A day in the life of a... Creative Director
Published: 16 April 2013 By Chris Lake
Kath Dawson is Creative Director of Strategy Internet Marketing, a digital agency based in Bristol. Here she explains what a typical day in her working life looks like.
Please describe your job! What does a Creative Director do?
The Creative Director role burst into existence as a necessity because our company was growing very quickly, and the SEO landscape was changing fast. Our team of writers and outreachers were doing a great job but we needed to develop more processes. Our pay-on-results model meant that we had to make sure we used resources wisely to deliver the best ROI as we get paid on extra sales or more traffic (not what we call the 'fool’s gold' of rankings).
With Google’s Panda and Penguin updates last year, the team grew from being support staff for the client managers to being a force of their own and content marketing became the way we did things. We started adding PR staff, graphic designers, front end developers, coders, and researchers. I am stunned there are still many SEO’s who do not get that content marketing isn’t the future of search. It’s the present.
Creative content marketing can take a long time to develop and there are many opportunities to get it wrong and go off on tangents. My job is to make sure we stay on track.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I own the company with my husband John so we run it together but in reality I report to him as Executive Chairman. I’ve been told that I’m a great wing man and while I love making decisions I also I like to have someone who will tell me what to do when I run out of decision-making steam.
There are five directors in the company: Chairman, Sales, Operations, Client Services and Creative. We have a working lunch every Monday (as well as more formal board meetings) so we discuss and make decisions together on most things that affect the whole company but ultimately the buck stops with us. As we now have 50 staff, all in house, I do sometimes feel responsible for people’s lives.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
An ability to think strategically is definitely essential; it’s a big mistake to look at processes in isolation. It’s also essential to listen and recognise when you are wrong. I value input from anyone in my team and those discussions about why we do something the way we do or how it can be improved are a learning curve for both parties.
I think I am probably quite creative but those skills pale into insignificance compared to people on my team. I wish I could draw, write, design, construct video and take amazing photographs and, while I aspire to do all creative things better, I think the abilities I have help recognise and draw out these skills in other people.
Thinking logically with a love for deconstructing and reengineering processes is a bonus as is an insatiable thirst for learning. With so much to do you need to be highly organised and able to recognise priorities quickly.
Tell us about a typical working day…
7.00am wake up, reach for phone, open email and wait for eyes to focus. Freak out that the PayPal account has been hacked, adrenalin starts, realise its spam, brain is awake… climb aboard the rollercoaster!
I get breakfast in bed every day, it was part of our wedding vows, and it means I kick straight into work mode. Over breakfast I read Twitter and check Facebook. If I have time I check out Flipboard, which pulls together my RSS feeds (I love my iPad). I collect up stuff I want to read later on Pocket.
The office is a very short drive from home so I get there about 9.00, set up the laptop and grab coffee and read the responses to the emails I sent first thing. When I hear about people who achieve a zero inbox it makes me feel bad, my inbox currently has 5,712 items and they are the ones that are unread! They are not really unread, I use the preview but most of them are keeping me in the loop and don’t require my input. If they do I usually respond immediately or flag for later but email rules my life and sometimes overwhelms me. Life is too short to sort them into neat little boxes.
10am and the mini iPads have arrived for one of the Blogging Edge campaigns, it’s our blogger engagement platform that matches bloggers with brands so the team will meet to discuss the next steps with the current campaigns and photograph the competition prizes for the promotion materials.
12pm meeting with the blogger feedback and promotion team in the beanbag room to see how various creative projects are being received and commented on. We have to identify the right influencers and ask them the right questions to get useful feedback on our content ideas so we can make improvements during the creation stage. We continue to identify interested parties and build our list so we can promote the content once it’s live. If you get the wrong people and ask the wrong questions you can screw this up quite easily so we keep close tabs on what works and what doesn’t. Being able to send a visual of our idea, even if it’s a sketch on an envelope gets much better feedback than trying to describe it in just words.
1pm lunch is either a working one with directors (once a week) or more often hanging out with staff in the common room chatting and chilling.
Post lunch emails are followed by a quick catch up with our Online Promotions Manager (read ‘online PR’) to see how various press campaigns are performing.
3pm is a content planning meeting. We have a new client so we need to plan their six-month content strategy. Our Editorial Manager has done his review and started to populate the XMind Map, researchers have refined the personas for the target audience and compiled half a dozen different ideas for content creation including examples of where it’s been done successfully already and how we can do it better. The meeting brings these parties together with the Client Manager to discuss the business objectives, client focus and content ideas so the output is a six month plan for the creative team and writers to refer to.
4.30pm to 6pm more emails plus review and approvals of creative content briefs and signing off content before the client sees the final version.
6pm to 7.30pm is often my favourite time of the day as I get to choose what I work on. It may be more emails or approvals/reviews of projects that need my input but if I am lucky I can deconstruct and re-engineer something that I’ve read about. There are some fantastic posts about processes that I think how can we make that work better for us? This is the fun bit as it often results in some kind of process improvement.
