Read time: 7 mins

Cultivating a Happy Creative Marketing Team

These days I spend most of my time building creative strategies, analyzing ad performance data, managing external partnerships, and directing a team of editors and designers. But there was once a time when all I did was create video ads. During that time I worked for some amazing bosses who helped shape my own managerial skills; I also worked for horrible bosses who drove my creativity to near extinction. Having experienced the worst scenarios first hand, I've done my best to avoid those pitfalls when building my own healthy and efficient creative teams.

As the leader of a creative team, your goal should be to successfully balance consistent output and creative stimulation. Maintaining this balance results in happy marketing teams and happy creative teams. Your pipelines will become better optimized and your campaign performance will likely improve as well. Let's explore how to achieve this equilibrium.

Understanding Creative Employees

Very few of my managers have actually come from a creative background. Most of them have been marketing managers. And even though creative and marketing go hand-in-hand, the two groups couldn't be more opposite. Marketers are highly analytical, data-driven minds who make financially-focused decisions based on spreadsheets and KPIs. Creatives are driven by emotion and innovation, typically making decisions based on their experiences, worldwide trends, and their own measures of quality.

Generally speaking, creative team members are happy when:
  • They have a reasonable level of creative independence
  • The "why" behind each project is made clear
  • Burnout is never a concern
  • There's an opportunity to be creative and try new things
Whether a video editor, graphic designer, motionographer, illustrator, or any other creative discipline, each creative team member is unique and has their own motivations, career drivers, and opinions. While these 4 bullet points above usually apply to most creative employees, it's always best to learn exactly what makes each member of your team happy. For this article, however, I'll be using these 4 points as a common benchmark.

One more note before I dive deeper into these points: Your creative team doesn't exist within a bubble. While it's important to keep your team members happy and creatively energized, you still have business objectives to accomplish. And since those objectives likely involve supporting your growth marketing team, let's go ahead and assume that a growth marketing team is happy when:
  • New creative assets are delivered at a frequent cadence
  • A reasonable amount of creative assets perform well
  • Creative performance is continuously improving
  • Creative is at the forefront of new trends and themes
The following paragraphs will also assume that the marketing team's expectations aren't flexible (because chances are they're not).

Creative Independence

People don't go into creative fields because they want to be told what to create; We thrive on being creative and it's where we do our best work. Unfortunately, editors and designers are often seen as just cogs in the creative machine, only there to churn out videos and graphics. But at the same time you're not just an art gallery - there are certain goals that must be accomplished.

I've found the most successful way to enable creative independence on my teams without sacrificing business objectives is to encourage frequent brainstorming sessions. Whether led by yourself, or led by one of your team members (highly suggested), setting aside time weekly or biweekly for your team to get together and be creative for an hour is a great way to foster independent creativity. It also shows team members that you trust their creative judgement.

It's incredibly important that you make these sessions actionable. Otherwise it may backfire entirely. This can be as simple as picking a few of the generated ideas and turning them into assignments - assigned to the person/people who developed the idea, of course. Years ago in one of my video editing jobs I was able to convince my managers to let me run monthly brainstorming sessions with the rest of the creative team. At first the team was ecstatic about the opportunity. But it didn't take long for us to realize that the ideas we generated would never come to fruition. Regardless of how many notes our managers jotted down, we never saw the ideas come back to us as assignments. Don't make this mistake unless you want to kill your team's enthusiasm and creative drive.

For maximum effectiveness, I suggest following these rules:
  • Minimum 1 hour, weekly or biweekly
  • Invite all team members regardless of role (designers, editors, copywriters, etc.)
  • Try to establish goals at the beginning of each session (such as develop concepts for upcoming holiday ads)
  • Encourage a no-ideas-are-off-the-table environment
  • Spend at least half the time looking at competitor creative
  • Spend the other half looking at your own creative
  • Nominate someone to take good notes (ideally your PM)
  • Turn at least 2-3 brainstormed concepts into new assignments
Not only is this exercise a nice break from the daily routine, but turning team-developed concepts into actual tasks helps check the creative independence box.

Clear Direction and Transparency

Traditionally, creative productions typically start with a creative brief and kickoff, providing plenty of information and context to the designers and editors involved. Unfortunately, it's difficult to justify this amount of pre-production planning in the fast-paced world of mobile UA creative. But this lack of transparency can quickly lead to apathy, distrust of leadership, and unhealthy workflows.

While proper kickoffs aren't always feasible, simply providing the "why" for each project can go a long way in keeping an editor or designer motivated. Not only does it give them more context for the project - which can be useful for problem solving - but it establishes a larger sense of project ownership. When you know why you're creating something, you feel responsible for a larger objective, which can catalyze in higher-quality work.

I find the easiest way to provide the "why" is to answer the following questions:
  1. What engendered this project and who are the stakeholders?
  2. Who is the target audience for this creative asset?
  3. How will success be measured?
This essentially boils down the traditional brief/kickoff process into an easily digestible format, while still being effective at empowering your creative team. And if you want to go a step further, following up a few weeks later to provide team members with performance data (even at a high level) is a great way of making them feel like their work is appreciated while also maintaining that sense of project ownership and pride in their work.

Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy to a healthy creative team. It can come in all shapes and sizes, but the most common cause is lack of creative outlet. All work and no play makes Jack a dull member of your creative team.

I've found the most reasonable and effective way to approach this problem is to manage projects on fixed cycles, allowing each team member to switch gears and tackle something refreshing before reaching their burnout threshold. When these cycles are balanced properly across your team, you'll be able to successfully drive consistent output while maintaining a healthy sense of creativity.

I like to base my project cycles on this simple structure:

This cycle breaks down into 4 easy phases:
  1. Assign a standard project
  2. Assign another standard project upon completion of the previous
  3. Assign a fun project upon completion of the previous, allowing the designer more control and creative freedom (perhaps something from your brainstorm sessions)
  4. Celebrate the success of the fun project
While the standard projects will always be a requirement of the job, the idea here is that the outside-the-box "fun projects" will act as a break in the routine for the designer, allowing them to refresh their creativity. The celebration of these projects (Phase 4) provides encouragement to the designer, giving them something to look forward to during the first 2 phases of the cycle.

This cycle won't be perfect for every creative team, but it can at least act as a starting point. Feel free to tweak this to your liking. As long as you ultimately balance the standard projects with excess creativity, you should have no problem avoiding burnout.

Opportunities for Creativity

The final ingredient for keeping your creative team happy is actually the easiest - so long as you follow the previous three:
  • Allowing for creative independence can directly lead to more opportunity for creativity
  • Providing transparency can give designers more data and context before starting a project, allowing for creativity to solve any problems that may arise
  • Giving team members control over frequent outside-the-box projects both helps avoid burnout and gives employees a chance to explore creativity
Of course, you can always go a step further. Every creative team will appreciate additional opportunities to flex their creative muscles. If budget allows, I suggest setting aside opportunities for extra creative tasks every month or so, giving team members a chance to go above and beyond (live action? 3D? exploring new tools?). This will contribute to the team's happiness and can even play into your career pathing strategies.

Finding ways to successfully balance consistent output and creative stimulation will also reflect on you as a leader. A happy creative team means higher quality work, faster output, and positive feedback from cross-functional teams. A win for your team is a win for you as their leader.

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