Mejuri’s Eve Maidenberg on the purpose and evolution of creative operations
This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.
You’ve held many marketing and creative roles, from Creative Director to Chief Marketing Officer. Now you work in creative ops — what does it mean to hold that kind of role?
My background is very broad, so I can speak the language of all of the players in the creative process. I understand the pain points because I've lived them.
I went to art school and started my career in graphic design and advertising. At the time, “design thinking” hadn’t taken over. What we learned was essentially how to solve complicated problems using visual media — and that’s what I did, working my way up through progressively larger agencies in New York.
I started as a designer, spent about five years at Digitas, and worked my way up from an art director role to a creative director role there. In my time at Digitas, I learned how to make things that resonate; how to see a concept through the creative process into the world and make sure it performed as intended.
When my daughter was born, I decided I was done working in the agency world. I started my own end-to-end marketing creative company. It was just me and a variety of freelancers I’d bring in as needed. At the previous agencies, we tended to work with major clients — running my own company, I worked with all small businesses, which taught me so much. A small business’ needs were so different from a large business, even when they seemed similar.
I jumped around a few more times over the years, always learning new skills in new roles — how to work with legal as a creative team working on pharma projects at an agency, for example — and then I interviewed at Stitch Fix. During the interview process, I realized I didn’t want to work only in creative or marketing, I wanted to work at the intersection. I love bringing creatives and business people together to drive greater business impact. I hadn’t interviewed for a creative operations position, but that’s what I ended up getting hired for.
Over my six years at Stitch Fix, I built the creative ops function from a team of 2 to around 15 — and I managed all of creative underneath that, which was around 100 people. My focus was all about building processes, tools, and communication strategies to help our team solve the problems of generating creative for a scaling business.
Now I’ve been at Mejuri for a little over a year. My challenge here is: how do I leverage all the strategies I tried at Stitch Fix and mold them to a very different organization? Creative ops is not one size fits all.
How and why did you end up in creative ops at this point in your career?
Creative ops as a function is very young and nascent. There's long been talk of creative services or production, but it's only really in the last 10 years that creative operations has become a thing. When I joined Stitch Fix, the opportunity originally was creative services, but very quickly we realized that the challenges were so much broader and operations-focused. The question was, how do you operationalize creative work across a system? That was my transition into creative ops.
In creative ops or design ops, whatever you want to call it, we are experts in change management and transformation. Different organizations require a different approach, but at the core of this work, that's what we're doing day in and day out.
What I mean by change management is analyzing and subsequently addressing what's working and what's not within the larger organizational system. That could be just within your creative team, it could be how creative works with marketing, or how creative works with product design, or a whole host of different things.
What we’re doing is digging in and using data analysis to understand what's working, what's not, and then aiming to make things work better. Whether it's smoothing out a process or introducing a new communication strategy, it's all change management.
In simpler terms, I like to say that creative ops leaders need to be 25% operational, 25% mom, 25% therapist, and the remaining percent is that cat-herding instinct. If you can’t herd cats, don’t get into creative ops.
Can you share any specific KPIs you use in creative ops?
There are some that we own and there are some that we monitor but don’t directly own. An example of the latter is conversion metrics — we’re not the main team driving those, but that’s how we measure the performance of our creative output overall. These are metrics like conversion rate or cost per action — critical metrics that tell us how creative is doing, but again, we don’t own them.
The metrics we do own are more about quality of output, which is intangible and difficult to measure. Brand Lift studies are helpful here, anything that can tell us if the work our creative team is doing is moving the needle on how customers think about us. These metrics are usually shared by both the creative and brand teams.
A few metrics we own that are much more tangible are around capacity planning, rounds of revisions and reviews, and asset leveragability. These are all things you can put a number on: was our capacity planning correct? How many rounds of revisions did this take? How many channels can this asset be used for? How long did it take to get the program live?
An example of asset leveragability at Mejuri is photoshoots. We shoot e-commerce photography, campaigns, videos, and so on. It’s a major investment and we need to be sure we’re not repeating ourselves and wasting resources. So as a creative ops team, for example, we’re making sure that a photo we’ve shot for e-comm is also usable in our digital ads and on social. Are we maximizing our creative ROI?
What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you throughout your career?
You need to go into everything with an open mind. Sometimes you just need to listen to what people have to say. You don't necessarily have to comment, you don't have to give feedback right away; take a beat, synthesize, and come back with your response. This attitude has served me really well.
So much of my work is about change management and helping people understand where we're going, and that there are things that will work and things that won't. Presenting this information in the right way is easier when you’ve just sat and listened to someone. You’re able to address and allay their fears and worries.
A piece of advice that I would give to someone starting out in this industry is this: the one constant is change. The only thing you can count on is something is going to be different tomorrow than it is today. Be okay with that. It’s a wild ride, and if you just go for it, you’ll have a lot of fun.
What could a small organization — 50-200 people — do to improve their creative operations without significant new resources?
The simplest answer is to hire one person and give them a manageable scope. Let them talk to your creatives, let them talk to your marketers, and ask them to find out what's working and what's not. They should identify certain problems, make a list, and set out to fix the things that are the easiest to fix first. In creative ops, there are a million problems — it never actually ends. There are tools and systems that need to be implemented, which sounds straightforward, but you actually need people to do it.
After that initial analysis of understanding, what's working, what's not, and what can you solve quickly, you look at tools. Where are the places where tools might be helpful? What are those tools? How do you bring them in? A word of advice for anyone trying to stand up a creative ops function: don't try and boil the ocean. You’re going to find so many opportunities for improvement — work through them methodically or you’ll get overloaded.
How do you think creative ops will evolve as an industry in the next few years?
Something I'm seeing happen and both within my organization and within others is we’re rethinking where ops sits holistically in an organization. When you’ve got creative ops, marketing ops, revenue ops, and so on, it starts to make sense to evolve these separate functions into a PMO (project management office) model.
All operations functions are really focused on the same goals — removing obstacles from the teams’ day-to-day and making the business more efficient. With a PMO model, all these different ops functions can work in tandem toward that overarching goal.
In today’s world, creative ops can get a bad rap in terms of only protecting creatives, whereas marketing ops can get a bad rap for being unorganized and getting in the way of creatives’ deadlines. The two functions are often pitted against each other, but there’s a real opportunity to bring them together and align around the same goals.