I often consider it a perk of my job that I am constantly surrounded by and engaged in creative work. How many professionals can say that they go to work and get to write compelling content, interview interesting people, and produce unique films? But as enjoyable as the work can be, moving each new piece through the creation process comes with plenty of challenges. Marketing leaders have to content with wrangling stakeholders, meeting aggressive deadlines, and preventing creator burnout.
How can marketing managers whose companies are producing content on a mass scale maintain a healthy environment that encourages innovation—while also meeting the demands of deadlines, departmental partners, and quarterly KPIs? If you want to hit your goals without running your team into the dirt, you need a system in place that guards against creative burnout and ensures your brand never runs out of stories to tell.
Image attribution: Brad Neathery
Creativity is like confidence or love: we know what it is, but defining it is really difficult. Still, we don’t have to fully understand the nature of creativity to be able to encourage it in our teams. Marketing leaders should keep in mind three essential elements.
How can large companies make each of these elements a regular part of their own creative operations?
Time is perhaps one of the hardest things to give to your creative team, simply because it’s often out of our control. But understanding that time is tied so closely to creative success is essential. “My best tip for managing creative projects is simply to listen to my body, and feel how much I can take,” explains senior art director Lise Skovsted Larsen. “If someone gives me a day to manage what should have been done in five days, I push back and say it’s unrealistic. Otherwise, in the long run, I’m going to break down.”
Image attribution: Cristina Gottardi
You may not always be able to give your team all the time in the world, but you can give them the support to use the time they do have effectively. An editorial calendar that anchors your content operations gives creators as much lead time on upcoming projects as possible. It also helps communicate deadlines more consistently, so no member of your team feels hit with a sudden surprise.
Build out workflows and a robust content pipeline to allow you the space to grant creators a later deadline in certain situations. Being able to occasionally request additional time is a huge stress reliever and prevents teams from rushing content and delivering sloppy results. An open dialogue about why an extension is needed can also reveal systemic stressors that might be driving team burnout—before they become a massive issue.
Properly managing time can help prevent cases where you drain your team’s creative reserves, but you’ll still need something in place to help your creatives replenish their imaginative energy.
This is where stimulation comes in. Lots of businesses bend over backward trying to drive inspiration for their teams but meet with middling results. This is because inspiration is hard to control and particular to the individual. Some of us come up with great ideas while enraptured by beautiful landscapes and impressive spaces; some of us have strokes of genius in the shower. Rather than trying to force inspiration through compulsory activities, building systems of self-directed stimulation can drive much better results.
There are plenty of examples of businesses with programs to encourage their employees to find creative fulfillment. Google famously lets employees dedicate 20 percent of their time to researching and developing side projects. In a more conventional approach, many businesses encourage employees to choose conferences to attend or to seek out professional development opportunities. Offering an element of self-directed exploration lets creatives follow the paths that fulfill them best and in return may reveal more opportunities for marketing collaborations.
The last piece to the creative productivity puzzle is a sense of team safety. Producing and sharing work for critical feedback can be an immensely taxing process. Compound that stress by repeating it at a weekly or even daily cadence, and you have a recipe for pushing creatives to the limit.
Managers have to strike a careful balance. Critique is your best opportunity to address pain points in your contributors’ work, while also pulling content through the rounds of revision necessary to meet stakeholder requirements. On the other hand, critique that is too harsh or frequent keeps contributors from taking risks and can eventually cause them to burn out from the stress.
There are a few productivity tips that can help you combat negativity in the editorial process. The first is to aim to create a sense of psychological safety within your team during revision conversations. Simply put, the idea of psychological safety is to ensure that your team is a space where ideas and communication can be shared freely without fear of derision or repercussion. The practice has caught on in management circles over the past decade and has been proven to improve productivity dramatically while reducing employee stress.
Image attribution: DESIGNECOLOGIST
Additionally, seeking out ways to turn critical discussions into two-way conversations can go a long way towards making the process more fruitful for your creatives, while also giving you a useful feedback loop to improve your own management processes. Overall, combining direct feedback with expectations of respect and conversation will improve team communication and long-term productivity.
While creating content is extremely fun and rewarding most days, it also comes with the difficulties of never being “one size fits all.” Productivity tips like these can help point your team in the right direction, but your eventual creative support policy should reflect the specific working styles and needs of your creatives.
Defend your team’s need for time and fight for flexibility where it’s needed. Enable your creatives to pursue creative stimulation both within and outside of their regular workload. And throughout it all, guarantee a level of open communication and mutual respect so that even your hardest editorial discussions become welcome conversations.
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Featured image attribution: Hernan Sanchez