A Better Workflow

Kevin Gepford


I’m interested in the intersection of technology, business and creative organizations — especially in tools that bring creative people together to not only improve their work lives but also build positive business outcomes.

I write on topics related to digital workspaces, creative operations, media management, and workflows.

You can contact me through this site, or find me on Twitter and LinkedIn .

Conferences: Creative Operations Exchange

Apr 01, 2017

When I joined AT&T’s digital creative team in the fall of 2016, my job title included a couple of words that even four years ago you didn’t hear very much. Those words were “Creative Operations.”

Change has happened quickly. Creative Ops, as a management concept, is popping up on online jobs postings and LinkedIn. This is definitely a trend — more and more creative organizations are devoting strategic leadership resources to getting the work done smarter and better.

Companies like ConceptShare are using the term to stand out from the competition.

And conferences are starting to join the party.

Last year the Henry Stewart digital asset management conference added a day-long Creative Ops track to its New York marquee (and they’re doing it again). And now, Insight Exchange is hosting a two-day Creative Operations Exchange in San Francisco. It’s looking to be a good size crowd.

I am excited to be part of this event. I’ll be joining an executive roundtable with fellow industry veterans to discuss the state of the Creative Operations role and its emerging importance within creative organizations.

My co-panelists are:

  • Eric Fulmer (panel moderator), a veteran of improving business practices who is now dedicated to great software — Capture Integration — that cuts the friction out of managing digital photoshoots on an industrial scale. His demo blew me away when I saw it.
  • Claire Carter-Ginn, a consultant who offers a spirited melding of content and commerce for brands and retailers, including delivering the goods for monster photo shoots in the fashion industry. I know her from her time at Michael Kors.
  • Vladimir Simovich, who made his name in Creative Ops at the home-furnishings company Restoration Hardware, among other experiences.

We will be talking about the role of Creative Ops, including:

  • Defining the role – what does a Creative Ops leader do, anyway?
  • Creative Operations metrics justify the role
  • Building out your creative ops team, and how to scale appropriately
  • In this highly data-driven role to track productivity, how do you measure quality?

Two of these panelists I will be meeting for the first time. But I love LinkedIn for showing me the connections we have in common. Those of us who are passionate about this topic may be dispersed geographically, and embedded in all manner of enterprises, but we are a small and growing army.

Since the folks at Insight Exchange said it best, I want to include their synopsis of the event:

The emerging role responsible for Creative Operations has become an indispensable part of leading organizations’ marketing and creative teams. Yet, charged with such varied and disparate duties makes defining the role and problem-solving its challenges an ongoing difficulty. Voila! – The Creative Operations Exchange – designed as a unique forum to promote trouble-shooting solutions to common pain points, process discovery, collaboration, and inspiration – offers peer-to-peer networking opportunities amongst pioneering practitioners.

Hope to see you there!

Creative Ops Empathy Maps

Mar 03, 2017

By Kevin Gepford

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, to develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What This Is Gleans the juicy parts from your interviews to show what challenges your team, and what they see, think, feel, and hear.

Why it Matters Brings home the pain and aspirations of the people you work with and shows you the things that your Future Creative Ops might be able to resolve.

You’ve done the same during your interviews and persona development — uncovering numerous pain points within your team. Product Managers put a lot of effort into learning more about their customers to glean insights about their pains, needs and problems. This brings focus to the development of their product or app.

In Their Shoes

They’ve shared with you their experiences with your “tech stack”, as well as what it’s like being part of the “human stack”. Both these stacks support (and sometimes interfere with) getting the work done. Yet, they may not have a clear idea of what they want. But you’re taking notes, identifying trends, and finding common goals and themes. To put yourself in their shoes.

Empathy maps distill and organize this qualitative data by charting it out. Like a user persona, empathy maps can represent a group of users. It’s OK to exaggerate these themes (without becoming ridiculous) to make your point.

Product Managers Use empathy maps to focus on their customers’ problems in order to create a product that solves it. The empathy map helps the app team zoom out from focusing on behaviors to consider the users’ emotions and experience. Typically, research notes are categorized based on what the research interviewees were thinking, feeling, doing, seeing, and hearing as they engaged with your product.

Creative Ops uses empathy maps to identify specific pain points within your process, team structure, and technology. By necessity, your empathy maps will cut across a broader swath of types — staffers, managers, and constituents — roughly aligned to the main role groups in your team.

Our take on the Empathy Map focuses on

Think and Feel: What’s important to your staffers? What are they sensitive for? Do they have work-related hopes and dreams?

Hear: What influences the person? Who is talking to them and swaying their opinions (Yay office gossip!)

Say and Do: Who do they interact with during their work day? How do they spend their time?

See: When they are exhibiting the pain, what do they say? What does their work environment look like? What could be a distraction?

Pain and Gain: What obstacles or challenges do they face? What do they hope to achieve, and how might they measure success?

Then you draw the map.

Here’s an example

Do Your Own Empathy map worksheet


Empathy maps lead directly into identifying the pain points of your tech stack, and human stack, that you can tackle.

Resources & Inspiration

Agile Coaching Tip: What Is an Empathy Map?

by David Bland

How to Use Persona Empathy Mapping

by Nikki Knox

Creative Ops and the Power of Personas

Jan 18, 2017

By Kevin Gepford

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their value proposition? Is it possible to manage Creative Ops like a startup? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What This Is: User personas are composite profiles that represent clusters of users.

