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Creative Ops

The Las Vegas Aces’ Katie Morgan on being a good steward for the people whose stories you tell

March 29, 2023 · 7 min read

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.

What does it mean to be a creative director, in your experience?

It means you’re a creative storyteller. It’s about being a good steward of the stories around your brand and being resourceful. On a technical level, I'm a one-woman machine, from field producing, to acquiring third party footage, to lighting, audio, and editing.

I always gravitate towards companies who have great strength of vision. I was at Major League Baseball, when I was just starting out. I learned the ropes there, then went to the University of San Francisco, which is a mid-major school. They had tremendous vision, but a limited budget, especially compared to what I was used to in the MLB. Now I'm at the WNBA, with the Las Vegas Aces. They have great vision and a more robust budget, but it’s still largely just me on the creative side. 

At the Aces, being a creative director is, for the most part, just about being able to sit down and come up with a good way to create exposure for and uplift our players. How can we build a fanbase? When I was at the collegiate level, it was all about the athletes, the fans, and the connection between them.

Coming into the WNBA, it's not about the players as much as it was at USF. The most elite players here have won at every level: high school championships, Gatorade Player of the Year, collegiate championships, and a lot of them are WNBA All-Stars. They’re at the top of their game already, so my work is more focused on building up the fanbase for both the Aces as a team and the WNBA as a league.

One more thing about being a creative director — it’s about paying it forward. When I first started out 25 years ago, there were very few women in this role. Mentorship, passing down my knowledge, is the most important thing. I want to foster and create more good storytellers, people who are authentic, who care about stewarding other peoples’ stories.

What’s the hardest part of getting great creative out into the world?

Budget is always tough. You can always have better tools, a better camera, a bigger team — but all you really need is an editing platform, good music, and someone who can edit what you’re working with to tell a good story. 

The hardest part of shipping good creative work starts with that idea of being a good steward of the story you’re tasked with telling. For me, I’m not doing social media, I’m not doing two-minute highlight reels. I am telling documentary-scale stories. When you set out to create great content, it can be a burden and a blessing, because it’s so personal. So many women in the league have told me about past experiences where they were grateful for the exposure, but the story didn’t really get at who they truly were.

Sometimes shipping good work is just about fighting your ego and making sure that you tell the correct story, not the one you’re trying to impose.

At the end of the day, I don't really care if I like what I’ve produced or if anybody else besides the person I’m telling the story about is happy with it. If they’re happy and their families are happy, then I’ve done my job

What’s your approach to assembling and leading a creative team?

When you’re working with a limited budget, you have to be smart with hiring — you have to look for passion over skill and then teach skill. Mentorship is very important to me, and it’s a pleasure to mentor someone who is already passionate. 

For example, we hired this amazing grad student from UNLV, but the thing is, he didn't know anything about filming. Nothing. Many people wouldn’t want to spend the time training someone like that up, but the number one thing for me is always passion and a strong work ethic. Beats experience any day. I knew Tayvion would give his all — he loved the WNBA and he’s local, he cares about Las Vegas. So I brought him on, and he’s amazing.

Another important thing, as a leader, is preparation. I learned this early on with Major League Baseball. When you're dealing with big time athletes, you need to be very conscious of their time. They’re not going to come in multiple times to do interviews on a bunch of different subjects. So you need to plan for interviews at every opportunity — I know my guy Kris is going on the road with the team, and I’m doing a feature on one of the players, so I’m going to make sure he’s capturing footage that both serves our general purposes and the feature. Preparation just means taking advantage of every opportunity when you’re dealing with limited opportunities.

What are three things you can’t do your job without?

Three things: research, trust, and music.

Research is everything. When you put together a story, the more you research, the more content that you can get, the better the story turns out. If I'm doing a feature on a player, I want to know everybody that they played with. I want to know who their parents are and when they’re coming to town to watch a game. You've always got to be about two months ahead. I’m acquiring footage from the college they went to, I’m interviewing their head coach there, I’m finding radio recordings, sound bites.

Recently, when one of the players came to sit with me and do an interview, she told me that the other players I’d done features on said I was very thorough. I think they appreciate it. A lot of the fans have no idea who these players were before the WNBA, so it’s really special and meaningful to go deep and tell their full story.

Trust is incredibly important. As an example, I was at USF for 10 years — which means I had the opportunity to foster an environment of trust. Because of my tenure and involvement, I was able to go from telling surface-level stories to stories that truly made a difference, that changed lives. I produced stories talking about suicide, the loss of a father. I did a 45 minute documentary on a player who was sexually abused by his tennis coach. The older I get, what’s important to me is changing lives, doing something to better society.

You can't go somewhere and just expect to build this rapport with a player over four months, especially a professional who has no idea what we’re doing with the footage we’re shooting. The longer you stay at an organization, the deeper you can go, and it becomes easier to execute on a vision. With the Aces, people have asked me where I’m going next. No! I'm staying here. It takes years to build chemistry, and make a difference.

Working with video, music is a crucial piece of what I do. If you’ll allow me a shameless plug, I’ve been working with APM Music since I was at Major League Baseball, 25 years ago. I work with a guy named Matthew there, who is just amazing. Music can either destroy a piece or it can set it free.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give to people just beginning a career in creative?

Especially when you’re starting out in your career, never compare yourself to others. That's a big mistake — you should always go with what your true gut is telling you. Definitely watch what others are doing because you can learn and grow that way, but don’t start comparing yourself.

The number one thing for me is don't let fear guide your decisions. My work today is all about video, but starting out, I didn't know anything about video. I played softball at the University of Kansas and got a health degree. Because of people I met there, I started my career at NBC, and the rest is history. I've always had some self-doubt because where I came from — I didn't have the credentials — but eventually I realized that I really love what I do and I'm actually very good at it. 

Let the fear go. Personally, when I realize that fear is running my life, I tend to do more safe projects and can edit a piece blindfolded. That’s not where you want to be. When the Aces called me and asked me to come in, I was a bit scared. I wasn’t sure if I had what it takes to perform at that professional level. Well, turns out I do. When you’re feeling scared, that’s when you have to take that leap of faith. Make that jump. Fear is what makes us better — if you can conquer that, there’s no telling what you can become.

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