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Creative Ops

Warner Bros. Discovery’s Larissa Machado on enabling a creative team’s ambition

April 12, 2023 · 4 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 type of creative director are you?

I’ve been on the creative services side of the media business for most of my career. At one point, I made a career shift towards the content partnership side — still working with creative and content, but closer to the business side. Now, as a creative director on the creative services side again, I’m able to apply a more business-minded approach.

I like to describe myself as a business-driven creative mind. I specialize in addressing business-strategic, numbers-oriented problems with creative solutions. Having bridged both ends of that relationship, I’ve a talent for protecting the creative aspect — defending a creative idea — from the inevitable worries that come from the business stakeholders. Budgets and limitations will always be there, but you have to leave room for big ideas — creatives should always lead with ambition.

What's the hardest part of actually shipping good creative work?

The first thing is you need a very good brief. Sure, you can come up with a million ideas, but if they don’t match the strategy behind the brief, they’re simply not good ideas. To produce effective creative, you need to tell the creatives why they’re doing what they’re doing; just telling them what to do isn’t enough.

The biggest obstacle to delivering incredible results once you have the brief set is that people begin to restrain themselves because of past restraints. Maybe the budget always gets crushed, or there are stakeholders who tend to shoot down certain types of ideas, it could be anything. You need to keep a team enthusiastic and fired up so they don’t hit those mental blocks early on.

A creative team needs to be free to create — it sounds simple, but it’s not always that easy. It’s my job as a creative director to protect them from obstacles and make sure they have all the information and strategy they need to succeed. 

What’s your approach to putting together a successful creative team?

First of all, you need to understand the profiles you need for the project or purpose you’re assembling a team.

Above all, I believe that people work complementary to each other. For example, you need someone that is extremely attuned to fine details; you need someone who takes a more broad approach, who brings broad ideas to the table; you need someone who is really good at scripts; it’s about bringing together people who together make a complementary whole.

Diversity is key — of personality, of race, of sexual orientation. You need people with different life experiences and perspectives. Within a company, you may not have the diversity of people you need for a project, so you may need to bring someone in.

It’s not always easy to put together a team, but the idea is very basic: you need people who are complementary and, though they may argue different points of view, won’t step on each other’s toes, functionally.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in relation to your work?

There’s a quote I love, that I reference all the time, from Bill Nye:

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“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.”

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For me, this quote is advice to be humble and generous to the people around you. Ask people questions. Be aware that you don’t know everything.

There’s another one — another person you interviewed brought this up — which is that we’re not curing cancer, we’re producing creative to sell things. A former boss of mine first gave me that advice. We were all fighting in a meeting, and he says, “Look, my father is a pediatric surgeon. When his phone rings, he goes out to try and save a child. But us? We’re arguing about what color this should be. That does not matter. We do not need to fight about this.”

Of course, there’s a fine line between caring about your work and caring too much. Picking colors can be quite important to a project, but you have to keep it in perspective.

Lastly, there’s this movie called Another Earth. The basic premise is the characters find another Earth that’s just like ours, will all the people. I have a tattoo of the tagline: “If you met yourself, what would you say?”

I know what I’d say to myself: take it easy, everything is fine. Do the work, but don’t stress yourself out too much about it. That’s good for nobody.

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