Why it Matters: Personas humanize the key themes across our creative work group, while stripping out the distraction of real identities. Personas capture the needs and behaviors of the people in our team, and also help inform your department direction and strategy.

Our journey of applying the methods of Product Management to Creative Operations continues with personas. Every app developer on the planet does this. I’m using personas during my current development project to create a centralized workflow system for the digital marketing group at AT&T.

Personas give relatable faces to the range of my future users, and help me identify and understand what they might be looking for in a better workflow. Likewise, in the analog challenges of management and team building personas can yield insights into what makes things tick… and how it could tick better.

Product Managers Do: Translate their user interviews into a persona of your target users.

Creative Ops Does: Translate our user interviews into personas of key roles in our team, plus key roles outside the team with whom we interact. Our personas are totally going to have “Frustrations” as important data points!

Personas capture the essence of groups of people and based on real-life research. App developers look for common elements such age, gender, behaviors, attitudes, motivations and the user’s environment, how they use of technology or products, or lifestyle choices. What motivates them.

Persona development is serious business for many types of companies — banking, credit cards, insurance, hospitals, museums and non-profits, e-commerce, and across the realm of enterprise-focused applications.

The results are usually expressed in something like a simple one-sheet one-sheet dossier — including photo of the archetypical “persona”, some stats on their age, hobbies, job role, gender, etc. The most important fields are what motivates this person. Why do they come to your site? What are they looking for? What need to they have that is unmet?

We Already Know a Lot

Creative Ops has a head start — our team and key constituents are already organized by roles and activities. We’ll focus on their interests, skills, personality, and the work environment.

Personas help us understand our team’s pain points, day-to-day responsibilities, the things that matter to them, and even how work moves through and across our organization. They’re the little voice in our ear reminding us what effective Creative Ops looks like to our team — keeping us focused as we design and implement solutions and explain it to our staff, peers, stakeholders and management.

When I was developing a creative management model at Comedy Central, I built personas based on real-life roles, including:

  • Marketing VP
  • Production Assistant
  • Creative Director
  • Project Manager
  • Junior Designer
  • Director of Production
  • Web Designer
  • IT Director/Manager
  • Video Editor

This helped me keep in mind goals you are trying to accomplish and who you will accomplish them for. It kept meaningful things in mind things like, “Upgrading my Digital Asset Management system would be exactly the thing to give John in our press team better access to our photo library”, or “I need to keep my presentation succinct and colorful if I’m ever going to convince the management team to invest in my important project”.

Speaking of management, this can also benefit the layers above us. Let’s suppose you are called on to defend your road map for planned hiring, investment in equipment, or even short-term specialists and consultants. Knowing what you’re trying to accomplish, and how it will help the members of your team, enables you to make wise decisions and communicate your goals to any level within the organization.


You will condense your interviews into a compact and understandable format by building a dossier of personas for your key constituents, staffers, and leaders around you — from the boss down to the production assistant. Tell the story in pictures and words. Keep these personas in your side view. Nearly everything else you do in Creative Ops will be done to benefit these people.


An introduction to personas and how to create them


by Tina Calabria
A Product Manager Persona


by Bruce McCarthy

A Farther Look: Get Out of the Building

Dec 19, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, to develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What’s Special About External Interviews? We’re getting the expert views of people outside our business workplaces.

Why External Interviews Matter An outside perspective will help give us context, inspiration, and confidence.

Research conducted within your team and organization will reveal a lot of great insights about how the place is actually functioning, and what your team thinks about ways to make things better.

Now, you need to get out of the building!

The best external sources of information are:

  • Peers or leaders in your company
  • Peers or leaders in your Industry
  • Conventions
  • Meetups and local events

In my experience, the last two are the easiest. So let’s start there. For anybody in creative operations, media management, or digital asset management, the premiere even to attend is Henry Stewart Conferences, held yearly in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Or the Creative Operations Summit in New York, sponsored by ConceptShare. If your focus skews toward Marketing, there is an even larger field of conferences to choose from.


What’s the best way to benefit from a conference? In my experience, just show up and see what happens.

Conferences are such great places to meet likeminded professionals find out what they’re doing. Not all your time will be spent in session — check out the lunch tables full of interesting people enjoying their sandwiches. What are you waiting for? Sit down and introduce yourself! Your goal is to find people who are facing challenges similar to yours — and it does not matter what industry they’re in. Get their contact information, connect to them on LinkedIn, and follow up in the days or weeks after the conference to pick their brain.

These peers can help you with:

  • How did they identify their creative or marketing tech needs?
  • What technology were they using before, and what are they using now? Why?
  • Is creative collaboration a challenge? If so, have they done anything that has made it better since last year? What do they think their next steps will be?
  • How is their department organized, and what are their pain points?
  • How did they approach their managers about ideas for improving workflow and efficiency?
  • Do they have any tips for how you might approach your managers about invest in new systems and technology?


In New York, I’ve attended Digital Asset Management meetups, Product Manager meetings, as well as Creative Operations breakfasts hosted by the very smart people at GlobalEdit. Sometimes there might be free food, or drinks! Not only will you learn from the show, you’ll also make new professional contacts.

Within your company — if you work for a large one, like I do — it’s easy to search the corporate intranet for titles and jobs similar to yours. I’ve made allies, and learned about new systems and workflows from my peers at sister networks. I’ve also made great contacts within the IT and MTS groups. The goal is to move out a layer or two from your immediate circle, and make friends there. The people closest to you are the leastlikely to have new information that you don’t already know.

