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By Maddy Smith
Clair Carter-Ginn, Partner at Forecast Agency, explores her journey into creative operations, from a freelance copywriter in her early career, through to Vice President at Michael Kors.
Identifying the Problem
“If people are buying technology to solve a problem, but they haven’t identified the problem, it’s a band-aid and it may not work for long”
Ahead of the Henry Stewart Creative Ops conference in New York, official media partner Producers & Procurers iQ chats with Clair Carter-Ginn; exploring her early days as a freelance copywriter through to her venture at Forecast Agency, providing casting services as well as creative and studio operations consultancy to some of the world’s most renowned brands.
Like many who work in the field of creative operations, Clair Carter-Ginn fell into the industry, almost by accident. “Some are project managers and some are from the production side”, she considers, “But we all have a similar experience in that we understand the full, nuts to bolts of creative and content production”.
“Creative operations is definitely a newer term”, Carter-Ginn considers. “It encompasses everything from what traditionally have been creative services, to all elements of the content production pipeline that are not in design”.
From freelance copywriter to Vice President at Michael Kors
After graduating with an English Language and Literature Bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, she began her journey as a freelance copywriter and then as a freelance photoshoot producer.
Her venture into photoshoot production occurred by accident, Carter-Ginn reflects. A photoshoot producer for Target Stores, one of her freelance clients, quit and moved to Los Angeles to become a soap opera star. As such, Carter-Ginn said she would produce the shoot which he was working on and ultimately ended up taking over the role.
As her career progressed, more elements of creative operations became incorporated into her role.
This was followed by a move to Ann Taylor, a women’s US high street retailer, whereby she began with studio sample management and post production and subsequently moved into the creative teams. At the brand, Carter-Ginn dealt with all elements of creative that were attached to digital, including copywriters, which eventually grew into other roles.
Carter-Ginn says, “As I carried on in my career I ended up taking [on] more and more pieces of what became creative operations”
By 2015, she moved to Michael Kors as VP, Global Creative Operations and Photo Studio, where she had responsibility for everything from intake of briefs, internal account managers, photoshoot producers through to project management, post-production, editorial, the budget for the fashion office, stylists and photo studios.
Aside from graphic and UX designers, all departments and elements of creative operations and the studios were run by Carter-Ginn and her team.
The foundation of Forecast Agency
Now, Carter-Ginn is a Partner at the global consultancy Forecast Agency, whose clients include Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney, where her role is focused on creative and studio operations and casting, partnering with clients to identify and implement strategies and best practices around creative and content. This is to ensure clients can meet the needs of today’s “content velocity”.
The company also consults on everything from brand ambassadors for beauty brands, all the way to finding talent for e-commerce shoots for the likes of UnderArmour.
Working alongside London-based business partner Natalie Smith-Knudson, Carter-Ginn focuses on creative and studio operations consulting, as well as partnering with Smith-Knudson on casting.
Between the two, she explains, there’s a very synergistic element to those two sides of the company and as such, there is some overlap for a number of clients, such as fashion house Louis Vuitton.
Carter-Ginn’s current role is a culmination of her past experiences. She combines the creative understanding of writers’, designers’ and art directors’ perspectives, with a combined insight into operation of production, agencies and in-house knowledge.
This approach has given her a view into “the best of all worlds” and she says that this has enabled her to understand the best practices from in-house, out-of-house and hybrid models, allowing her to share valuable information with clients on this debate – one of the hottest industry topics right now, as well as advising on vendors and new technology.
When asked if a brand should operate in-house, out-of-house or hybrid, Carter-Ginn says that no solution is one-size-fits-all. She explains that until an analysis is undertaken about each individual organisation and what their needs are, it is unclear what is the best solution, and so it is always an area of great uncertainty.
However, Carter-Ginn says, “There are companies like Aquent Studios who are basically an extension of someone’s creative team, and so they can be in house or out-of-house and that’s a beautiful thing”, she states. “You can flex up without having to manage 50 freelancers yourself”.
Implementing strategy: How to optimise your team
On the point of strategy with regards to which option is best, Carter-Ginn paraphrases her industry colleague, Devin Fisher from Quad, who also provides in-house, out-of-house and hybrid model studios for clients, says that, “by spending five minutes on strategy up front, you save yourself five days at the end fixing things”.
When Carter-Ginn first began at Michael Kors, there was an in-house creative team of 12 people, however the goal was to bring all of the work from the global organisation back in-house to New York to ensure continuity for the elevated content and that the team were really in charge of everything that was happening.
This was a gradual and slow process, which required considerable research, asking questions such as, who were the agencies we were working with? Who did we want to keep? And, what work could we bring in-house?
“Eventually, we brought everything back to Michael Kors, every single piece of content that was created for the agency globally, we brought in-house, which of course had myriad challenges and success stories as well”.
So, what is Carter-Ginn’s advice if you’re considering a change? “Don’t make a decision off the bat, look at the big picture, it doesn’t have to all be done today! Small changes lead to big wins, so even if you could start with some small things to help your team today, that could [also] help you in the long term”.
Being strategic about content – reducing wastage and duplication
In the same way one should be strategic in the organisation of teams and how you choose in-house versus out-of-house, the content you create should also be strategic, Carter-Ginn states.
