November 12, 2018 -

Improvising with Digital Tools is not a Strategy

Ad hockery

by Kevin Gepford

Great creative work can’t get produced without a great design team.

But success depends on a lot more than just those endpoints. It also hinges on how the great work gets produced.

I’ve always been interested in the middle part — the work-in-progress and the way the media is managed. A major facet of this is technological — what tech gets deployed, and how it’s managed, and ultimately used, by the creative team.

There are a couple of ways that a fail can happen. It might fail by neglect — by the organization ignoring the problem and doing nothing. But also, the organization might identify the needs but take the wrong action and end up with bad technology.

This post is about the first: Neglect.

(I’m not talking about desktop software tools like Adobe Creative Cloud. That’s standard stuff and in most organizations it’s more or less up to date.)

Getting this right takes a lot of work, and so many organizations just throw a couple of tools (a server and a subscription to DropBox) and call it a wrap.

But neglect won’t stop your creative team.

Your team will improvise. They’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done — reaching for something familiar and free, probably a consumer-grade service or sharing site using their personal account if necessary. For example, I’ve seen a professional team of video animators using Vimeo as a place to store their best work, just to have it all in one place where it can be shared, and later submitted for awards. And that’s just one of many examples I could share.

Ad-hoc tools might include:*

  • Email
  • Local media storage
  • FTP
  • Instant Message
  • DropBox
  • Google Drive
  • Vimeo
  • FaceBook
  • YouTube

Important media and information will end up scattered across a porous universe of disconnected silos — email, instant messaging, posting files to an FTP site, a user’s personal drop box or cloud storage, or a consumer-grade video sharing site.

The risks are plenty. What if records of your marketing campaigns are stored on an employee’s personal Google Drive or Facebook account… and that person leaves? What if nobody can remember where the final version of their project files are from a crucial project done six months ago that is now coming back for a second season?

There are a number of well-supported systems available that serve this problem space. Choosing the right provider and system is complex. If this work was easy, we wouldn’t have such a thriving industry of consultants dedicated to assessing the unique challenges and specific needs of your creative organization, and offering up their advice on what to do, and how to do it. On top of that, there’s another tier of consultants waiting in the wings to help out with the implementation.

One great way forward is to take those consultants to heart. Find a good one and let them come in and poke around your organization to get an idea of what you’re doing, and how you do it. Pay well for their sound counsel.

And consider that there is not and may never be one single digital tool to solve all the challenges facing the organization. But there are usage patterns and need themes that can be identified and met using strategic deployment of core tools.

Bottom Line:
Don’t leave it to chance. Organizations must develop a tech strategy based around the documented needs of their creative teams, supporting workflows with digital tools to optimize their work-in-progress and maintain control of their IP.

*Products/vendors mentioned here do not imply any endorsement.

September 19, 2018 -

The “Tech Stack” Trap

Summary: There are numerous ways that workers in today’s digital world wind up using the wrong tools and systems. But it all adds up to one thing: Their jobs are harder. There’s friction and lost opportunity along every step of the way, distorting not only the process, but also the outcomes.

I’ve been the dismayed observer of workgroups being gifted digital tools that are totally wrong for their jobs… and I’ve watched in amazement at the lengths these same users will go — out of frustration — to create clever hacks and workarounds.

My perspective comes from a career in the creative industry (here, and here) prior to moving over to tech/telecomm — but the problem pervades every industry.

One cause is a lack of structure… actually, no structure at all. Users confront a mess of scattered applications (email, spreadsheets, files on a network drive) that evolved and mutated over the ages. I jokingly call this a grassroots tech stack — cobbled together by people just trying to get through the day. Definitely not the result of any systematic approach.

Another cause might be a tool that simply has the wrong focus. Software systems acquired for some specific original purpose are then deployed across the enterprise in ways that would make even the creators of the system cringe.

Read more

July 31, 2018 -

Customer Experience and the Future of Design

Design’s role is changing with the times, and I’m seeing it first-hand as AT&T re-energizes its focus on Customer Experience.

Confession: After years as part of creative teams inside the entertainment industry, I know too much about how the sausage gets made. I know, for instance, that creativity can happen in a “design bubble” where ideas may get lightly vetted for whether the message is as clear, or effective as it should be.

I also know that creative teams are often aligned based on skillset — do you do video? social media? print? web? — and operate like independent kingdoms even at the Creative Director level. And if these teams don’t play well together, the work can splinter as the teams lose sight of the customer experience from a marketing perspective.

Then, the cracks start to appear.

This’ll show up when a network is launching a new program. When the commercial on television doesn’t look like the magazine ad doesn’t look like the website doesn’t look like any of the ads on third-party websites.

Read more

January 8, 2018 -

Rebuilding a Broken Digital Pipeline


After jumping in to salvage a crash-and-burn 80-hour product request, I spent six months reinventing a complex digital pipeline that spanned multiple creative and business units. With new processes, organizational change, and automation, the results were off-the-charts amazing.