To discover peers in other companies, LinkedIn is just fantastic. Search LinkedIn topics for content similar to your area of interest. For example, my search would be for terms like Creative Operations. Or start from the top — search a specific company and drill down until you find someone that looks like a good match.

Even someone working for direct competitor may be willing to talk about how they get the work done, and how they move things forward against all odds. They’ll talk even more if you take them to lunch. Go ahead and pay for it out of your own pocket if necessary — don’t let your company’s expense policy hold you back. You need to learn about other environments, how people and teams are organized, how they collaborate, and how things flow from conception through development into production and distribution.

You’d be surprised how receptive people can be when you just message them on LinkedIn or email them and ask for help — and they may even be in the same boat as you. If you’re lucky, you’ll strike gold with someone that has already been through everything, with war stories to share that you can learn from.


Of course you ARE taking notes from these meetings. Patterns and themes will start to emerge.

Your confidence and ability to speak to the issues will grow. And at some point you’ll be surprised by how far you’ve come in understanding the “bigger picture” of your situation — and articulate the challenges, needs, and your point of view.

Over the years, I’ve worked with or gotten to know a number of people who have become trusted advisors. They don’t necessarily know who they are — I don’t make a big deal out of it. But to myself, I think of them as my personal Advisory Council.

A final word on networking. The worst time to start networking is when you’re desperate — like when you’re looking for a job. A great time to network is when you need information. People are happy to make new acquaintances and share their expertise. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship! Keep in contact by sending occasional updates, or even a success story based on something specific you learned from them. Meeting for coffee, even just a couple of times a year, is enough to keep your network active.


Start networking, and hit the conference trail. Find out what your peers and other organizations are doing to mature their processes and systems. Remember to transcribe the notes from your interviews, along with your thoughts and observations.

A Closer Look: Talk to Your Staff

Oct 04, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their value proposition? Is it possible to manage Creative Ops like a startup? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What’s Special About Internal Interviews? The focus is inward — a deep dive with your team and people from the groups you serve and support.

Why Internal Interviews Matter These help us get a clearer picture of our team’s workflow, environment and needs.

There’s a ton of reasons why start-ups and new products fail. But a big one is a poor understanding of the market and the needs of the potential users. Creative Operations teams needs the same level of attention, and research, rather than just running on autopilot.

App Developers do: Dig into the minds of their potential customers and users — focusing on their Needs, as well as Features and Benefits.

Creative Ops does: Interview staffers to find out pain points, how the work is getting done, and staffer’s ideas for improvements.

We will take a look at what we do, how we do it, and whom we serve. The goal is to change up our way of approaching business by taking a closer look at process optimization, including at our legacy team structures and the tools we use.

This part of our investigation is strictly internal. We’re interested in the lives and ideas of our rank-and-file workers: the project managers, the designers, video editors, and creative directors. We need to talk to our peers who work alongside us, and to the managers and business leaders above us. The less we know about a role, the more enlightening the interview will be. It isn’t enough to just imagine what people are thinking.

Qualitative Data

Your team members will have opinions on ways to make things better — and you need to hear it from them. You want to find out how their experience of your “tech stack,” as well what it’s like to be a member of the “human stack.” Both these stacks support, and sometimes interfere with, getting the work done. Get to the bottom of it!

After all, we’re building a strategy for Creative Operations. Our findings must be documented and fact-based in order to win over the decision-makers you need to support your initiatives and to take action and make investments based on your recommendations.

Questions to ask include:

  • What might our team and organization be able to do in the future, that we can’t do now?
  • What missing from our current creative output that our organization would like to do, contrasted to what it’s able to do now?
  • What technology might enable our team to better accomplish its strategy and tasks?
  • What staff reporting or communication structures might enable us to do this better?
  • What do our team members want?

Surveys are one obvious tool, and have their place among user research methods. This is a deep and rigorous subject matter, and may require a more formal process and methodology than practical

I passionately believe that the most well rounded insights come from spending real time talking to people, and even watching them work. And I’ve been doing a lot of it in the first weeks of my new job at DirecTV/AT&T. I want to know how many steps it takes to create a visual graphic and make it available to a manager for review and approval. What happens after that? Is the technology frustrating people, and slowing them down? How are the challenges facing production designers different from content designers?

I want to learn how do project managers spend their day. Do they feel that creative directors are available and responsive? Are their meetings productive? What’s their view on how well the freelancers are being managed? Where are the trouble spots? Do they see duplication of effort? Are they constantly chasing down information and the status of things? Is there too much paperwork?

The leaders of marketing or creative will also have some interesting thoughts on the overall effectiveness of your team. Are marketing and creative briefs reaching the right staff? Do the leaders feel like the staff is growing stronger with each campaign, and learning from their mistakes and achievements? Is the work perceived as the outcome of deliberate thinking and decisive action? Are the campaigns effective? Are things getting done on time, and on budget?

An Example

In my research leading up to developing Comedy Central’s digital content hub, I spent a bit of time with several of our senior video editors to find out about their process and how they did their jobs. After a 30-minute session with one of our senior editors, I stood up to leave. That’s when he said, “This is the first time I’ve ever felt like somebody understood how we work.” Mark was amazed to be taken so seriously, and he was enthusiastic about what I was working on that might make his life better.

