How to become a: creative producer
Design Week: What is a creative producer?
Hannah Scally: It’s a bit of a hybrid role – it’s a mix of account management, production, studio and project management. It basically involves me overseeing the different parts of a project as it goes through the studio. I make sure everything comes out seamlessly for the client, and that the design vision we had at the start is realised in the end.
It’s a role that works particularly well for a smaller studio, where things are a little bit more integrated. It’s part of our philosophy at Without that we don’t have segregated or siloed roles so everyone is responsible for the project. Because of this, it works really well for us to have this central role of creative producer to keep an eye on everything and make sure it all links up. In an agency like ours then, it’s really one of the most collaborative roles because you’re very much at the intersection between all these different parts of the project.
DW: What is your educational background?
HS: I actually did an undergraduate degree in English at Trinity College in Dublin. That was four years of analysis, making arguments and getting to grips with how text and images work in our culture. Then I did a masters and eventually went to Cambridge University to do a PhD in cultural history, which gave me really good experience with research and working through questions and problems.
Eventually I left academia, but I did so with lots of really transferable skills. I loved the idea of working collaboratively with other people, so I wanted to put my skills to a different use. Definitely it’s not a traditional route into the design business, but my education does inform my job in ways I wouldn’t necessarily expect. For example, being able to find a source quickly comes in really handy.
DW: What’s your career journey so far?
HS: I started off researching and writing about the first World War for a history website, which was obviously immediately relevant to the PhD I’d just come out of. I went from the history website to a content and publishing agency, which gave me the opportunity to do different kinds of writing and that graduated into managing projects and a bit more editorial work.
After doing that for three years, I gravitated toward working on how projects run, because it is such a fundamental part of success. All of us have seen projects go badly wrong and all of us have seen them go fantastically – to me, the difference is just having someone there organising things. So once I’d started doing that at the content agency, I eventually came to Without and went into full time creative projects.
DW: What got you interested in being a creative producer?
HS: I come from a family of graphic designers and artists, so this world is very familiar to me. I’ve always had an interest and respect for it. That definitely pushed me toward the industry, and it helped that I understood it going in. Having a background knowledge has been particularly helpful in understanding the business of design, and the fact it’s not always pure creation.
But primarily though, I think it was the prospect of collaborative creativity that drew me in to this role in particular. I started off writing history and then branched out from there. It’s been a process of identifying what I’m interested in and what I’m good at and then turning it into something else.
DW: What does a typical job look like for you?
HS: A fairly typical job would be something like a brand relaunch. That would start right at the beginning with the strategy side of things and my role then would be helping to set up the project, making sure the brief was clear and that we have all the information we need. I’d mainly be organising things with the client and making sure everything stays on track. As we got to the execution stage, my role would again be very centred around communication and making sure the feedback came through okay. At this stage it’s quite account-managery.
We do so many different project elements, from websites and marketing materials and brochures, to more environmental stuff like signage. My part for each of those things is to be present at every stage to make sure designers are briefed on what they’re doing.
DW: What are your main day-to-day tasks?
HS: One of the defining things is that my job changes all the time. I normally start with lots of emailing and chatting with clients. We have a wide range of clients, from big corporate contracts to start-ups, and they all have different styles and requirements. So normally my day would involve checking the studio is on track and that everyone knows and is able to do what they’re supposed to.
Often there are client meetings or phone calls with suppliers or developers to see how everything is getting on. And then in between all of that, there’s always things that just pop up and need to be immediately dealt with. Generally, I try to start the day with three things I want to achieve and I normally get them done in between all the other stuff.
DW: How creatively challenging is the job?
HS: I think most people in this kind of role would say the job is really creative, it’s just maybe not design-led creative all the time. In a studio like Without where there isn’t that segregation of roles, there’s actually a lot of chat abut the creative process and I love being part of that and helping come up with solutions.
