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On Post Production Org Structure with Ashley Snarski of Medline

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is the eCommerce Content Creation podcast.
Daniel Jester:
Joining me for this episode is Ashley Snarski of Medline. At Medline, Ashley manages the post production teams, but with a bit of a twist, as part of the e-comm content team, and not as part of the production process, which is probably more typical in our industry. Ashley shares with us a bit about how this org structure came to be and what impact it has had on their workflow and speed to web.
Ashley Snarski:
The really awesome thing about having the control over a lot of this is that we can measure and we can influence this metric in a lot of different ways. And in terms of, from request to being visible online, our team on average goes through that process in about eight days or less. About last year, we were probably closer to the 15 to 20 range, especially for new photography.
Daniel Jester:
In this episode, we take a hard turn into talking about the challenges of copywriting as it happens in the studio occasionally. So we cover kind of a lot of ground in this episode with Ashley. And before we jump into this episode, if your studio or content teams have unique org structures that differ from what is more common in our industry, we'd love to hear about it. You can catch me on LinkedIn or email us at podcast@creativeforce.io. Now, let's get into it.
Daniel Jester:
This is the eCommerce Content Creation podcast. I am your host, Daniel Jester. And joining me for this episode, Ashley Snarski of Medline. Welcome to the show, Ashley.
Ashley Snarski:
Hey, Daniel. Thanks for having me.
Daniel Jester:
It is my pleasure to have you. And I have been excited to have the conversation that we are about to have for a few weeks since we last met and started talking about having you on the show, because you have a really unique org structure at Medline. You oversee post production teams, but not as part of the creative production department necessarily, more as part of the e-comm or web team. Do I have that correct?
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah, that's correct.
Daniel Jester:
So it's kind of like if you take this streamline of photography and then post production, and then feeding those images into the web teams, you kind of just moved the dividing line from after post production, which is more typical in our industry, to before post-production, so effectively the images and the assets are changing departments after photography and it's the web teams that are taking them, applying whatever post production they need and then getting them online.
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah. So we are very much the end of process there and we've kind of totally encompassed that entire thing into my department, essentially.
Daniel Jester:
When you shared this with me, it was such an interesting idea, because when you think about it, the post production teams and the web teams, we're going to use web team e-comm team interchangeably. We're talking about the teams that administer the website to get the images online and that sort of thing. They do have to work very closely together and they have a lot of common goals, making sure the images are specked accurately for the use that they need. But I, so far in more than 60 episodes of doing this podcast and talking to people all over the world about creative production, you're the first person that we've ever talked to where post production retouching lives in that department. And I'm dying to know, how did this come about? Can you share that with us?
Ashley Snarski:
I mean, I knew we were unique, but hearing that from you and hearing it from some of the other people that I've talked to in the industry, it's interesting to know that, okay, we are really the only people kind of handling this total end of process. But basically, so I'm the digital content manager for Medline Industries, and we are a global manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies. So we handle a lot of different types of large, small types of products, patient apparel, PPE, a big one that everybody knows now. And so in that role, I've been able to oversee all of our eCommerce photography studio, post production, and of course the overall product content on our website. And when I started at Medline, I really inherited a process where I was the single point of contact coordinating shoots, organizing samples, clipping, editing, uploading, and then eventually the one posting it on our website.
Ashley Snarski:
So really, only one person was doing this when I first started. And three to four months after that, after I was hired, our company created our e-commerce division and essentially split us out from marketing. And with the shift in leadership, I was really given a lot of opportunity for growth because that's what this shift meant for our company. And I really saw the need to scale for a business that has hundreds of thousands of active items, and our senior leadership team supported that initiative. So I took what we had and kind of made it as efficient as I could without splitting it off too much.
Daniel Jester:
It's funny when you mentioned about the org kind of restructure thing, because I think back to, that's kind of how I got my start in commercial photography. I was working in a merchandising department as an analyst spreadsheet jockey, all of that kind of stuff, dreaming of a more creative life and role. And through a series of reorgs after around pre-recession when things were already looking pretty weird and companies were kind of tightening up, the creative department, ended up reporting into the VP of merchandising and gave me an opportunity to peek into the studio. And I think back all the time to that, if that reorg hadn't created that opportunity, I don't know what my career would look like today.