Now, multiply that across your team. If they see you’re asking smart questions and taking notes, they’ll buy in to the program without you even having to ask for cheerleaders.

The reach of your interviews could go vertical or horizontal — or maybe a blend of the two approaches. Aim to tap representatives within each functional group, especially to your vocal and engaged staff. When you hit an area you don’t understand, or where people are especially frustrated, dig deeper until it’s clear to you.

Internal Interviews — Wide & Deep


You’ll need more than 10 and possibly 20 interviews to get a sense of the landscape. After each interview, transcribe your notes and add your own thoughts and observations. Make bullet lists wherever possible. By the end of the interviews you’ll have a better idea of the real issues — as perceived by the people closest to the work — and a basis for persuading your managers. It also creates a baseline to measure the success of whatever you do next.


Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portugal

Killer Ops: Minimum Viable Product

Sep 07, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, and develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What is a MVP? Validating an idea by identifying the smallest things that could be done to get results.

Why it Matters By starting small you test your ideas, as well as gain momentum, experience and credibility in your quest to make a bigger difference.

Product Managers talk about Minimum Viable Product as a way of building a prototype with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development (Read More).

One of the things I love about this idea is that its goal is to learn the most about a product with the least amount of effort. It’s inspiring. I should acknowledge that the term MPV has a very specific meaning in the world of Product Management. In order to emphasize practical ways out the specific benefits to Creative Ops, I’ve appropriated the term and tweaked that classic definition to suit my own ends.

I propose that, for our purposes, a Minimum Viable Product might be something we could actually do using the least amount of effort, fewest resources, and without disruption in daily operations. We can validate our idea by taking visible action – or even several small actions.

The ideas you’re validating could include: “Does your team have the capacity to adapt and change to new demands from the business?”, or “What is my personal capacity to implement change?” At its essence, it could be thought of as mini-makeover of our Creative Operations. As I see it, this could be a grassroots, or guerrilla operation. And the experience will give us some little proofs-of-concept that lead into the bigger ideas we’re working on — which will play themselves out on a larger stage and require organizational support.

Keep in mind that only you know what better Creative Ops looks like in your organization. But we share the same goal of improved and even innovative operations — processes, structure, people, and the tools needed to make it all work.

We can consider anything that meets the following criteria:

  • Tweaks current processes
  • Uses free or existing tech resources
  • Doesn’t need high-level permission
  • Doesn’t involve capital expenditure
  • Doesn’t require hiring
  • Does help morale
  • Doesn’t make people afraid that layoffs are coming
  • Can be explained in two sentences
  • Can be done without having to announce it

Here’s the assignment: What can you do now, on your own and with the resources you have, to improve operations?

  • A Minimum Viable Product could include:
  • Build a template library for all your deliverables
  • Try using Slack
  • Create a Wiki page to introduce freelancers and consultants to your culture and process
  • Create a Wiki page for frequently asked questions
  • Develop an online Brand Style Guide
  • Create Digital Toolkits for video
  • Change your meeting formats to standup
  • Hold post-mortem meetings after a campaign has finished
  • Stop padding your deadlines
  • Push approvals down a level, to free up creative director time
  • Buy your team beer on Fridays
  • Can be funded from OPEX


Viewed this way, a Minimum Viable Product could include:
  • Build a template library for all your deliverables
  • Try using Slack
  • Create a Wiki page to introduce freelancers and consultants to your culture and process
  • Create a Wiki page for frequently asked questions
  • Develop an online Brand Style Guide
  • Create Digital Toolkits for video
  • Change your meeting formats to standup
  • Hold post-mortem meetings after a campaign has finished
  • Stop padding your deadlines
  • Push approvals down a level, to free up creative director time
  • Buy your team beer on Fridays
  • Can be funded from OPEX
In the longer term, of course, we’re aiming for bigger changes. But there’s a lot of work ahead to do to get ready for that.

Our final plan will require bold proposals and take more resources. It could involve:

  • Shooting for the stars!
  • Business case
  • Permission from IT
  • Permission from director of finance
  • Permission from SVPs
  • Hiring of consultants
  • Hiring new staff
  • New lines of reporting
  • Deploying new digital tools
  • Change management
Bottom Line
Test your Creative Ops Chops and start where you are — focus on what’s possible, try some small changes, and watch and learn from it.

Data and the Power of DAM at Comedy Central

Aug 12, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

Digital Asset Management at Comedy Central got its start as a grassroots initiative about a decade ago, and over the years had steadily grown in size and usefulness while never quite achieving institutional legitimacy.

One day I realized I was tired of explaining to our creative and business managers – every budget cycle – why investing in our Digital Asset Management system was so important. I needed to figure out how to present my case for DAM in a way that made sense to them: I turned to storytelling.

What inspired me was an experience I had at the  Henry Stewart Digital Asset Management Conference last November, in Los Angeles. I sat in on a half-day seminar discussing “DAM Leadership – Achieving Growth and Establishing Leadership”, led jointly by experts David Lipsey and Graham Allan.

Among several topics they covered, David and Graham talked about obstacles within organizations that can hinder Digital Asset Management from thriving. DAM is important work, but leadership often don’t see the marvelous benefits. What they DO see, however, is how much it costs!