I don’t think you could do this job if you didn’t understand the creative side of what you’re trying to deliver. You need to be able to speak the same language as designers. When you’re planning out a creative project that might extend to there being no supplier for something in this country or working around time constraints to find something of equivalent impact and quality. All of that problem-solving is creative thinking.
DW: How closely do you work with other designers?
HS: I work with everyone very closely. We’re a studio of between 10 and 15 people depending on what we’ve got on, and I would say on a daily and hourly basis I’m talking with designers, directors and copywriters to find out what they’re doing. We all sit together, it’s a really tightknit studio. And we very much have a culture of everyone being able to get involved with things. It’s very about everyone pitching in, that’s how it works.
DW: What strengths do you need to be a creative producer?
HS: It’s definitely a real people facing role, and you have to have a genuine love of interacting with people both within and without the studio. You work incredibly closely with your designers, directors and copywriters and you need to get on with them and develop that interaction. And you need to be able to do that with clients too. We have some longstanding clients who we love and get to know really well, so it’s all part of it.
There’s a lot of quick reaction, but I try to minimise that where possible by planning things out. You need to be a central point of calm, and able to deal with problems from both sides. A lot of it comes from experience and having things go wrong before.
Sometimes you think your job is just being there to make everyone happy, but actually your job is to make something successful. So that can mean telling people the reality of the situation and how you have to deal with it – you need to have the confidence to do that.
DW: What are the best parts of your job?
HS: The obvious one is that it’s just such a buzz when you’ve been working on something for months and you finally see it onscreen, or you’ve got it in your hand. The even better bit comes later when you see something that is commercially working, which means the strategy was sound and it’s doing what you wanted it to do.
We work so closely with our clients and they care hugely about what they’re doing, so when you start to see the results come in and you realise its working well and people are engaging, that’s really satisfying. It’s everyone’s blood sweat and tears, we all work hard together to get it done.
DW: What are the worst parts of your job?
HS: Obviously when the reverse of that happens, when things don’t go to plan it’s not fun. But then that’s also part of the job, it’s about finding what the issue was and how you can make it better. Sometimes you have to explain to people that something can’t happen, or that things aren’t working properly and that’s always less enjoyable, but that’s a really important part of the job.
And then like other jobs, there are bits that are more mundane that you just have to trek through. Like when you’ve got your calculator out and you’re having to add everything up. But then that to me is also really interesting because I like to know how the numbers are working.
DW: If you were interviewing for a junior creative producer, what would you be looking for?
HS: We’re actually just about to do this, so we’ve been thinking a lot about it! To me, personal qualities are really important. So I would be looking for things like resilience, being a self-starter and being a people person. And then there are just other really helpful things like being organised, having a head for numbers and understanding the business side of things as well as the project side.
Partly because of the studio I work for and background I have, I would focus less on the specific degree or training people have, and more on skills. That you can work collaboratively and intelligently and get stuff done is more important to me.
DW: What advice could you offer people considering a job as a creative producer?
HS: There isn’t one set of skills you need to have to be able to do this, but it’s really useful to have a combination of things – like understanding some HTML or being good at copywriting for example.
It’s a constant learning process when you’re on the job, so showing you can do that is useful. Some people don’t want that, they want to know what they’re doing for the week, but if you’re the kind of person who is curious and wants to learn new things, that never stops in this job. You need to be able to keep several plates spinning – the only job I’ve had that compares with it is waitressing.
It’s the kind of job where being able to turn your hand to lots of different things is really helpful, so put everything you can do on your CV, basically.
DW: What’s the job market like?
HS: I think that a lot of the job market is still divided between being a project manager or an account manager – or you’re an account manager that just does a few extra things. This sort of role is for a smaller, really integrated team, I think.
But it’s also the kind of role where you could approach a smaller organisation and ask if they’ve thought about it. When I joined Without it was a new role for the agency and we’ve really spent the last three years shaping it and working out what it was and how to run it.