship! Keep in contact by sending occasional updates, or even a success story based on something specific you learned from them. Meeting for coffee, even just a couple of times a year, is enough to keep your network active.
Start networking, and hit the conference trail. Find out what your peers and other organizations are doing to mature their processes and systems. Remember to transcribe the notes from your interviews, along with your thoughts and observations.