So that’s the DAM challenge: Explain how this endeavor helps the organization. Demonstrate the importance of maintaining control of the enterprise’s intellectual property, who the key users are, and how these users benefit. Success depends on us speaking the language of our managers, and showing in simple and graphical ways all the benefits that DAM can offer. Another tip: Use examples of the most popular assets to visually demonstrate the system’s effectiveness.

That was easy homework. Back at the office, I kept an eye on our activity logs for a while. After 6 months I harvested the data and ran some analytics to see what interesting insights I might find. A few surprises turned up; other findings reinforced my previous hunches and field observations.

Usage Patterns

Two of our big internal clients are the teams that orchestrate the delivery of Comedy Central’s content to digital platforms for comedy fans to view or download our shows. We generically refer to them as “DTO partners”. My team supports this work by creating graphics that appear next to each show’s title and description. And the DAM system is how we deliver everything to them. The work gets started with a JIRA ticket requesting 20 or 50 specific assets. When we fulfilled the request we’d tell our clients, “everything’s done — find it in the DAM!”

And that’s exactly what they would do. In one sitting, they’d grab everything they needed. The spikes in our usage logs revealed their very distinct patterns of behavior: binge downloading.

Creative users were the total opposite. These users tended to nibble and snack on our digital assets. Throughout the day or week they’d go to the site looking for something or other, browse around a bit, download a couple of things, and then vanish. The contrasts between these two groups are evidenced by the numbers: The daily average download count is 40.5, but the standard deviation is an astonishingly high 35.404.

Comedy Central DAM Stats

At Comedy Central, nobody works on weekends or holidays. Don’t believe me? The logs prove it! During the Jan-June period (26 weeks), there were 125 days in which at least one person used the DAM, out of a total of 182 days.

Our busiest day saw a whopping 500% spike above average, for a record 231 downloads. For that day, May 31, the logs revealed some unusual and interesting activity. Somebody downloaded 34 photos taken at a publicity stunt for “Moonbeam City”. Maybe someone in Marketing needed this? Another 31 assets were grabbed by a user who was searching the past 5 years of our Print Archive back catalog; my inner sleuth suspects that this person was getting ready to start a job search, and needed the material to update their portfolio. I have no way of identifying who it was, and I don’t care. Our DAM was made for this, too! Digital Platforms accounted for most of the remaining downloads.

The second busiest day was dramatically lower, with 158 downloads.

I noticed other patterns – such as on Jan. 15, when somebody downloaded every approved image from our photo shoot for season 2 of  Broad City. What were they up to? Maybe they copied everything to the server so they could keep track of them the old-fashioned way? That would be kind of funny, in a painful sort of way.

Popularity Contest

My biggest surprise was over which image won the popularity contest. It was the silhouetted key art for  Idiot Sitter (featuring show creator-stars Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse). That show enjoyed a successful launch, which lead to renewal for the second season (currently in production). But nothing about this image stood out from the sea of other assets. I am still scratching my head over why it was so popular. But it’s the clear winner. Nothing else comes even close.

Here’s a sampling of some of the most popular assets, and the number of times they were downloaded during the 6-month sample period:
  • Idiot Sitter (“hero” image, silhouetted) – 62
  • South Park lineup – 24
  • Trevor Noah (hand on chin, silhouetted) – 22
  • Workaholics “Photocopier Prank” image – 21
  • Comedy Central one-line logo – 19
  • Broad City (silhouette) – 16
  • Workaholics “Rolling Dice” image – 15
  • Trevor Noah (standing, silhouetted) – 14
  • Comedy Central 2-line logo – 14
  • Broad City (standing pose, silhouetted) – 13
  • Broad City Logo – 12
  • Dave Chappelle (1920x1080 from Season 1) – 12
  • Logo for Daily Show with Trevor Noah – 12
  • Logo for Not Safe with Nikki Glaser – 11
  • Logo for Idiot Sitter – 10
  • Daniel Tosh (retouched) – 9
  • Daily Show correspondents (silhouetted) – 8

Most Popular Assets

Breakdown of download mix:
  • 5,305 Total Downloads
  • 40.5 Daily Average
  • 2,748 were downloaded only once in 6 months
  • 723 assets were downloaded at least twice
  • 39 assets were downloaded 10X or more in 6 months

Comedy Central - Asset Utilization

What insights did I discover?
  • Delivering our DTO art via the DAM system is working. It’s by far our largest collection (59%), as well as the most active (51%).
  • Designers love images that have already been silhouetted.
  • CC logos are in demand, but not as much as you’d think.
  • For popular and current shows, users desire multiple poses of the stars.
  • Comedy Central loves its vintage shows – The Chappelle Show ended its run a decade ago, but we’re still promoting it. As an example.
  • Assets that got only one hit in the 6-month period created a very long tail — accounting for more than half of the total downloads (52%). If you added together everything else, that was downloaded 2 or more times, that total (48%) couldn’t catch up.
  • On the other hand, when us Comedy Centralites do like something, we like it A LOT! Top downloads tended to be images of stars from current shows, plus show and network logos.
I decided to share a couple of stats with our Vice President of Design. The number was just too big to ignore. In toto, our DAM system eliminated 5,300 opportunities for interruption and distraction from our design team, in just 6 months. That averages 40.5 assets every working day.

I explained that many of those downloads were by people completely outside our team – each download was one less time these people might call and interrupt us to ask for something they needed. Also, a lot of the downloads were by insiders — our own creative people. There are two gains here: time saved in finding useful assets, and fewer distractions that come from from having to ask a coworker to track down an asset on one of our (yes, three!) active servers.

