While "chaos" might be a dirty word in the e-commerce studio environment, it's considered commonplace among editorial shoots, where process and structure tend to be maligned, all in the name of the grand artistic endeavor. With that in mind, what can e-commerce teams learn from editorial ones, and even vice versa?
For this, Daniel Jester, host of The E-Commerce Content Creation Podcast, brought Patagonia's Scott Willson to the pod for a chat about the differences between these two types of production and teams, specifically in terms of how they confront craziness in their creative atmosphere. In Scott's career at The North Face and now Patagonia, he has worked with both e-commerce and editorial teams, and he has a wealth of wisdom on the differing mindsets within those creative environments.
Want to delve into the full version of all this crazy talk? Listen to Daniel and Scott talk chaos on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, or our website. But for a summary version of this disarray discussion, read on.
The Chaos of Editorial isn't Pervasive in E-Commerce, but Both Teams are Creative and Add Value
While Scott currently manages an e-commerce studio now, he has fond recollections of his heyday managing editorial teams, where the goal is to deliver what you need at all costs.
"It was taking 10, 12 people to a foreign country where I'd never been and didn't speak the language," he recalls. "All of our scouting and pre-production was done at home. And then you land on the ground and you have two weeks to shoot an entire season's worth of content, and you build your plan and it's super dialed. But then you know that, when you land, it's all going to fall apart, and that level of chaos, I liked it. It was fun, and that's more the traditional creative method. You build a plan but then you assume that it's all just going to go to crap and you're going to start over again when you're on the ground."
That's a wild atmosphere, and in many ways, a style that fosters creative energy. But for e-commerce teams, where there's more obsession about process and granular procedural details, there's a risk in conflating chaos and creativity. It's not good for e-commerce teams if creativity is defined strictly in this way, because then the e-commerce studio environment gets perceived by employers and clients as less creative and talent-driven.
"I think they tend to see production and progress as lots of fires—that's creativity," Scott says. "Things are flaming out, everyone's running around, and that's the creative process. And that doesn't work for studios. Studios have to be…there's no ripple."
But that's a limited definition of creativity that makes Daniel bristle.
"There's the execution of the image [in an e-commerce studio] that still is a very creative and inherently creative process," Daniel says, even if he acknowledges that it lacks the stimulation of collaboration on the editorial side. He notes that part of the thrill in editorial is getting a shot that wasn't even planned, whereas in e-commerce, most images are according to a pre-planned shot list. But again, that doesn't mean creativity isn't happening within e-commerce teams.
Whether you work in editorial or e-commerce, consider taking up a more generous view of what, and who, is creative. Extend respect and see the potential to express in each environment. It's only going to help the health of your team and your company, and your relationships within the industry.
E-Commerce Requires an Impressive Amount of Analytical Thinking and Careful Planning
Being overly procedural can make you sound like creativity's antithesis, not its conduit. But when Scott talks about the e-commerce studio environment, he explains it as looking in advance for any coins and pebbles on tracks in the way of the metaphoric artistic train. There are small impediments to creativity—say, a misnamed file—that might not derail an entire shoot but could slow or limit the effectiveness of the shoot.
And because e-commerce teams are shooting at such a high scale, these mistakes can't be overlooked in the name of artistry, because, as Daniel points out, putting a temporary bandage over a procedural impediment will add too much complexity for the studio, because of its production scale.
If you're in an editorial environment, look at what your peers in e-commerce have to do with careful planning and well-defined workflows that ensure consistency.
E-Commerce Studios Can Embrace More Chaos While Maintaining Consistency and Delivering On-time
Maybe chaos doesn't befit the e-commerce vibe, but that doesn't keep Scott from trying to stretch his Patagonia team into welcoming more of it. And his approach to doing so is two-fold: communication and cross-training.
"I actually like chaos," he says. "I do apply that a bit in the studio, because I tend to think that way anyway; I tend to think a bit more chaotically. And in working with the other creatives we have—the art directors and photographers who I think are equally open to that level of chaos, (but also know it's not appropriate for a studio)—it's a lot of communication."
He knows that not everyone in the studio has a desire to expand their creative voice. But for those who do, he lets them go, for a day or just a few hours per week, to a different department. It's like getting to work out different muscles on a Friday than the ones you strained on Monday and Wednesday.
But e-commerce projects need to remain on schedule. That's why Scott is a proponent of keeping in contact with subteams, like his photography team, art direction team, and so on—to make sure that any chaos he's allowing in the studio has a freedom-within-a-framework feel, so that critical goals are still being met, even as the team tinkers with more expressive brands of e-commerce shoots. "You run it out a week, two weeks, three months, whatever it is, and say, 'If we don't get this back on track, this is where it could potentially end up.'"
If you're on an e-commerce team, what are you doing to stretch your creativity in new ways (even if your day-to-day in the studio environment still requires plenty of creativity in its own right)? Can your team lend you out to a different department so that you come back both refreshed and better equipped for the high-volume rigor of e-commerce life?
Want the rest of Daniel and Scott's session on the different creative atmospheres, including their notes on proving the value of e-commerce to external stakeholders? Stream the episode on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, or our website.