Sometimes the Pipes Will Just Burst. Without Warning.

Last March I found myself halfway across the country buffing my brain at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. The conference was pretty much over for the day, and just as I was getting into happy hour… a panicked call came from the home office in New York.

My team had just received the Mother of all Job Requests — at the end of a grueling week producing digital marketing and web pages for a new iPad on Then, WHAM! Out of the blue, another device manufacturer decided to make a major product launch of its own — and my team was called back into action.

Read more

October 22, 2017 -

Me, talking about Digital Asset Management

I'm a DAM Champ

I’m a DAM Champ

I recently had a chance to share my thoughts on digital asset management, digital workflows, and creative operations technology with the great folks at Widen.

Digital Asset Management is where it all began for me. I installed my first DAM system more than 10 years ago, in my early days at Comedy Central. That experience sowed the seeds of a growing interest in technology that enables creative teams to thrive — especially tools that help production and creative workflows.

I’ve seen a steady proliferation of systems designed to meet a growing range of use cases. You don’t have to look any further than DAM and Creative Operations conferences — which are experiencing record-breaking attendance, combined with sponsor boom across many areas of specialization.

But even as these systems grow their capabilities and expand their reach, the glue that holds it all together is the foundational need to manage those digital assets in the first place.

You can find my interview on the Digital Asset Management blog — check it out.

Thanks to Melanie Olsen and Nora Gehin!

October 15, 2017 -

Conference Talks: Quick Wins in Creative Ops

It’s right around the corner — the Henry Stewart Creative Operations conference in LA. I’m coming back as a speaker, and I’ll be talking about “How to Succeed Fast”.

This is a very personal topic for me.

I can vividly remember when I was brand new to my current role… and the pressure was on to start making a difference. I started with an initial assessment of goals I could focus on — fast ways to make my mark, while studying and understanding the bigger picture. A roadmap emerged, and I was on my way.

Read more

August 26, 2017 -

Conference Talks: Tech Tools in Creative Ops

In just a few weeks the Creative Operations Exchange East conference comes to the Big Apple (Sept. 25-16, 2017).

I’ll be participating in a couple of ways. First, I’m on their Executive Roundtable on Day 1, talking about the state of the industry. I love the diversity on this panel — I’ll be sitting with Dickson Bueno from HH Global, and Carrie Roberts from The Body Shop, with moderator Gary Clinger from Workfront. Each of us is on the front lines, representing a wide range of experience and differing points-of-view.

Then, I’ll be sharing my point of view on digital tool selection, on Day 2. For anyone shopping for a digital tool or solution partner, it’s just overwhelming how many vendors and systems are out there offering a wide range of possible solutions. But the journey of a thousand vendors begins with a single… chart. I’ve got some fresh ideas for that first step — which I think will make for an entertaining and informative session.

Overall, you’ll spend two days with your peers gaining inspiration and discovering insights into collaboration, troubleshooting, solutions to pain points, process discovery and digital tools. These are challenges we all face. The format will be a combination of panels, presentations, and breakout sessions.

Engagement with your peers will happen in breakout discussions on the topics of our teams and people, processes, and technology. Seasoned creative operations leaders will set the stage and provide direction for focused conversations on each area of discussion.

Bottom line: This is about Finding your Tribe (thanks Nish Patel for that phrase). Such a great opportunity for learning and networking.

July 15, 2017 -

Killer Ops: The Tech Stack

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 This is About: Analyze your creative Tech Stack by studying your current needs and existing tools, and mapping your toolkit ecosystem.

Why it Matters: A Tech Stack Canvas is a powerful way to analyze your core needs and evaluate your digital toolkit, using four quadrants. This visualization will structure your thinking about the Tech Stack you need to thrive — helping with your decision-making and your business case when the time comes to fight for better tools.

Read more

June 2, 2017 -

Get Better Jira in 7 Steps

Take Control of JIRA

by Kevin Gepford

Quick question: If a task management tool was offered free for your creative group, yet it was anti-collaborative, punchlist-focused, provided no way to visually manage your work, and worst of all was profoundly ugly… if all these things were true, would you accept it?

Who am I kidding… of course not!

But haha this is a trick question — in the real world you might not have a choice. The tragic truth is that creative teams are often forced into using a massively inappropriate tool, chosen by the IT or business sides of the org without any thought to creative’s needs.

That tool has a name. And its name is Jira.

Read more

May 4, 2017 -

8 Top Takeaways from Creative Ops Conference

Top 8

by Kevin Gepford

Creative Operations is on a roll.

Even just five years ago the term “Creative Ops” was barely even a thing. But now it’s popping up all over the place — via online jobs postings and LinkedIn, and conferences are beginning to take notice. Just a couple of years ago Henry Stewart added a day-long Creative Ops track to its premiere digital asset management conferences. And this year, Insight Exchange got into the action with a dedicated 2-day event of its own.