Comedy Central’s Digital Asset Management Specs and Stats:

Software: Extensis Portfolio
Hardware: Windows Server 2012 R2
Number of Users: Unknown. Access is anonymous, and it’s open to anyone inside the secure corporate firewall.
Active Catalogs: 4
Asset Count:
Logos: 880 items
Images: 15,691 items
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Digital Asset Management Helps Comedy Central Find the Funny

Jul 31, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

Digital Asset Management was one of my early initiatives at Comedy Central, and it’s remained one of my all-time favorite projects there.

Comedy Central’s DAM system was originally created by — and for the benefit of — the print design team. The initiative started small, but it grew to serve additional teams across the larger creative workgroup. Over the course of a decade its reach eventually expanded to serve a broad swath of users across Viacom’s corporate enterprise — users who have come to depend on it for ready access to a collection of more than 50,000 of Comedy Central’s branded digital assets.

A Grass Roots Initiative

Before there was any Digital Asset Management system, the design and graphics team were frequently bombarded with requests that were highly disruptive to its workflow and sanity. Any person, from any department in the company, might develop a sudden and urgent need for logos or images from the network’s various shows. These were important requests. We’d have to drop everything to hunt down the needed asset — and our resources were scattered across individual workstations, local storage devices, optical media, and a couple of servers.

Other requests might be for printouts of something or other that we’d done in the past – and would always come in the middle of a critical deadline:

These requests always followed an established script: The urgent request comes in; recipient has to search the archives; identify the correct archive disc and pull it from the shelves; locate the file on that disc; copy the file and supporting graphics and fonts to their local workstation; open the file; load the fonts; re-link all the images; make a printout; take the printout to whoever requested it; delete all the files and return the disc to its drawer. Then, get back to work on the deadline.

It was easy to convince my manager that anything would be better than this!

The best selling-point was that these requests — which always required the hands-on attention of the graphics team — could be handled through a self-service portal that anybody could search and download from the system. I estimated that this would knock out about 95% of the requests, and we’d continue to manage the remaining 5% that required custom work to fulfill.

My boss created a budget for this, and told me to get to work.

Our criteria for a DAM system included:

  • Attractive interface that designers could accept
  • Ease of use for regular users — minimal training needed
  • Access via a web browser
  • Customizable so the interface looked like Comedy Central
  • Straightforward administration
  • Would run on a Macintosh server, so IT didn’t have to be involved
  • Automated metadata and keyword tagging
  • Priced to fit into our creative budget and not trigger CAPEX issues
  • North America-based support
  • Training and consultants available when needed

Ten years ago, not many systems met our criteria. We narrowed the list down to two finalists, and selected Extensis Portfolio.

Our task list was pretty short: Set up the server; install the software; two-day onsite training; start cataloging our assets.

Organized to Help Users Find Things Fast

In interviewing team members, I learned that they often hit a point in their work where they needed just one specific element to complete their design. It might be a logo, or an image for a show, but rarely more than one thing at any time. This understanding inspired the conceptual framework for the four catalogs we created – that users would generally want to search one catalog at a time for one type of asset.

In doing this, we reduced the amount of “junk” results for everyone. It also produced very focused search results.

For example, a marketing director might suddenly say: “I need to see all the finished work of everything we’ve ever done to advertise South Park.” He was not interested in anything else. DAM to the rescue! A collection of PDF’s existed there with this use-case in mind. The marketer would search, find, download, and print — without help — all the work created for South Park at its 10, 15, and 20-year marks.

But yeah, most of the time, most of our users didn’t care at all about those PDF’s… and by design these would never appear if they were searching for a logo or image.

Each of our four catalogs is dedicated to a specific type of asset:

  • Logos (of current and past shows)
  • Images (of ad art for current and past shows, plus gallery and studio shots of talent)
  • PDF’s (of all past advertising and print work)
  • Electronic Sell-Through (Graphics for on-demand platforms such as ComCast and TimeWarner, and Download-To-Own platforms such as XBox, iTunes, Amazon, HULU, etc.)

4 Asset Libraries

The Long and Winding Road to Acceptance

At some point through the years, there was department restructuring, and changes in management. Our group was absorbed into a larger team. The new managers did not have experience with DAM. They didn’t understand the benefits, and barely even knew what it was. I tried, of course — continually championing of the system, keeping the assets current and managing system updates. Basically, keeping it alive until it gained traction.

One of the leaders waited for me to go away on vacation, and then… asked a member of my staff to copy a bunch of the assets “onto the SAN server, so I can find them.”

Of course I heard about this when I returned! I didn’t know whether to scream, cry, or stick my head in a gas oven. It was a moment of realization — that without support from leadership, the system could never fulfill its potential.

Fast forward about a year. I overheard one of our managers suggesting that every workstation in the department should have a bookmark to the DAM. This was so WOW! It gave me a glimmer of hope that as more and more users rely on the system for their daily work, Digital Asset Management could become part of our shared culture.

Although buy-in from my immediate group was a challenge, teams outside our immediate circle loved it.

Comedy Central’s publicity team is a big user — constantly downloading elements to help their work with the press. There’s also a cluster of users in Viacom’s international division, who deliver our content as well as offering promotional support wherever in the world it’s needed. Europe. Asia. South Africa. Canada.