Daniel Jester:
So it's interesting that there's a genesis from that. But I'm curious to know, how does this sort of where the role lives, obviously the things that a retouch or a post-production person needs to do for an image doesn't change, but does this org structure have an impact on the functions of a retoucher in your organization? Do they have added tasks beyond just getting the images ready to be published? Or can you share with me a little bit about how it impacts just the day to day for your on the ground team?
Ashley Snarski:
It's definitely an interesting question in a way that I actually am constantly thinking, is this what we're doing today, should we be doing that tomorrow for scale? We're constantly evolving, constantly trying to figure out if what we're doing today makes the most sense. But what our post production team ends up being is really more sort of coordinators, if you will. They all have creative backgrounds. They all can retouch. They all can clip. They have the background of this. However, to maintain sort of our high volume, we do have to use outsourced vendors or contractors to help us maintain this high volume. So they end up being coordinators in a way. And then once that comes back to us or they've done the clipping or the retouching themselves, then they're also spending time doing almost merchandising, if you will. They're the ones ultimately making the choices to how these product images are going to be applied to our product pages and to what additional items they need to be applied to.
Daniel Jester:
Is there more involvement in the storage of assets? Is there more involvement with your post production team in administering a dam system, if you guys are using a dam system? Or just in general, there's sort of a library type idea to administering a dam above and beyond getting the assets pushed to the web, but getting them in a place where they're searchable and findable for teams to use. Is there more involvement with your retouchers or post production experts in that side of the business as well?
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah. So we definitely use a dam. It's a homegrown kind of dam service that we've created. And luckily too, because within my time spent, when I first joined Medline, I was a part of marketing. So I've also made it really, it's an important thing for me to keep that relationship with marketing as well. And so a lot of the assets that we create or end up putting into dam were also thinking, how can this be used in other ways, other than just eCommerce? So I think something I heard in a previous podcast of yours was the agile image. And we're constantly trying to figure out how we can create agile imagery through our processes as well. We're eCommerce, but we're trying to do more than that too, because so our dam process is essentially where everybody in our company does go, but we are utilizing that service to make the changes for visibility on medline.com as well. So we don't necessarily have to take anything out of the dam. What we put in the dam is also the program that feeds then the rest of our backend eCommerce to put it up on medline.com.
Daniel Jester:
How does this arrangement sort of impact the communication between photo and post teams? Obviously in the industry, it runs the gamut. Sometimes there are retouchers who actually sit in the studio and have a really one-on-one, in-person relationship with the photography teams. More and more often we're seeing they sit offsite, or nowadays even at home. But having there be sort of a distinct departmental difference between photo and your team, how does that impact the communication? What kinds of things have you built in to make sure that those teams are synchronized?
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah. So, I would love to have our post production team more in the studio space. We are still separated in that sense. So we don't have post production or retouching sitting in our studio, but we have really great communication across the two teams. And it's something that I'm very passionate about with both the teams and resolving challenges. I encourage the team, if something downstream isn't working, they've noticed there's extra files that they are seeing more often, I really encourage them to reach out to the studio team directly to try to come up with a solution for some of those challenges. And so I really make sure that there's open dialogue between all of them.
Ashley Snarski:
But other than that, we have Slack, we have Teams, we have all of those generic kind of communication points. And we also, I make sure that we have monthly meetings together to really enforce that communication as well. But something interesting about us is that I feel like our communication between studio and post is largely very effective, but what we're able to kind of consider now is improving some of those other communication points, like with copywriters or with our content acquisition teams. So we're able to kind of try to get those teams more involved in our conversations as post and studio to really enforce those conversations a little bit more and improve that as well.
Daniel Jester:
That's really interesting. And just thinking about copy as a necessary part of this task that we haven't touched on a lot on this podcast. And even at industry events, when we talk about creative production, we don't typically spend a lot of time talking about copywriting. But it is more and more part of the creative production process, isn't it? I remember we had copy teams who sat in the studio who's were getting hands on with the product, because that's where it was. That's one of the areas where the process can vary wildly are copy teams doing copy before the product goes to set, or they doing it after it goes to set, or they doing it before retouch or after retouch, or at what point are they doing copy holding the physical product or just looking at some data points? It's really interesting to think about that.
Ashley Snarski:
So my counterpart is actually the manager of the copywriting team. So we sit on all the meetings together and we talk about those exact topics all the time. And something, we just had some extra product in the studio the other day. And I brought some in to kind of give out some just generic gloves or something that people might find useful at home. And she was looking at some of the products and she's like, "ah, all of this content on this product packaging is so useful for our copywriting team." And we try to align our processes at the same time. So if they're writing copy, we're doing images. We're trying to do that. We use the same project system that really drives a lot of our work.
