To leaders of creative teams: it’s time to nix obstacles and unleash creativity

A black and white photo of someone illustrating

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to fellow creatives over the last year—from mingling with (and presenting to) thousands of creatives at Adobe MAX, to interviewing creative leaders for a mini-documentary about dealing with digital influx, to working on the newly released Workfront 2020 Global Marketing Report.

Across the board, we hear a remarkably consistent story from creative professionals of all types. Whether they specialize in design, digital marketing, videography, or content creation, marketers believe their greatest strength is the ability to think and act creatively.

And what percent of the workweek are marketers and creatives spending on the high-value work they were hired for? Just 19%.

You read that right. The rest of their time is eaten up by excessive meetings and emails, administrative and manual tasks, interruptions, and data expeditions, i.e., hunting through system after system to find the right version of the right file. Meanwhile, knowledge workers in general spend at least twice that much time (an average of just 40%) performing the primary duties of their jobs, according to six straight years of data from Workfront’s State of Work research.

Creatives worldwide keep using words like distraction, burnout, pressure, overwhelm, influx, inundation, backlog. And that was before the arrival of a once-in-a-century global pandemic that has exposed and exacerbated existing fault lines. Now we’re hearing terms like furloughed and laid-off to describe the current state of creative teams. The work landscape just got rougher, and marketers are feeling the pain more than most.

As we continue to navigate a new normal, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my conversations with creatives to help shift the narrative to one where they feel empowered and valued. First, I’ll share a list of creatives’ top pain points, gathered from surveys, interviews, and conversations with marketers of all stripes. Then I’ll share enterprise work management best practices that will help leaders navigate the digital influx and get their teams back on the path to greater creativity.

Your creative team’s biggest pain points.

When it comes to creative team frustrations and challenges, here’s what I keep hearing, over and over again, supported by stats from our Global Marketing Report:

  1. We spend more time managing projects than being creative. (Creatives spend just 19% of their time on their highest value work.)
  2. We don’t have the right team structure in place to scale and take on more work.
  3. We don’t have a seat at the table or a voice with leadership.
  4. We’re overwhelmed and distracted by too many digital tools. (On average, marketers use 8 different tools to manage their work.)
  5. We can’t easily collaborate across teams and stakeholders.
  6. We don’t have a single place for managing all of our work. (85% of creatives say they need to do a better job of integrating key systems.)
  7. We don’t always understand what the top priorities are. (72% of marketers say a lack of visibility into work slows them down.)
  8. We struggle to prove our value to the company.

Alleviating these pain points and empowering your creatives to create more is a win-win: a win for your people, who long to practice the artistry you hired them for, and a win for your business, which relies on high quality creative work to achieve its top-tier goals.

Alleviate pain points and change how work gets done.

Let’s dive into how platforming work and applying enterprise work management best practices can alleviate your team’s pain points:

1—Revamp your team structure: a studio manager can help you manage less and create more.

The studio manager (i.e., project manager, work manager, etc.) is the keystone of every creative team. Without one, the work management responsibility falls on the wrong shoulders—or many shoulders. Designers suddenly find themselves tangled up in project management roles.

Studio managers hold all the components of the creative team together, from copy to video. They’re stewards of your brand. They’re experts at building and maintaining relationships. If you have a work management platform, they’ve mastered the ins and outs. Studio managers help your team manage (and scale) project intake, direct work traffic to the right resources, and, most importantly, free your designers up to spend more time creating and less time project managing.

Pain points alleviated: #1, #2, #7

2—Reserve a seat at the leadership table and give your team a voice.

Does your company value its creative strategy above director level? If not, why is that?

Apple had famed designer Jony Ive as its Chief Design Officer from 1996-2019. Boeing has Wayne Barringer as ECD & Director Creative Services. T-Mobile has Peter DeLuca as Senior VP of Brand and Advertising. Design-driven enterprises respect the nature of creativity to support their brand and are willing to test those ideas before pushing them into the wild.

Being design-led means putting the customer front and center. At Workfront we continually obsess over our customers, spend time with them in their environments, and know them by name. Being design-led is much more than just inserting the word ‘brand’ into your conversations. It’s giving creative a seat at the strategy table and empowering that cross-functional work to take place. Creatives aren’t there solely to make things look and sound good—85% of marketers surveyed in the Global Marketing Report said their top priority is providing value to the bottom line.