But the singlemost biggest users of our DAM system are the DTO and On-Demand groups. These teams orchestrate the delivery of Comedy Central’s content to digital platforms where comedy fans may view or download our shows. Examples of On-Demand platforms include cable companies ComCast and TimeWarner; examples of Download-To-Own platforms include XBox, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, etc.

Our Brand Creative group supports the work of these two teams by creating graphics that appear next to the show’s title and description on each platform or site. And the DAM system is how we deliver everything to them.

Each client gets a lightbox that shows only the assets we’ve created specifically for them. They can find anything they need in a snap. They download whatever they need and push it out to the platform, without needing to save a copy somewhere on their workstation. Our system is always there should they need anything again. They totally love this, and they’ve told me that of all the networks in the Viacom family, Comedy Central’s delivery system puts everyone else to shame. That’s something to be proud of.

Achieving Technological Legitimacy

After eight years in, I realized we had to address the issue of hardware. It had become clear that our lone Mac server living in the corporate datacenter – among a hive of Windows-based servers – was not sustainable. The IT people really didn't understand why the Mac was there, and they did not like it. However, Comedy Central needed the benefits that came from hosting our system with them. Migrating to a Windows server was the obvious next step. It was the only way to achieve legitimacy and position our DAM system for the future. Fortunately, Extensis also supported that platform — which meant our transition could be nearly seamless.

We coordinated our switchover with a major software upgrade release. I made a pact with my allies in IT: If they managed the Windows server, security patches, and backups, I would run the DAM software, manage the assets, and be responsible all client software upgrades. I promised I would call them ONLY in case of emergency. I may also have bribed one or two of them with alcohol.

Migrating the assets to the new server, and upgrading the software, took a couple of days of work. It was truly a team effort including the vendor’s tech team plus an on-site visit from their staff consultants, IT, and myself. After everything was running properly, we redirected the old URL to the new site and the only thing our users noticed was that the interface was cleaner and searches were faster.

The Road Ahead

I see a bright future for Digital Asset Management at Comedy Central. There are several things we can do to make the system even more useful.

  • Increased adoption in numbers of users as well as more admins who ADD content to the DAM.
  • Greater types of assets we manage — especially animated GIFs which are a relatively new priority for our team
  • Opening the DAM system to be accessible outside the Viacom firewall by authorized users.

Bottom Line:

Comedy Central’s Digital Asset Management system started life as a small grass-roots initiate, but with patience, advocacy and determination it achieved vital importance to the organization.


As proud as I am of this project, it's benefits and future were put immediately at risk when I left the company for a new job at AT&T. There was no one to carry the torch, and there was no plan to transfer managing the DAM to another person. The risks are very well described by DAM expert Elizabeth Keathley in her blog "Help! My Company Bought a DAM!" for Fotoware.

Killer Ops: Business Model for Creative Operations

Jul 12, 2016

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their value proposition? Is it possible to manage Creative Ops like a startup? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

By Kevin Gepford

What’s the Business Model Canvas? The Canvas is a one-page template that lays out both what you do, and how you go about doing it. It documents existing business models — or helps develop new ones — and provides a framework for you to design, challenge, invent, and change.

Why it Matters The canvas forces you to distill everything you do down to its essence — and create a document that visually explains it. The template works for businesses and start-ups, and also for teams and departments within larger organizations.

All the thought work we’ve put into improve Creative Operations will, at some point, need to be shared within the organization. App developers need investor backing; you need the support of the people around you.

Your assignment is to develop a clear and understandable business case for what you’re trying to accomplish. You may even have some top-level managers who have no idea what Creative Ops is — much less that this is an area that needs constant cultivation, improvement, and investment.

The tool to organize all this is a simple template with nine segments.

9 Building Blocks of the Lean Canvas

  • Problem: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • Customer Segments: Who are the customers you are trying to reach?
  • Unique Value Proposition: A single statement that sums up your app and why people should buy / use it
  • Solution: The solution you are planning.
  • Unfair Advantage: What unique advantage do you have over any alternatives?
  • Revenue Streams: How will you make money?
  • Cost Structure: What will it cost you money?
  • Key Metrics: How will you measure the success?
  • Channels: What’s the path to reach your customers?

Tip for Creative Ops Your creative output is not your business. Your business is to manage all the activities and processes that enable the creative marketing output to happen. The product is the part that other people see, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Borrowing from Product Management language: Your “business” is to promote your organization’s products, which you have the unique ability to solve, by managing relationships with your staffers and leaders and using your valuable advantages and abilities, to deliver The Product to its intended audience.

2 Canvases to Choose From

The Business Model Canvas is a template developed by Alexander Osterwalder to express the building blocks, or activities, of a start-up or existing organization. It draws focus to operational as well as strategic management and marketing plans.

The Lean Canvas has been proposed by Ash Maurya as a development of the Business Model Generation. It outlines a more problem-focused approach and it targets entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

There are good arguments on the pros and cons of each. I’ve worked with both, and I think the entrepreneurial focus of Lean Canvas is a better fit for Creative Ops.

What does it look like?

Lean Canvas for Creative ops

Start-up entrepreneurs and app developers use the business model canvas to frame the activities and building blocks of their idea. Existing businesses (or groups, like ours) can use the canvas to help clarify and understand:

  • their lines of business
  • the customers each area is reaching
  • the unique value proposition offered
  • the risks involved
  • cost structure
  • revenue streams

Our Creative Operations, as an internal organization, is less concerned with revenue, and more focused on expressing its raison d'être and to foster entrepreneurial thinking — like a mini business-with-a-business.