At 7.30pm the security guard sings through the intercom ‘time to go home’ Andy Pandy style… he wants to lock up. I’m regularly the last person to leave. I try not to do proper work once I get home but emails, Twitter and Flipboard are not work to me, with online marketing changing so fast its essential to keep up.
I work most weekends, sometimes putting in 8-10 hour days but again this is the type of work which is more fun than work. Yes, I can find a technical content audit can be pure fun! Often I get lost in the creative world of iPad apps as they inspire many creative ideas for me.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Our goals are in line with our client’s online business strategy, which matches up with our six-month content strategy. Client goals are always to make more money through improved results, it’s how we get paid, so being clear about specific goals such as increased traffic, increased sales, brand awareness or customer engagement means our content goals invariably match the client’s business goals.
Individual pieces of creative content will have specific purposes, for example: attracting new traffic, supporting the buying process by encouraging visitors along a journey, or, encouraging repeat business. We measure performance according to the purpose of the content so we will look at metrics such as page views, referrals, social shares, linking root domains and increased conversions from traffic that touches this content.
Key performance indicators are part of our monthly reporting to clients but they need to be metrics that can continuously improve such as traffic, revenue, number of conversions and not things that have a natural threshold such as conversion rate, average basket size and average time on site. These are all metrics to monitor for improvement but they are not KPIs on an ever increasing results based model.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Basecamp – for client communication and keeping all their stuff in one place.
Trello – this is where we manage and collaborate on all the creative projects.
XMind Map – a mind mapping tool for planning our content strategy.
Google Docs/Excel – internal management documents such as listing all creative projects and what stages they are at.
Followerwonk – to identify influencers so we can learn what content they like and share.
Buzzstream – the Rolls Royce of outreach software, it’s the hub of all out outreach work.
Internal tools – for competitor analysis and also checking the performance metrics of content.
Features Exec – media database for communicating with journalists and the press.
Response Source – journalist enquiry service to identify opportunities for clients.
Wunderlist – free, easy and beautiful to do list that you can share with team members.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love how truly creative it is both in terms of what we can achieve as a team but also how easily we can change direction to ensure we are providing services that clients want and that get results. It is incredibly rewarding to be influential in so many directions.
It sucks big time when you realise you’ve created a piece of content that doesn’t quite fly even though the team and the client thought it was an awesome idea. It also sucks when the original content idea, which started out as awesome, ends up meh and you can’t quite work out what went wrong.
You can never be 100% certain that it won’t happen again but with everything that sucks we learn and make changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So far, so good.
Being so addicted to work can suck a bit too, I don’t have much of a social life at all. I need to work on that!
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
10 years ago I met my future husband John Courtney (Executive Chairman) and shortly after we started working together. He already offered online marketing services and I was fascinated to know about how it worked. I did a course and read as much as possible, I also got myself a mentor who gave me confidence and helped me understand which of the contradicting messages were correct. John got the business, I did the client work… it seemed to work!
As an owner of a very successful agency I’m not sure there is anywhere else to go from here. I have done all the jobs from sales through technical to client services and now to creative which is my dream job. From here I can only do more of the same and grow the business further.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
The key to that question is wanting to work in the industry, it changes fast and it’s quite competitive so you have to be passionate about it. If you watch the clock and switch off until the next day then you can certainly work in the industry but you’ll struggle to progress quickly. Those who have the passion and desire usually have the ability and that shines through to employers.
Working agency side will give you lots of exposure to different kinds of businesses, you will learn a lot and quickly. It is generally very rewarding while also being quite challenging! Working in-house will allow you to get more in-depth experience in one area. You may still have client management issues (just with stakeholders) and resourcing issues but you will get to spend more time actually working on the nuts and bolts of the business.
Take a strategic approach to your career, decide where you want to be and then you can work out what you need to do to get there.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
I am constantly on the lookout for examples of outstanding campaigns and every day I come across awesome content.
Personally I use Tripadvisor often. I use it for researching holidays and places to eat. I trust the site because it has so much user generated content and I love reading reviews. Likewise I can lose hours on Amazon and buy far too many books – I’m a sucker for a bargain so I’ll overspend to save on delivery.
I like the way Next understand what motivates its target audience, i.e. it is all about ‘getting the look’ on pages like this http://www.next.co.uk/g382014s4 rather than just buying a top. Its recent video for Next Home is all about the experience of getting that look rather than focusing on the products. It is very emotive and effective. It makes me want to buy more stuff – kerching!
Wistia has worked hard to deliver content that appeals to its target audience values by adding a learning centre. I set up the lighting for our video studio using their guidance and I’ll be back to consume more of their content for sure.
Innocent’s Big Knit campaign is impressive as being well planned, exceptionally executed and highly successful.
The internet is just becoming much more of a pleasurable place to be and that is because of creative content!
If you would like a Day In The Life profile then by all means throw your hat into the ring by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to put your job title in the subject line. PS - I have had plenty of requests from agency folk, so I especially want to hear from brands / client-side people!