Efficiency. Those who lack it want it, and those who have it probably still feel like they could be better. It's a never-ending game, chasing ways to optimize your studio's process for the best possible output.
To banter about a few beyond-the-norm thoughts on efficiency and continuous improvement, The Creative Operations Podcast's host Daniel Jester brought in Phillip Kirst, founder of Spice Media, a commercial studio providing creative production services for e-commerce brands.
For all of Daniel and Phillip's discussion, check out the entire podcast episode on ourwebsiteor on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. But for three quick takeaways - and hey, wouldn't that be efficient - simply read on.
Expand Your View of Efficiency to Two Forms
Whatever you picture when you imagine efficiency is probably a partial truth. Phillip is able to school the rest of us by thinking back to his own time studying supply chain and logistics at his university.
"There's something called an economic principle," he starts out. "And there are two things. There's a maximum principle, and there's a minimum principle. The maximum principle actually means you have a certain resource set, and out of these resources, you try to squeeze out the maximum output you can generate, right?"
But the maximum principle isn't the only way to think of efficiency.
"The minimum principle is the other way around. You have a goal set and you try to achieve this goal with the lowest amount of resources possible."
It's likely your studio leadership emphasizes one principle over the other when inspecting your team's efficiency based on a specific priority. For example, in some cases it might be, "how much can we shoot in a day with these resources," that's the maximum principle. Other times it's "we need to deliver this number of shots and look to our stakeholder, what's the smallest crew we can use to get it done by this date," that's the minimum principle.
So balance that tilted concern and expand your team's view to a two-pronged self-evaluation. Be ready for clients with a stated budget who want to know how much work they can extract for a predetermined spend. But then be ready also for the client who has a goal and wants to know what it'll cost to get there.
Yes, Team Development is Efficiency
Activities that focus on building skills, not completing client work, can come across as the antithesis to efficiency, a soft need over a practical one. But Daniel sees how setting aside this time can fit an efficiency push.
He speaks of doing this in his time at Amazon, when shooting his long-time nemesis, backpacks. "They're so hard to style," he says. "They can be so dramatically different. Every style guide for backpacks usually involves stringing up the straps so that they appear as they should."
So Daniel set aside time with a teammate to improve their whole approach to backpacks.
"I sat down one day with one of the stylists at Amazon and I said, 'You know what? We're going to take today and time ourselves shooting backpacks," he says. "And then we're going to figure out a way to solve for having to shoot the main shot with the straps tied up, then pull it down, turn it around, tie them up again. We're going to figure out a way to solve that.' So we timed ourselves all day. We shot X number of backpacks in the day, and it took X number of minutes per backpack. And we designed this thing so you could connect your lines to string up the strap, and it could rotate freely along with the backpack. You'd shoot the front shot, string up your straps, and then rotate the whole assembly around, so you didn't have to unstring anything. It cut our time in half for each backpack, easily. From not having to untie everything and then retie it up. I was blown away by this result."
It would've been easy to dismiss this sort of tangential project as light work when surely deadlines loomed. But by braving that perception and chasing long-term efficiency, Daniel and his stylist were able to drastically improve the return on their time when taking on those dreaded backpacks.
The Discovery Phase Fits within an Efficiency Emphasis
Daniel says he's a big believer in ramp-up periods when commercial studios take on new accounts. "A lot of times, especially if it's a newer brand or somebody who's coming to market, they know that they need images but don't understand it's really a relationship they're developing," he says. "It's not really transactional. We need to learn about you, we need to learn about your brand and we need to spend some time with your product.
"Efficiency isn't the switch you flip on and off. You have to relearn it for every client."
Phillip agrees that there's a feeling-out phase, at the outset of the client relationship, but also as needed thereafter-serves efficiency in the long term. "It is the absolute most important period that we have anyways with each client," he says. "And it's true for an entirely new client, but it's true as well when a client would like to change certain things-we have workshops and stuff like that."
That's not to say the discovery process should be run loosely. At Spice Media, Phillip's team manages a comprehensive Excel list of what information they need from the client and when. "You are highly dependent on your clients that they're understanding this is necessary and don't think, 'Damn, I just want to have pictures. Why don't you just deliver them?'"
You have what you need to bring a fresh perspective to what your studio team sees as efficient or working toward efficiency. For Daniel and Philip's full conversation, including some riffs about Bon Appetit videos and shooting drill bits, check out the entire podcast episode on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or oursite.