Download: Blank canvas worksheet.

You should be able to fill this out in 20 minutes.


Your Business Model Canvas will help your team, its leaders, and your stakeholders to visualize the Ninja Creative Ops Team that you’re working to build. It charts the undertakings and resources you need to accomplish it. The completed business model canvas will help you explain to anybody in your company what you do, who you do it for, and why it’s important.

Resources & Inspiration:

Business Model Generation

Ash Maurya: How to create your business model in 20 minutes

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, by Ash Maurya

Business Model Canvas vs. Lean Canvas

Use the great Lean Stack – an online tool from Spark59 for completing your canvases.

Killer Ops: SWOT Analysis

Jun 03, 2016

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their value proposition? Is it possible to manage Creative Ops like a startup? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

By Kevin Gepford

What’s SWOT?: SWOT analysis is a framework for doing research and formulating a business strategy. It analyzes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and can be applied to existing businesses, teams and departments, and new business ideas.

Why it Matters: This is essential for developing your group’s Value Proposition. Insights from your internal research are synthesized to map ways to improve operations, use resources more efficiently, and anticipate risks to your group and its success.

Read More →

​Killer Ops: First Steps of Discovery

Apr 30, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

This series of posts focuses on boosting Creative Operations by applying ideas inspired by Product Management – leading to improved processes and delivery, and becoming better strategic partners in your organization.

What This Is: Put on the thinking cap and come up with broad ideas about how to improve Creative Operations.

Why It’s Important: Without a plan, we won’t know where we’re going.

Read More →

What Can Creative Operations Learn from Product Management?

Apr 19, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

This series of posts focuses on boosting Creative Operations by applying ideas inspired by Product Management – leading to improved processes and delivery, and becoming better strategic partners in your organization.

As a Creative Operations leader you see your team struggling on a daily basis to get the work done, in an environment that sorely needs a makeover.

The creative workplace is largely reactive — lurching from crises to crisis, shooting at everything in sight, rushing to meet deadlines, and driven by creative visionaries with their mercurial ways.

We need to make some changes in our approach. As the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade”: It’s important to choose wisely.

Read More →

How to build a 3.0 Version of Your Creative Team

Mar 31, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

In just a few weeks, the 2016 Henry Stewart DAM NY Conference will feature an all-new Creative Operations track. I’m thrilled to return as a speaker.

Save the Date: May 5-6, 2016
Please read to the bottom for a discount code that will save you $100!

For the last two years at the conference, I’ve talked about Comedy Central’s digital content hub at — first as a case study focusing on the benefits our system offered to our creative team. Last fall, at the Los Angeles conference, I dove a little deeper into our strategy and development process, and the business benefits of the in-house product development of our solution to address several core creative operations needs.

Read More →

The Evolution of Comedy Central’s Creative Content Hub

Feb 23, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

This is a tale of two departments that tore Comedy Central’s digital creative content hub in half.

I jest! We’re comedy natives — no drama for us!

Read More →

Comedy Central Dumps its Obsolete Optical Media Archive

Feb 04, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

Comedy Central migrated its entire Brand Creative archive to a modern system, and tossed 18 years worth of optical media into the dumpster.

Here’s how.

We had amassed 800+ CD’s and DVD’s in a comprehensive archive of all source files — for every single print project generated by the Brand Creative group since the team… well, pretty much since the team’s very beginnings.

Read More →

Dragon Wranglers of Creative Operations

Jan 20, 2016

9 Dragons of Creative Ops

By Kevin Gepford

The New York City MTA recently rolled out an innovative awareness campaign involving thousands of subway posters to enlighten straphangers on how to comport themselves when riding public transportation. Oh, it’s also posted in five languages, just to make sure the message gets through.

Read More →

​Creative Ops: Digital Tool Ad-Hockery

Jan 10, 2016

By Kevin Gepford

Great creative work can’t get produced without a great design team.

But success depends on a lot more than just those endpoints. It also hinges on how the great work gets produced.

Read More →

Creative Ops: What’s the Matter With Task Management?

Dec 09, 2015

What's the Matter with Task Management?

By Kevin Gepford

Within the last year Comedy Central augmented its digital workspace with two new third-party systems, one for task management system and a sister system for project management. This filled a real need; our workflow tool already let users leave notes and comments about the media, and it retained the chain of conversation around a project or asset. But it just wasn’t enough.

Read More →

Creative Ops: The Sweet Spot for Digital Workspaces

Dec 04, 2015

By Kevin Gepford

When it comes to workflow solutions, my presentations at Henry Stewart have espoused a decidedly contrarian point of view, based on my experience and a sound business case at Comedy Central.

Our creative review and approval system is built in house using Ruby on Rails, hosted by Amazon Web Services. We chose not to outsource the creativity that is so vital to our process.

Read More →

Creative Ops: Digital Workspaces & Getting the Last 20 Percent

Nov 19, 2015

By Kevin Gepford

It’s a big confusing world out there, with solutions offered for every possible workflow challenge. That’s why conferences like the Henry Stewart one I recently attended are so important.

Operations professionals go to find answers and to learn from case studies like mine from Comedy Central to see how other enterprises are dealing with workflow issues. (Read my The Sweet Spot for Digital Workspaces about how I helped Comedy Central find its Sweet Spot.)

Read More →

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