I recently had the joy of attending the Henry Stewart Creative Operations event in New York. The atmosphere was incredible and the energy was palpable. The event was centered around four key themes, Creative Operations, Photo Operations, Design Operations, and Creative Production Operations, and saw people from across the creative and content spectrum come together to share ideas, talk about their challenges and explore the things shaping the future of the industry.

Because we have the tendency to move on from these events quickly, I wanted to share my key takeaways with you, the opinions of some of the incredible attendees I met at the event, and invite you to share some of your thoughts with me too! If you’d like to share anything with me, please connect with me on LinkedIn, comment on the post, or email ian@stockpress.co. Here goes…

The creative and content Industries are in flux – but there is plenty to be excited about!

This change of state is making people nervous, but it’s important to remember that there is a fine line between nerves and excitement (easier said than done sometimes, I know!) One thing is for sure though – every function featured at the event; creative, photo, design, and production placed a high value on operational efficiency, with the sentiment being that creative teams thrive when creative people are afforded the time to focus on (guess what!) being creative.

Layoffs are hitting the industry hard now

There is no doubt about it – it’s a challenging time for people in the creative and content industries, and the challenge is being fueled by two things. Firstly, and most obviously – the macroeconomic conditions. The recession and economic uncertainty facing the world have understandably driven companies and organizations to find efficiencies, and this has come in the form of well-documented lay-offs. While this is understandable, it is no less heartbreaking for the industry and those involved.

However, this undeniable heartbreak feels like it can be balanced by the idea of creative re-imagining, where the roles in creative can be elevated and evolved by aligning them more closely to the goals of the business. Creative and content have never been more important in the way organizations connect with their audience. The problem is that as creatives and content producers, we seem to have missed the link between what we do, and its effect on the bottom line. Content has become a sales engine, and the more creative the content, the bigger the return. From what I have seen, those creative and content professionals who are able to tie their actions to their outcomes stand to drive up the importance of their role and make it tangible for those holding the purse strings.

Creative will always be “people-powered”, but AI can supercharge it!

It was somewhat inevitable that the event would be dominated by the subject of AI. The reality of which is that AI is here, and it’s here to stay. Throughout the event, we were wowed by some of the ways in which AI is already being used to bring us new immersive experiences and new creative formats, but we were also reminded of the complexities that AI brings, especially as it relates to some of the legal challenges that we are yet to overcome around its use and the subsequent impact on original creators.

For all of the challenges and skepticism though, it was clear that there is genuine excitement around its possibilities, especially for those companies like Shutterstock who have put the protection of the rights, and the livelihoods of their creative contributors front and center in the use of AI. It was reassuring to hear Michael Francello talk about the ethical stance that can be taken with AI if the desire exists to use it as an extension of the human mind, rather than simply letting it do the work for us.

The creative community is a force to be reckoned with…

Events like Henry Stewart bring together some of the brightest minds in the business, and the wonderful thing about the people who make up this community, is that they are open to sharing their knowledge in pursuit of the greater good. In fact, the talk that got the most rounds of applause was the amazing Kate Schmieding, Director of Creative Services at the New York State Office of General Services. Kate’s talk was a poignant reminder about the importance of creating a positive, collaborative, and innovative environment for creatives to work in. Her story captured the essence of what it means to be part of a team while demonstrating what can be achieved when a great creative team is aligned on its mission.

Opportunity is emerging via a “creative re-imagining…”

What this creative re-imagining looks like is shaping up quickly, but what seems safe to say is that AI is going to be an important part of it, immersive experiences will change the way we engage with brands and products, and new creative formats will emerge because of these two drivers of change. Creative innovation is about to go into overdrive, and it’s likely that the only limitation to how creative we can be will be our imaginations, and the only limit to how efficient we can be will be our ability to manage all these new assets. That’s the role Stockpress is here to play – with all this incredible possibility at our fingertips our mission remains simple; help creative and content teams spend less time looking for their files, and more time using them!