She goes on to say that often, a strategic approach to content needs to start further up the marketing chain, using data and research to understand what the customer is looking for.
During the pandemic, there was a mass movement of brands and retailers needing to pivot to digital first, undergoing a digital transformation in what seemed like five months instead of five years, according to Carter-Ginn.
She highlights the time wastage which so often occurs when divisions are siloed so that brand, stores and social marketing all request content, but in fact they are all shooting the same merchandise. It’s shot three times instead of once – on the celebrity, on a model for e-comm and again on an influencer.
If you are strategic about the type of content which is required, how much and who needs it, you can be more thoughtful going forward. “Create once, share everywhere”, she says.
Internal data & metrics: how to create growth for creative operations
It’s well-documented that most brands are using consumer data to drive engagement through more targeted content. But, how many brands are using internal data and metrics to get greater insight into the efficiencies of their creative operations?
Though data, in many ways, will work towards improving your ROI for headcount, for studio and for building out a creative team, Carter-Ginn reiterates that it also helps other stakeholders to understand the importance of creative operations.
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“If you’re not doing a chargeback system for your internal clients, sometimes it’s hard for [them] to understand the volume of work you’re doing, it’s hard to prioritise and to help leadership understand why it’s important to double the size of the studio”, she says.
She considers, “[Often] they’ll think, the work is being done, [so] why do I need to give you more money, time or people?” By utilising data, you’re able to metrically show what exactly you’re doing and what your needs are.
Carter-Ginn recommends that, if you’re working with vendors, ask what data they’re collecting and how they can organise that for you. “There’s a wonderful creative ops tool called Atellio and I actually did a webinar with head of data, Stephanie Ma, at Walmart, last year [which is on Henry Stewart’s website]. Ma is a data genius and they have a whole department that just digs into data”, she says.
Navigating content velocity
As the demands of content and consumerism continue to grow, Carter-Ginn considers the term “content velocity”, which asks how we keep up with this ever-increasing demand.
“Content velocity, I believe came from Eric Fulmer of ShotFlow, which is a studio workflow tool”. She says, “It’s the speed at which we have to create content and the volume of content we’re being asked to create”, for less time and for less money, she reiterates.
So, how can we create more for the same budget? “That’s not a question I can answer!” Carter-Ginn laughs. “That is the magic formula and much like the in-house, out-of-house, hybrid idea, it is individual to each organisation”.
“There isn’t a simple answer other than discovery and analysis”, she reflects. “A lot of what I do is to interview teams [and to] help them develop a scope of work to understand the volume of work that’s coming in and then maximise or optimise the budget, the team and the time they have”.
Creating more for the same budget (social media) – keeping 20% of time free
However, one tip she gives to everyone is to save 20% of time for last minute projects. With content velocity, there are a lot of last minute requests – social, PR responses and the like. If a scope of work can be set up to help save that time, she advises this is infinitely helpful and gives teams time for projects they might not have been able to do before – keeping them engaged and motivated.
In a time when brand loyalty is not what it used to be, the ability to connect with and gather data on the consumer is greater than ever.
However, this then returns to the issue of content velocity, as now more content and a faster turnaround is needed because of the greater responsiveness to consumers. Speed to market has improved greatly, she considers. New photos and products can be added to websites instantly alongside the opportunity for influencer promotion. “Turnaround time has shortened, so teams need to be reactive and agile”, she adds. “Again, that goes back to saving the 20% time for last minute projects”.
Technologies: a double-edged sword
Creative operations often look towards technology to create greater efficiencies, but technology is only good for companies if they are ready to use it, Carter-Ginn explains.
This is particularly prevalent when technology is implemented at an enterprise level or is over-specified, often leading to a significant amount of under-utilisation.
She advises brands and agencies to first review processes and people before introducing technology. “We talk about the trifecta of people, process and technology being the centre of creative ops”, she says. “But tech should complement people and your process, not try to fix it”.
“If people are buying technology to solve a problem, but they haven’t identified the problem, it’s a band-aid and it may not work for long”, she considers.
One piece of software Carter-Ginn is particularly interested in is Atellio, who are one of the first to come from the virtual production world. “We’ve never had a tool that we could utilise that would help book talent and budget”, she explains. “There’s always been project management, studio workflow management and DAM but there’s never been anything to help us with creative”.
She also highlights Manner Solutions, who offer “The Vault”, which Carter-Ginn explains is the democratisation of information – that single source of truth which she previously referred to.
It pulls information from many sources, offering access to what’s been shot, the images and insert. For luxury clients, this is key, she stresses. Information from ecomm, creative review tools and the like, all exist in one place so that the merchants, marketing and creative all have the same information.
Research and understanding
Carter-Ginn makes it evident that planning, research and strong understanding of brands are the key factors involved for making the best decision when it comes to choice of agency model. It’s essential that leaders of creative ops develop a clear roadmap from the start to help inform stakeholders and internal teams to gain buy-in.
Whether it’s in-house, out-of-house or a hybrid model, without a clear view of the way in which an organisation operates, it is all too easy to make a hasty and uninformed decision.
Again she advises that while the trifecta concerns people, process and technology, where technology is involved, organisations must first look inward to address any issues they face. Once again, taking an informed approach rather than using tech simply as a solution.