To build a more design-driven culture, start by making sure your creative team is involved at the outset of every project—not after strategic decisions have already been made. Build that involvement into the agreed-to workflow. Then continue to shift your mentality from creatives-as-task-takers to creatives-as-strategic-business-partners. This doesn’t have to be limited to how a company markets to their audience, but also why the company exists in the first place. There is a layer of storytelling in design that marries powerfully well when talking about the ethos of a company.

Pain points alleviated: #3, #5, #8

3—Use a centralized work management platform that connects all work, integrates apps and systems, and lets your team work their way.

Miscommunication is a big source of stress for creative teams. A big culprit of that miscommunication? The influx of digital collaboration tools that are better at distracting us than helping us. The majority of marketers (75%) agree that the number of tools they use to simplify their work actually makes work more complicated, according to the Global Marketing Report.

Be intentional about the communication channels and digital tools your team uses. Align your team around the best uses for each digital tool. There’s a time for Slack. There’s a time for email. And there’s a time for face-to-face (or maybe even voice-to-voice, via a good old-fashioned phone call). Use the right tool at the right time.

Consider integrating digital tools with a single platform capable of managing all aspects of your work, which minimizes the digital chaos and maximizes the chances for effective communication. An enterprise work management platform is a creative team’s collaborative canvas: one centralized place to see all work. But just 39% of marketers surveyed currently have such a solution. The rest use either:

I’m not suggesting one-size-fits-all solutions here. It’s essential to remember that your chosen platform should be your servant, not your master. It should be flexible enough to accommodate each team’s unique processes and creative workflows. They should empower your creative team to work the way they want to work, without disrupting their preferred creative toolkit. Workfront, for example, offers Adobe integrations that allow designers to submit work, update progress, and track tasks without ever leaving their favorite native design applications.

Pain points alleviated: #1, #4, #5, #6, #7

4—Give process (and templates) a chance: iteratively plan and prioritize to improve collaboration and visibility across teams and stakeholders.

Just as creative deserves a voice at the outset of new work, creative team partners and stakeholders deserve to be involved throughout the creative process—to have visibility into how work is progressing.

When the Global Marketing Report asked about marketers’ top frustrations, the top answers (after lack of resources to handle growing workloads) all had to do with cross-team collaboration and visibility:

To alleviate these frustrations, iterate with stakeholders and partners early and often. Share your direction at regular intervals vs. creating things for stakeholders to react to. Make creative work a two-way dialogue, from beginning to end. This iterative approach to work breeds collaboration by making sure clients and stakeholders are part of the creative journey throughout the lifecycle of work.

The creative brief is a really important tool for facilitating collaboration. For Workfront’s creative team, it’s our bible. At the start of a new project, build the brief together: creatives, stakeholders, and partners doing the hard work together up front. The benefits of a creative brief are stronger relationships, more collaboration, and better outcomes.

Pain points alleviated: #3, #5, #8

5—Connect your team’s work to company strategy and drive decisions with data to prove your value to the company.

Use an enterprise work management solution to gather and share insights about the work that’s being done on your team. Put the focus on your people and the things only people can do, showing how tech tools support and empower them. The more you can connect your team’s work to company goals, the more you’ll create an atmosphere of unity and trust throughout the company—a sense that we’re all truly on the same team.

Connecting strategy to delivery will also help you earn more respect from senior leadership. Designers, writers, videographers, and campaign managers all care deeply about helping achieve key organizational objectives. The third most cited frustration in The Global Marketing Report was “insufficient visibility into project status and productivity and how marketing affects the bottom line.” This answer ranked two places higher than “no time to be creative.” Let that sink in for a moment, if you’ve ever doubted where your marketers’ true priorities lie.

Pain points alleviated: #1, #7, #8

In pursuit of zen, change how creative work gets done.

Now more than ever, the world needs our creativity. The human element we bring into our work as marketers or creative professionals is invaluable.

As you strive to alleviate your team’s pain points and transform how you collaborate, manage, and report on your work, you’ll position your team as a strategic problem solver that contributes meaningfully to the company’s bottom line—not just a doer of tasks. Not only will this bring more value to your team, it will also help you build stronger relationships organization-wide, opening doors that allow great work to happen.

And with that never-ending digital influx tamed by better practices, processes, and a platformed approach to work, your teams can get back to doing what they do best: create.