Clear lines of communication are critical for effective Creative Operations
Cristina Pandol is a career creative. Starting as a graphic designer, she quickly made the leap to creative direction, a role she’s now held for over a decade across multiple organizations, focusing on brand work in the entertainment world.
At the end of 2022, having just begun a new role as the Executive Creative Director for the legendary Golden State Warriors, Cristina spoke with us about creative operations, the challenges of defining a new role for the organization, and the most critical challenges of creative direction, regardless of organization or industry.
How do you define creative operations?
“Operations,” for me, is the logistics of getting from A to Z. So “creative operations” is just about providing that function for creative work. It’s a speciality, because creative work presents certain challenges. From my view, it’s really just: how do we get from the start, through execution, to the end?
When you're starting in a new environment, and you get to set everything up from scratch, what’s most critical to get right? How do you set up your creative operations function?
The most critical thing is to define clear lanes of communication. Especially in the beginning, but really all along the way, you always need to remind people. Many companies have Slack, Teams — this, that, and the other thing — and everyone has access different tools to give comments and tag people and email anyone involved in the project.
It’s hard to know what you should be communicating, on which platform, and when in the process. Oh, there was a feedback note? Do I search my email? Do I search Slack? My text messages? Especially when you’re digging into the backlog, it’s so confusing.
Usually all project submissions are done initially through email, then critiques and in-progress conversations internally are done on Slack or Teams. The most important thing is to clearly define the role of each of these comms channels, and set rules about how to use them. Consistency is key.
Stepping into a new role as a creative director, what are your KPIs? How do you define your goals?
This exact role has never existed before for the Warriors; the team that I now oversee was originally structured as separate teams. The long term goal is still being defined, because I'm just starting — there's a lot of institutional knowledge I still need to get up to speed on. But the clear goal for now is to establish a unified team from what was once separate teams with different workflows.
One of those original teams was a traditional creative services team. In other words, design ops or Creative Ops. Different organizations have different names and structures for a team like that, but here it was, graphic designers, motion graphic artists, copywriters; in my experience, a traditional creative services team.
Then there’s the content capture team. These are our on-site shooters and producers: people capturing what's happening at home and away games, as well as various events at Chase Center, outside of the Warriors.
The third piece was a more traditional post-production team. So video editors and producers, but not necessarily folks out there with boots on the ground. More so the editor-producer roles, and additional motion graphic artists. The thing is, these three teams were all in three different departments, and now they sit together under marketing.
My main goal and objective is to create consistency in this new team, where there used to be three separate budgets and sets of processes. How do we form one team from a culture standpoint, but also operate like one team, on a functional level? It’s difficult to put a KPI on that — how do you measure if the team is unified? It’s a binary yes or no goal.
You’ve never worked in sports, but now you're leading the creative vision for this major sports organization. Is the creative process the same, regardless of industry?
At the end of the day, sports is entertainment, and I have more than 10 years of experience in entertainment. I work and operate thinking, okay, how do we get butts in seats for opening weekend? Then, how do we get butts in seats for every game? Plus a few other one-off goals here and there.
Where the learning curve comes in is the team roster. Who's who? How are each of their brands different? But it’s a clear process to learn that.
A media day for the team is the same as a press junket for a film release; the similarities are many. Look: the headaches are the same regardless of industry, especially if you're talking about a non-agency setting. Creative agencies and advertising agencies function similarly, but different from in-house teams; most in-house teams will function similarly regardless of industry.
At the core, you’re servicing internal clients — other departments — who don't necessarily know how to work with creatives. It's a lot of internal education on how to work with the creative teams.
Is the job of a creative director to be the bridge between creative and the other departments, so the creatives can focus on the craft? Or does everybody just get pulled into the cross functional work?
Everyone gets pulled into it, to a degree. Inevitably, the communication lanes are crossed. Ideally a Creative Ops team has project managers that are really the face of your creative team, so that creatives can focus…but then sometimes things are lost in translation, or miscommunicated, or briefs are agreed upon that aren't actually possible. In that case, the stakeholder and your creative are both pulled into a meeting to clear things up, but you would want a project manager functioning as a mediator.
In actuality, that just doesn't always happen. But it’s alright in that everyone has the same goal: how can I stop worrying about this, or how can we wrap this project? Sometimes its just easiest to get everyone involved in the same room.
If you could invent a piece of technology that helps accelerate your creative process, what would it do? What’s the biggest headache?
There's a lot of software out there for communication; for organization; for designing, editing, and cutting. I don't think there's anything that's been done really well, really focused, for digital group critiques.
My biggest headache comes from people being like, ‘well, I wish we had visibility on this earlier. I wish we'd like been able to put in our input or our notes earlier, and it feels like it only happens in meetings.'
Oftentimes creative teams function like an assembly line. First, the designers create the brand. Then they hand it over to motion and graphic artists, who bring the brand to life and make it move. Then it moves to our production team, then suddenly the editors get everything at the end, and somewhere along the way there’s this disconnect. Your editors are like, ‘What's this? How do you want me to make sense of all of this?’
If I could have any tool, I’d want something that can really automate and consistently ensure that you can incorporate everyone, at every stop of the assembly line, at the beginning. I haven’t seen a way to do that besides just having a meeting with everyone who is going to be involved on a project, at the very beginning. And that’s costly, in terms of time and resources. I haven't seen something that helps facilitate that kind of consulting within a team.