Thoughts from the Experts: Dave Malouf, Angela Mastandrea, and Perrie Schad:

Optimization of the design practice is now at the fore of corporate leadership’s focus instead of strategic value – Dave Malouf (Design Ops)

“A major trend in product design practice is that optimization of the practice is now at the fore of corporate leadership’s focus instead of strategic value. Design is relegated again to being production. I call this the Agilification of design. First design was told, “play nice” with engineering. Then we believed it was in our interest to do so (Stockholm Syndrome). Finally, we were starting to make our way back into mature practices based on studio culture, the double-diamond, qualitative research, and other core concepts that are central to design success. Now we are constantly being pushed backwards due to several factors of what I would call “bad agile”: a focus on speed; a focus on output; anti-holistic, non-strategic thinking; and more. DesignOps has a responsibility to hold off the barbarian, so to speak, so we can provide the most value through the best practices of designing. The reality is that if we don’t hold strong, we produce less valuable work, and then we aren’t as valuable, so we don’t get appreciated nor given the resources and operations we need to be successful. We are also put at the front of the line to get chopped during times of austerity.

Similarly, if not related, more and more design teams are being put under “Product” organizations. The Chief Product Officer who almost always comes from a product management background becomes the C-level executive in charge of both Product Management and Design. We as designers were fighting so hard to have parity with engineering and product, but that story is gone. My last CPO outright said (and they thought it was a good thing) that she wouldn’t work anywhere unless design reported to them. Like agilification, this has a similar negative impact. For me as an operator it meant that I was always needing to be responsive to the Product Ops leader, in some cases more than my own design executive (VP). Everything had to fit their world regardless of the type of things we were trying to achieve.

These two areas are different but related to the expectation that design is first a tactical production practice and maybe it can help strategically. That strategic part though is secondary.”

Layoffs and reorganizations are forcing companies to reset and refocus – Angela Mastandrea (Mastandrea Group)

“There is great energy that comes from being in a room full of problem solvers. Which is exactly what the Creative Operations NY conference provided. A room (or more accurately, rooms) full of curious people who were just as willing to share as they were excited to learn.

Among the curious were people listening for inspiration and ideas to bring back to their teams, as well as people who were listening for opportunities, and seeking to make connections that just may lead them to their next job. If you belonged to the latter group, please know that I see you and I acknowledge the challenges you face.

Significant layoffs and reorganizations force companies to reset and refocus, often stripping down to the essentials before deciding where to rebuild. With that said, I strongly believe that strategic creative teams are crucial for a company’s success. Consequently, we will see a greater presence of design and creative professionals at the leadership table.

I am excited to witness this shift and see the significant role Creative and Design Operations will play in supporting thriving creative teams.

If you have been impacted by a layoff or reorganization, I encourage you to maintain hope. Layoffs suck. Losing your job sucks. But please remember that it doesn’t reflect your worth. You possess valuable talent and skills that are in demand. With big change, comes big opportunities. You’ve got this!

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and hit me up for a chat. I’m happy to help in any way I can.”

The creative industry is evolving into a creative community – Perrie Schad (Perrie Schad Consulting)

“After the Henry Stewart conference in New York, it’s clear there are a lot of exciting developments within the industry. Some of these are tech-led, some are industry-led and some are people led. A key takeaway I had was the culmination of all three that created such an overwhelming sense of community. There was a strong sense of not wanting the day to end so quickly. There were still so many people to talk to, more presentations to see, and still somehow find a moment to step aside and take it all in. So often has the creative industry been a ruthless and competitive world. And maybe it’s because recent events have made us starved for human interaction, or we got a heavy dose of reality, but throughout the last 2 years of in-person conferences, the vibe of the event is less about getting something out of it and more about pouring something into it.

Without the need to make heavy-handed pitches and rub elbows, the creative community is coming together for a common goal – let’s make things better, let’s do things better, and let’s have some fun while we do it. There was less talk of competitors and more talk of colleagues. And though there is plenty to say about automation advancements, AI and streamlining processes, the evolution of the competitive industry into an open community focused on the idea of sharing, whether that be insights, experiences or connections, stands out as one of the inspiring aspects of these events. As it looks ahead into machine learning, it also roots itself in human connection.”

A note from Stockpress:

We are excited to be a part of this community and are here to stand up and be counted as creative and content evolves. We are always delighted to be part of the conversation around how we drive these incredible industries forward.

For more information on Stockpress, feel free to book a demo here or create a free workspace for your team. If you’d like to share any thoughts or comments on the event, or the industry as a whole, please get in touch with me via LinkedIn or email: ian@stockpress.co.