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Creative Ops

What does “successful creative collaboration” even mean? We interviewed 20 marketers to find out

August 31, 2022 · 10 min read

The digital market for consumer attention is hot, and it’s only getting hotter. It takes the average consumer 5-7 impressions to fully recognize a company brand — let alone consider a purchase. What does this mean?

Essentially, every company now has at least two products: 

  1. Their core offering

  2. Branded media assets

You must adopt the media company mindset if you want to break through and create a lasting connection with customers. Successful creative collaboration is the unsung hero of this sustained brand recognition. It’s the process of marketers, creatives, and partners working together to distribute media assets across social, web, and even good, ol' fashioned, traditional ad space. 

But cracks inevitably form in that workflow as your business grows. More media assets mean more marketers, creatives, and freelancers — more cooks in the kitchen. 

To make matters worse, research from Stanford shows creative collaboration is especially hard for remote and hybrid businesses. Teams from these organizations reportedly produce 15-20% fewer creative ideas than their in-person counterparts. 

Keeping the content engine running smoothly is difficult at scale, but critical for sustained growth in a mobile-first world. Intentional collaboration practices are how you grease the wheels. 

Too busy creating media assets? Here’s a TL;DR:

  • Brands now compete for consumer attention with businesses, influencers, and everyday social media users — basically anything consumers can do on their phone or computer

  • To stay relevant, every company now needs at least two products: 

  1. Their core offering

  2. Media assets

  • But the workflow that produces these media assets is built on creative collaboration that’s difficult to optimize — especially for remote and hybrid organizations

  • We interviewed 20 founders and experienced marketers to find out what they believe is the key to successful creative collaboration:

  1. 35% say clearly defined goals 

  2. 25% say an encouraging, safe environment

  3. 20% say open communication and strong rapport

  • Some other nuggets of gold mentioned by our marketing experts include:

    • Prioritizing cross-department transparency 

    • Maintaining a sense of levity and humor

    • Agreeing on a common narrative

  • Successful creative collaboration also requires the right tools in your tech stack. Learn more about a Creative Ops system and why Air is the top option

The never-ending journey that is creative collaboration

Collaboration is the interpersonal throughline of the modern creative workflow. It’s the practice of relevant stakeholders working together to develop content. It’s the sweet spot where the X’s and O’s of digital marketing meet the art of creative production.

Display ads, TikTok videos, blog infographics, and all other media assets your company needs to grab attention rely on collaboration between creatives and marketers.

But for such an integral part of modern marketing, effective creative collaboration is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maintain. Imbalance in the process is a common source of friction between marketing and creative teams.  

Senior marketers, creatives, and founders from successful companies all have experience navigating this procedural gray area. Unfortunately, their expertise is hardly ever articulated, let alone written down. Their insights exist as institutional muscle memory that’s prone to injury. 

To help strengthen your department’s process, we hit the digital streets in search of an answer to the following question:  

“What’s the key to successful creative collaboration with your team and partners?”

Let’s get into it. 

Method to the madness: keys to creative collaboration from top marketers and founders

Every company has a unique workflow tailored to its industry, personnel, and organization. But underneath these surface-level differences, they all involve the same thing: marketers, in-house creatives, freelancers, and PMs working together to navigate the creative process

So, we surveyed 20 founders and top marketers to find out what the key to success is for marketers, creatives, and other partners as they work together on media assets. The graph below shows the high-level distribution of their answers:

Breakdown of the main force marketers say drives successful creative collaboration
Breakdown of the main force marketers say drives successful creative collaboration

For clarity’s sake, we selected the driving factor from each expert answer to place them in a single category. Of course, achieving successful creative collaboration comes from a mixture of the practices we identified (and probably a few that we didn’t). Many of our respondents said as much. 

But there’s value in identifying what they believe is the main contributor to success in this process. 

To sprinkle a little qualitative insight on this quantitative exercise, the sections below contain the full quote from some of the expert respondents. 

35% say clearly defined goals are key to successful creative collaboration 

It’s no surprise that 7 of our 20 experts believe clearly defined goals are the key to successful creative collaboration. Without tethering the creative process to a set of roles, deliverables, KPIs, or OKRs, marketing teams risk getting bogged down by scope crawl, redundancies, and  other costly miscommunications. 

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If you're not communicating right, you'll quickly run into misunderstandings and conflicts that would only delay or even prevent your team from achieving your project goals. From the very start, make sure everyone is clear about the objectives, responsibilities, and each other's progress so everyone is on the same page.

Darren Litt, Co-founder of Hiya Health and MarketerHire

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If you want to be able to interact with your team and partners in a positive way, everyone involved needs to confidently and clearly articulate their expectations of one another. As a business founder, you need to be clear about what you're looking for from each one of your employees. Ensure that the roles and responsibilities you’ve allocated to them are well-defined and reasonable. Consistently communicate expected deliverables, requirements and expectations. In turn, you need to listen to their expectations of you, and meet them accordingly.

Chris Roth, Founder and CEO of Highline Wellness

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For me, the important keys to creative collaboration are shared context and alignment on goals. Being clear with what “good” looks like. Also, being precise with communication and feedback and tying those back to the shared brief and goals, in an effort to take as much subjectivity out of the equation.

Heather Adams, Head of Marketing at Air

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Regardless of whether you’re a digitally native startup in the wellness industry or an established software company looking to improve brand awareness, the first step to asset development is clearly defining the goals. 

25% say an encouraging environment is key to successful creative collaboration

Five of our respondents were adamant that marketers and creatives need to feel empowered to collaborate effectively. 

