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The Opportunities And Risks Of Creative Production Supply Chains

by Ralph Windsor on February 28, 2014

An article by Nish Patel, CEO of ConceptShare, discusses what his firm calls Creative Production Supply Chains.  It was published last month and has been on my list of items to cover for DAM News for a while now.  Part of the reason for the delay has been to allow me time to decide to what extent I could agree with the conclusions Nish reaches.  Overall, I think I do, but I can see some potential risks which I will cover later.  This is a quote which should indicate the nature of what Nish is proposing:

For example, Marketing at Company XYZ will hand off a creative brief to their agency, who will then assign the project to an account team that comes together on the fly (designers, copywriters) and they produce something that then needs to get reviewed by internal (product line owner, legal, other) and external (client, partner, other) stakeholders at Company XYZ….When you step back and look at it, the creative production supply chain involves coordinating, communicating and collaborating across a lot of resources to make sure that what needs to be delivered (one asset or thousands of assets) is being delivered in time to plug into campaigns…Without an efficient creative production supply chain, campaigns risk being left waiting for the required assets to show up, and opportunities are missed.” [Read More]

The thesis of his piece is that efficient production management techniques used in manufacturing or logistics supply chains can be applied to creative production (which means marketing collateral in the majority of  cases).  This idea isn’t completely new and has floated around MRM circles for a while now under the title of Marketing Operations Management.  Indeed, there was a period about a decade ago where MOM looked like it would trump MRM as the favoured term.  I hear MOM less these days, but that might be more down to my interests and the company I keep rather than any wider trends.

As both an idea and a description, I prefer Creative Production Supply Chain (despite the lack of a catchy three letter acronym) as it is better defined in terms of what the theory is supposed to represent.  We have discussed value chains at length on DAM News in the past and I can see where Nish is coming from; there are a number of similarities across both topics.  As he says in the article, the creative production process is going to be increasingly commercially obligated to become more efficient by sheer fact of the volume of assets that will be consumed and generated.

With all that being said, there are also some risks to those who apply this concept, especially as it relates to creative production in particular.  While there are process-oriented similarities between creative work and manufacturing, they are self-evidently quite distinct from each other.  In particular, the personalities of the people who decide to become factory managers, for example, as opposed to graphic designers (or even account handlers).  As with any efficiency initiative (DAM included) you discount the personalities and unique characteristics of your employees at your peril.

A big difference between manufacturing supply chains and creative production is the essential nature of what is being supplied.  With manufacturing, it is engineered product and there is a strong motivation to mechanise every element so you can remove human beings from the process as far as possible to assist with scaling up and saving costs.  With creative production, it’s the creative skills of those involved in the supply of the asset which is at the core.  Nish’s article points towards the argument that many assets now are segmentation-oriented variations around one original design (i.e. personalised to the recipient using a template plus data).  In that sense, this is plausible.  I suspect that a lot of creative output currently isn’t like that though and while it might be derivative, the creative staff involved are supposed to use interpretive skills (such as reading a brand manual) to deliver the required asset in a form that is acceptable to clients and/or managers.  Since the item being supplied is less homogenised, the process cannot be as generic.

Some care is required to ensure that in trying to reduce the cost of production that the output does not become excessively bland and formulaic or it will fail to resonate with the target market.  In manufacturing, you want consistency, in creative endeavours, you have to be more selective about what elements are consistent (e.g. branding compliance) and where the professionals involved are permitted to express themselves more freely.  It seems like it is essential to not lose sight of this fact, but there are risks that it might be if everyone involved is not fully conscious of them.

The second issue is the personality of those involved in the supply chain.  I know a few people in logistics and manufacturing (both professionally and personally) and irrespective of how far up the management food chain you go, all are highly process-oriented individuals who both like to plan things and also see others doing it too.  By contrast, the picture among my marketing friends and business associates is rather more mixed (and there is no clear difference on either agency or client side before anyone decides to raise that point).  Some share the predilection for planning and attention to detail that my manufacturing friends do, while others are your archetypal ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ types who veer from one crisis to the next.  Usually what keeps the latter in gainful employment is that they have that essential creative spark, ideas and enthusiasm which more than compensates for the havoc they wreak elsewhere.  In manufacturing, that kind of chaotic approach is unsustainable and even if those types of people did want to work in that field, they would not last long.  In creative industries, you still need some employees like that because their ideas have a currency which is of an equal or higher value than merely being efficient.

I should make it clear that the fact a creative team might have a few people on-board who might be a bit haphazard in their approach does not preclude this idea from being useful.  Just that there are higher risks that not everyone will adhere to a more formalised approach.  This would suggest that those implementing a creative production supply chain need a looser design that is more flexible and capable of adapting to changes than those used in logistics or manufacturing.  I think the value of a supply chain oriented model in creative industries is already proven, the next challenge is how to fine-tune and finesse the method so that it is more responsive to the challenges of the creative process – as it applies to everyone who is involved.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nish March 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Hi Ralph – thanks for much for your reply. And for correctly pointing out that the operating models of the manufacturing supply chain can’t be applied “as is” to creative production. Not always anyways.

What I am seeing in more and more creative organizations (agencies, global brand marketing groups) undergoing significant transformations. They are injecting their traditional creative DNA with a heavy does of operational DNA. Since last year we noticed a marked rise in the number of “creative operations” directors and executives being hired into marketing organizations; tasked with making their creative teams more “operationally efficient”.

And in the process developing an entirely new type of creative team. One where creativity doesn’t merely co-exist with “those operational guys”, but as one group I had a chance to visit with defined it they had “optimized so they could focus on creative.”

Just another indicator that how creative work gets done is changing and with it the emergence (or as you pointed out the re-emergence) and embracing of the creative production supply chain. Fascinating to see how Creative and Operations (traditionally oil and water) are starting to meld together.

Look forward to continuing this discussion as sharing observations from what I am seeing at agencies and global brands around the world.

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