This is an exciting trend, and it’s right up my alley.

Read more

April 1, 2017 -

Conferences: Creative Operations Exchange

Creative Operations Leadership is Essential

by Kevin Gepford

When I joined AT&T’s digital creative team in the fall of 2016, my job title included a couple of words that even four years ago you didn’t hear very much. Those words were “Creative Operations.”

Change has happened quickly. Creative Ops, as a management concept, is popping up on online jobs postings and LinkedIn. This is definitely a trend — more and more creative organizations are devoting strategic leadership resources to getting the work done smarter and better.

Read more

March 3, 2017 -

Killer Ops: Empathy Maps

Empathy Maps

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is Gleans the juicy parts from your interviews to show what challenges your team, and what they see, think, feel, and hear.

Why it Matters Brings home the pain and aspirations of the people you work with and shows you the things that your Future Creative Ops might be able to resolve.

You’ve done the same during your interviews and persona development — uncovering numerous pain points within your team. Product Managers put a lot of effort into learning more about their customers to glean insights about their pains, needs and problems. This brings focus to the development of their product or app.

Read more

January 18, 2017 -

Killer Ops: The Power of Personas

Power of Personas

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is: User personas are composite profiles that represent clusters of users.

Why it Matters: Personas humanize the key themes across our creative work group, while stripping out the distraction of real identities. Personas capture the needs and behaviors of the people in our team, and also help inform your department direction and strategy.

Our journey of applying the methods of Product Management to Creative Operations continues with personas. Every app developer on the planet does this. I’m using personas during my current development project to create a centralized workflow system for the digital marketing group at AT&T.

Read more

December 19, 2016 -

Killer Ops: External Interviews

Series - A Farther Look

by Kevin Gepford

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!

Read more

October 4, 2016 -

Killer Ops: Internal Interviews

Series - A Closer Look

by Kevin Gepford

What’s Special About Internal Interviews? The focus is inward — a deep dive with your team and people from the groups you serve and support.

Why Internal Interviews Matter These help us get a clearer picture of our team’s workflow, environment and needs.

There’s a ton of reasons why start-ups and new products fail. But a big one is a poor understanding of the market and the needs of the potential users. Creative Operations teams needs the same level of attention, and research, rather than just running on autopilot.

Read more

September 18, 2016 -

Killer Ops: Minimum Viable Product?

Series - Minimum Viable Product

by Kevin Gepford

How does Creative Ops define MVP? Validating an idea by identifying the smallest things that could be done to get results.

Why it Matters By starting small you test your ideas, as well as gain momentum, experience and credibility in your quest to make a bigger difference.

Product Managers talk about Minimum Viable Product as a way of building a prototype with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.

Read more

August 12, 2016 -

Data and the Power of DAM at Comedy Central

DAM at Comedy Central

by Kevin Gepford

Digital Asset Management at Comedy Central got its start as a grassroots initiative, and over the years had steadily grown in size and usefulness while never quite achieving institutional legitimacy.

One day I realized I was tired of explaining to our creative and business managers – every year – why investing in our Digital Asset Management system was so important. I needed to figure out how to present my case for DAM in a way that made sense to them.

Read more

August 2, 2016 -

Comedy Central Uses DAM to Find the Funny

DAM at Comedy Central

by Kevin Gepford

Digital Asset Management was one of my early initiatives at Comedy Central, and it’s remained one of my all-time favorite projects there.

Comedy Central’s DAM system was originally created by — and for — the print design team. The initiative started small, but it grew to serve additional teams across the larger creative workgroup. Over the course of a decade its reach eventually expanded to serve a broad swath of users across Viacom’s corporate enterprise — users who have come to depend on it for ready access to a collection of more than 50,000 of Comedy Central’s branded digital assets.

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July 13, 2016 -

Killer Ops: Your Business Model

Series - Business Model Design

by Kevin Gepford

What’s the Business Model Canvas? The Canvas is a one-page template that lays out both what you do, and how you go about doing it. It documents existing business models — or helps develop new ones — and provides a framework for you to design, challenge, invent, and change.

Why it Matters The canvas forces you to distill everything you do down to its essence — and create a document that visually explains it. The template works for businesses and start-ups, and also for teams and departments within larger organizations.

Read more

June 16, 2016 -

Killer Ops: SWOT Analysis

Series - SWOT

by Kevin Gepford

What’s SWOT?: SWOT analysis is a framework for doing research and formulating a business strategy. It analyzes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and can be applied to existing businesses, teams and departments, and new business ideas.

Why it Matters: This is essential for developing your group’s Value Proposition. Insights from your internal research are synthesized to map ways to improve operations, use resources more efficiently, and anticipate risks to your group and its success.

Read more