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Creative ops versus design ops - where does digital asset management fit?

Content teams and designers are working in an accelerating world. But as demand and complexity ramp up, productivity and creativity are put at risk by poor processes. That’s where creative ops and design ops come in. But what are they, how can they help, and how does digital asset management complete the picture?

By: Lydia Bird

Over the past decade or two, something profound has happened to creative teams. Where once they designed or wrote for print or the web, now they produce content for a rapidly accelerating world of different digital channels and devices. As brands become broadcasters, communicators and listeners, the demand for quality content – in multiple edits and formats – is massively driving up complexity in the creative process.

And that’s a problem. While creativity thrives on the exchange of ideas, it’s hard to get it to scale. Build a creative team; task them with multiple, overlapping projects; ask for multi-channel outputs, personalisation and agility; and before you know it you’ve got complexity, high management overheads and the risk that standards and controls will break down. Worse still you’ve got a team of unhappy creatives, sick of being bogged down in admin. According to Imagen’s 2021 Marketing Tech Report:

● 29% of UK-based marketing professionals (24% in the US) report they don’t have enough time to be creative
● 19% of UK respondents said most of their time was spent on admin tasks.
● 58% of those surveyed (85% in the US) are spending more time outside of normal working hours catching up on non-admin parts of their role

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of more admin and confusion, creatives could be free to focus on their work? That’s exactly what’s driving the rise in design operations and, more recently, creative operations (ops). So what are they, how can they help you, and where does digital asset management (DAM) fit in?

Design ops vs creative ops

In the most simple terms, creative ops take on the ‘process’ in creative process, leaving creatives to do what they’re best at. Operations staff are focused instead on building and maintaining the workflows that keep creative teams efficient and productive.

From project briefings, through production management, to delivery; ops work to coordinate creative workers, and to channel communications between clients, internal stakeholders and creative teams. Design ops have much the same role in supporting and optimising the work of design creatives.

In many ways, both ops offer a specialised kind of project management. However, rather than managing specific projects, the ops team instead has responsibility for the everyday workload and output of the design or creative team. Above all, these roles are about protecting designers and creatives from the admin workloads that can choke creativity, such as:

● Email and phone calls
● Meetings/video conferences
● Writing pitches/proposals/reports
● Workload planning and scheduling
● Searching for files
● Sharing or delivering content to clients
● Archiving completed projects

Creative ops and design ops ensure that teams function smoothly in an increasingly complex and challenging environment.

Everything automatic

This complexity is one of the defining challenges for modern creative teams. In a world where words, images or videos might be emblazoned on a 4K monitor, or crammed onto a 6” phone screen, it’s no longer good enough to knock up one definitive version of each asset. Add in the different tone, length or format you need for different digital channels, and there may be ten or more versions of, say, each banner logo or product shot.

Employees need help. Research from Econsultancy’s Digital Trends 2021 survey revealed that “41% of design and content practitioners are so tied up in workflow issues they simply don’t have the space to create.” Producing original photos, illustrations or video is still a skilled creative process. But with today’s technology, it’s easy to design an automated media processing workflow that, for example, transcodes a video into the different formats and resolutions you’ll need for different digital platforms.

But what then? Automation needs to extend beyond the creation of yet more creative assets. It needs to ensure those assets end up stored where they can be found. In some cases, it might extend to distributing or publishing those assets, taking more of the admin away from busy humans.

In fact, you can do all of that with digital asset management, but its creative advantages don’t end there. DAMs play a fundamental role in helping automate, streamline and organise modern creative workflows. As the central repository and single source of truth for creative production, they can save time, reduce costs, improve collaboration and underpin enhanced quality controls.

According to stats gathered by Instapage, “business owners, executives, and marketers say that the biggest benefit of marketing automation for them is saving time at 30%.”

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How does a DAM help?

Imagine this. Instead of files going missing from a creaky server, a safe and orderly store where creatives can find what they need. Instead of sharing assets via dodgy file-sharing services, a controlled and secure distribution framework that protects your IP. And instead of time and money wasted recreating lost resources, no lost resources. That’s the fundamental difference that a digital asset management platform like Imagen Go makes to the creative process.

A DAM provides a platform for smoothly flowing creativity through a mix of tools and features. Fundamentally, DAMs offer a secure data store for digital assets – be they designs, photos, video or marketing materials. Protected by encryption and granular access controls, assets are available only to the people creating or using them. Support for rich metadata allows for powerful organisational and search features – less time lost to searching, and no more assets going missing.

DAMs help creative ops streamline and simplify the most complex content production processes. During the creation of assets, DAMs can help implement version control, and support the feedback, review and approval processes. Through features like scheduled access they can help implement embargoes. By storing assets with metadata describing their licence, release form or approval status, they can help ops ensure that unfinished or unapproved content never sees the light of day.

A digital asset management platform can revolutionise workflows based on sharing and collaboration. Cloud-based DAMs like Imagen Go eliminate all the headaches of trying to transfer media files between teams, freelancers and homeworkers. Instead of ad-hoc file sharing through services like Dropbox, the DAM provides secured and centrally controlled access. The stakeholders get what they need, while creative ops can ensure nobody else does.

But wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly extend access to, say, the new video agency you’ve hired? Features like project sharing, along with team-based access controls, give you the flexibility to quickly reshape workflows around changing resources.

Plunder the archive

DAM platforms can help deliver multiple cost and efficiency savings. Aside from the substantial time savings of smoother sharing, workflows and asset retrieval, a DAM helps ensure that creative assets and source material can be found and reused.

Think about all the interviews, staff photos, design elements and other assets sitting in your archive. Now imagine that instead of gathering digital dust, they’re being reused and repackaged, helping increase their value, and driving down the time and costs of bringing new ideas to market. A DAM helps creative ops build and manage archival processes that increase ROI, rather than just providing a dumping ground for old content.

In truth, we’ve only scratched the surface of how DAMs can drive efficiency, accelerate workflows and bring order to creative and design teams. For creative teams and staff they’re a simple way to help share, collaborate and organise work. For creative ops they’re an essential foundation for the organisational improvements, integrations and automatic processes that you need to make content delivery scale.

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