The Messy Creative’s Guide to Effective Creative Operations

Every great project is messy — and creative operations keep us in check. Here’s how we’re staying ahead even if (when 😬) we’re behind.

June 4, 2024
7 min

Timelines. “We needed this yesterday!” Overdue. “Bumping this to the top of your inbox…” Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by confusing, panic-inducing workflows and systems. 

Enter: creative operations management. 

Wait, What Is Creative Operations?

After interviewing 50+ creative operations experts — aka C-suite execs, brand marketers, freelancers at agencies, content creators — here’s the consensus:

Creative operations streamlines creative projects from start to finish, making everyday collaboration between creatives and their partners —like agencies, vendors, and internal teams — easier and more efficient for everyone.

In a perfect world, these operations run behind the scenes while creatives get in their flow state, and stakeholders sit back as everything effortlessly moves along on schedule and under budget. Instead, we constantly face past-due deadlines, misplaced links, endless email and Slack threads, and stakeholders who don’t usually know what it takes (and how long it takes) to go from creative brief to launch day. 

Whether you’re managing a team with fragmented processes or a messy creative wanting to set your workflow on autopilot, you need creative ops to run a successful creative business. 

Here are the 3 core tenants of a healthy creative ops management program.

1) Get Early Alignment with Project Requestors

The statement of work (SOW) and standard operating procedure (SOP) docs might seem like just another box to tick when starting up a new project, but they’re actually two of the most essential pieces to align on. Especially when working with external partners, it’s likely they don’t understand our world (psst, that’s okay!). However, they do need to know the expectations of your partnership and what  the project needs to  run smoothly from kickoff all the way to your project retrospective.

Insight into the project ahead with processes, timelines, and an easy-to-find resource hub gets everyone on the same page from the start — aka no surprises, no misunderstandings, and no miscommunication. 

Transparency 🤝 Smooth sailing project. A match made in creative heaven.

2) Learn The Art of Managing Creatives and Stakeholders

Creative ops bridges the gap between people who work together but aren’t always working together, ya know? Creatives are deep in the details, and the stakeholders want to know how quickly everything can come together. So, how do you manage both? 

Define Clear Processes

By understanding how your creative team works, you can create intuitive processes that flow seamlessly with their working style and can easily plug in opportunities for stakeholder input. 

For example, maybe your creative team likes a no-holds barred whiteboard session where all ideas are welcome before bringing in other stakeholders for their feedback. Good creative operations will prioritize this when project planning to establish trust with the creative team. This protects creatives’ creativity while also giving higher-ups a smoke signal that everything’s going well.   

(Over)Share Status Updates

The last thing you want is a flooded inbox with stakeholders asking for project updates, links, you name it. Successful creative operations equals a steady stream of near-constant communication with your clients, especially as an agency or a solopreneur. You need to make sure your work is highly visible, and having extremely clear status updates — not just during a weekly standup but peppered through the project — builds trust. 

Decision-makers and key stakeholders usually need to understand the top 10% of what's happening in a given project, like "Are you on track to hit your deadlines?"  and "How busy is my team right now?" A great creative ops program gives insight into the other 90%, so everyone can be on the same page 100% of the time.

3) Build a Single Source of Truth

Keeping tabs on the project brief, notes, versions, feedback, files, private messages, email threads…we’re getting anxious just thinking about it. It’s time to ditch your scattered resources and house them all in one centralized source of truth. Here are a few ways people organize their creative operations in one place: 

Start an Email Thread

It might look like a lot of “re: re: re: re:” in your inbox, but it’s a simple way to keep everyone in the loop and have a resource to come back to for deliverables, feedback, and approvals. Our tip to keep your inbox in check: use Superhuman to streamline your emails with tags and filters to scan for messages from clients. You can even see who’s opening your emails and when. 👀

Create a Running Document

Within this doc, you can keep links to deliverables, briefs, and any other content you or your team need with an at-a-glance view. 

Centralize with Plot

From creating deadlines, tracking progress, assigning tasks, sharing a vantage point into project statuses with stakeholders, managing revisions and deliverables, and everything else we know is on your plate, Plot keeps it all in sync. 

The Need-to-Know (FAQs about creative operations)

1. What are creative operations? 

Creative operations streamline all aspects of creative development into one single source of truth. For project managers and messy creatives alike, creative ops keeps everything in sync.

2. What is the difference between creative operations vs. project management?

Creative operations is a way to centralize assets and streamline reviews, feedback, and decision making for more easeful cross-collaboration. Project management uses the creative ops process as guardrails; digging into deadlines, holding teams accountable, and making sure the project moves along on-time and on-budget. 

3. Why does creative ops matter for my business?

It’s simple–streamlined creative operations leaves more time for doing what you love, creating! Creative ops allows the not-so-creative parts of your biz run on autopilot while you work on creating the next big thing.

The Wrap Up

Whether building a creative operations process from scratch or revamping old systems, you need to start at the source: your stakeholders and creatives. Through transparent relationship building, deeper understanding of different working modes, and toolkits for improved communication, you can shift the balance back to creatives creating and project partners knowing when (and how!) to jump in without bringing things to a grinding halt.

If you look behind the messy parts of a creative project, you’ll find what makes it great: creativity that pushes boundaries and collaboration that energizes and inspires you. Contrary to popular belief, creative ops doesn’t exist to slow you down. 

Need your partners, vendors, and creatives all on the same page? Streamline your creative operations with Plot. 

Join our beta program if you're a messy creative looking for a simple way to get organized.


Plot Editorial Team