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One way to improve creative collaboration is by using brainstorming techniques that encourage all team members to contribute their ideas. Additionally, it can be helpful to establish ground rules for the brainstorming session, such as not judging ideas and allowing everyone to share their thoughts freely. Finally, it's important to make sure that everyone feels heard and valued, which can help create a more positive and productive environment.

Brian Lim, Founder of INTO THE AM and iHeartRaves

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I would say the key is to make sure everyone feels they're in a safe space when they're collaborating. Nobody is going to feel they can open up and get creative, which might include off the wall or 'bad' ideas, if they feel they're going to be judged or criticized by their peers. Nothing stifles a creative collaboration session more than anxiety over how your ideas will be perceived!

Robin Nichols, Content Lead at 360Learning

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The key to good collaboration is to understand who we are trying to reach and then understanding how teammates prefer to collaborate. For example, personally, I’m not a fan of throwing post-it notes on the table and saying, ‘Ready, set, go, collaborate! NOW!’ Let’s create space to think about the problem and then bring it together to brainstorm further. Also, remember to build on ideas. Don’t just strike down ideas that seem ‘bad’ but use them to brainstorm to get to better ideas.

Christoph Trappe, Director of Content Strategy at Voxpopme

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Fostering an environment where your team feels empowered to express themselves will pay creative dividends down the road. A few ways to accomplish this are: 

  • Encouraging team-wide participation during brainstorming

  • Fostering a safe, judgment-free space for sharing ideas

  • Building off “bad ideas”  instead of dismissing them

Basically, they’re saying: 

More Little Miss "Let's Run With That," less Mr. "Lets get serious for a second" — that's collaboration!
More Little Miss "Let's Run With That," less Mr. "Lets get serious for a second" — that's collaboration!

20% say rapport and open communication are key to successful creative collaboration

Collaboration can’t occur without communication. Lots of it. Four of our expert respondents believe that maintaining open communication is key. 

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In my experience, it's all about building a rapport and maintaining open communication. When you can connect with the people you're working with on a personal level, it's easier to collaborate effectively.

Here are a few tips for building better rapport and fostering more productive collaboration:

1. Get to know your team members and partners on a personal level. Doing so will help you understand their work style and how they like to communicate.

2. Be transparent with your communication. This will help build trust and respect. Co-workers are more likely to listen to and act on suggestions when they know where you're coming from. Likewise, feedback should always be given with the intention of helping to improve the situation.

3. Respect each other's time and schedules. If you know you won't be able to make it to a meeting or event, let the person know as soon as possible. And if you're running late, give them a call to let them know.This will help avoid frustration and misunderstandings. 

4. Keep your lines of communication open. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page. A good way to stay in communication is to create a group chat or use a messaging app like Slack or Skype.

5. Be flexible and willing to compromise. Finding common ground allows team members to reach an agreement more easily. In cases where interests directly conflict, emphasize the importance of the team goal over any individual objectives.

Ben Rollins, Co-Founder of Axon Optics

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When it comes to creative collaboration, effective communication is key. This means being able to share ideas openly, give and receive feedback constructively, and reach consensus when necessary.

Will Yang, Head of Growth at Instrumentl

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“Open communication” sounds like an unhelpful catchall on its own. But looking at the sentiment behind these quotes clears up the picture. Successful creative collaboration is built on consistent, candid, and constructive communication — from collective ideation to constructive feedback.

A few extra nuggets of gold

The majority of our respondents believe that either clearly defined goals, encouraging environments, or open communication are key to successful content production. These are important process validations for marketing managers looking to strengthen their workflow. But there’s value to gain from the outliers as well. 

Here’s what some of our other experts had to say on the key to successful creative collaboration:


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The most important (if I had to pick) would be transparency. Understanding what challenges our customers might face comes from having access to what each team is working on and active communication from teammates on all teams. For example, Customer Advocacy may point out that customers complain about a lack of inspiration for their TikToks, so we add "X Creative TikTok Ideas for Your Next Post'' to the content calendars.

Tamilore Oladipo, Content Writer at Buffer

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Humor and levity:

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The ability to goof around. You should not all be so tight and serious about the task. You must learn to step back and goof [around] for a few minutes to ease the stress. I would want to work with people that are casual and relaxed. It may seem that I do not take things seriously, but it allows people to work more creatively and divergently.

Tyler Garns, CEO @ Box Out Marketing

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Narrative alignment:

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The key to creative collaboration between partners and clients is agreement on the desired narrative. Once you have alignment on the story, it's just a game of having an idea exchange where one team's experience is being met with another team's experience to create a story. This story only exists if two different viewpoints come together harmoniously to show something interesting to your ideal audience. This is the same way collaboration is done in music, art, movies, and film. You have to combine different viewpoints and perspectives rooted in their expertise, knowledge, and experiences to unlock the beauty of creativity and storytelling today.

Ross Simmonds, CEO of Foundation Marketing

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Facilitate successful collaboration with a creative ops system

Creative collaboration is all about interpersonal relationships, so the focus on communication strategies by our participants is natural. But we live in an online world, which throws another important variable into the mix: digital platforms. 

Creative collaboration now happens between marketers and creatives who may live on opposite sides of the country (or even the globe). The ever-growing company tech stack attempts to bridge the divide, but creates additional layers of administrative busywork. 

The keys to collaboration outlined above are great for improving the creative process within a business, but they can’t overcome structural limitations in the workflow on their own. 

Air is created to specifically address these limitations. It’s a system that translates the chaos of creativity into a streamlined workflow. Check out our manifesto today to learn how a creative ops system can transform your essential media operations.

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