Ashley Snarski:
But there's still some gaps that are in that. We try as best as we can. I think we're further along than where some might be, but there's still a lot of work that needs to happen there. And just her seeing the packaging in person, I'm like, ah, it would be great if we could get a copywriter in our studio, a visitor to come in, pick some stuff off of the carts that are done from set so they can add some additional points in their copywriting. And it's a conversation we have a lot.
Daniel Jester:
I'm remembering, as we're talking about this, years ago I was interviewing for a role with a commercial studio provider who had a large scale contract with a major international retailer. They were telling me that one of the big functions of their studio is not just collecting imagery of the product, but collecting data points about it, the weight of the product, the dimensions of the product, any information from the packaging that they could derive. And it just makes me think that now all of our iPhones now can scan text with the camera, and you can like copy and paste that and put it somewhere. It makes sense that at least data point collection, you're still probably going to want a copywriter to sell the product with the copy, if that's on brand for you, maybe it's not in some situations. But collecting imagery for the purpose of having those data points, imagery of the product packaging and all of that stuff, whether you use it on the web or not, you now have data points for your copywriters to work off of.
Ashley Snarski:
I mean, you hit the nail on the head with a conversation that's really huge that we're trying to solve today, which is attribute data just in general from the product packaging. Because we're getting all of this coming through our studio, what other additional data points can we capture? And yeah, there's a whole nother topic that I could probably dive into.
Daniel Jester:
The weight thing was interesting to me too, because I think, and I'm not an expert in Amazon's logistics, but I recall hearing at some point when I worked at Amazon, that that's one of the key ways that they QA packages before they go to the customer, is they know how much the box should weigh and they know how much each item that was in the box that the person ordered should weigh. And so if those numbers match up, they know that that order is probably accurate. And so even the weight of a product, collecting that data can be valuable. And a lot of times it still really is the studio that gets their hands on the product for the first time before even distribution centers do in some cases.
Ashley Snarski:
Yep, exactly. That is a big conversation we're having and trying to figure out actually how to fit that into our process. One more thing you can add to our group.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Very interesting. I did not expect this to take such a hard turn to copywriting. I mean, it is becoming more and more a part of the studio process. We're certainly seeing it at Creative Force, people who have this need, because the studio is the convergence of a lot of things. Like we said, it's the first time people sometimes get hands on with a product. It's the first time you're seeing a product. You're able to capture data about the product through both imagery and various other points in the process. Ashley, has this impacted, this arrangement, has this impacted your speed to web? Or do you have any comparison to maybe before this organizational shift kind of happened? Or just give us some sense of, once those images come from production, they get into your post production teams, are things getting online faster than in your either past with Medline or a previous role?
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah. So the really awesome thing about having the control over a lot of this is that we can measure and we can influence this metric in a lot of different ways. And in terms of, from request to being visible online, our team on average goes through that process in about eight days or less. And that's including all the way from getting a sample through our studio to online, as well as just new vendor assets, because a large portion of our business is also vendor provided content acquisition. So in terms of what others are doing, I'm not entirely sure. I feel like that's pretty quick from sample to online.
Ashley Snarski:
But where we were about a year ago, we've made a lot of changes in our processes that's really helped us make this time go a little bit quicker. So about last year, we were probably closer to the 15 to 20 range, especially for new photography, because we were trying to figure out how we could get samples quicker. We were trying to figure out how we can automate more in our post production. And with a lot of those changes, we were able to narrow it down to eight days. So it's pretty significant for us.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah, very significant. I'm curious, and if you're willing to share, is there one thing that you can point to that was the big impact on that metric? Because that's a significant time savings.
Ashley Snarski:
There was a lot of things that we've done, but the biggest thing was for in our studio where we cut the capabilities to order products ourselves. Instead of we still work with divisions, they still send us product and we get product a number of different ways, but we have the ability to order it ourselves now. So we have that internal ability to just be able to proactively order, or even work with our product divisions to order it for them because we know that we're faster.
Daniel Jester:
That definitely is one of those things, the logistics of getting stuff to the studio, everybody who's listening to this podcast is sweating right now, because that's their number one problem always all the time. And there is sometimes an interesting way to work around that. That certainly was true at Amazon. We had our normal channels for getting product from the warehouse into the studio. But also, if somebody needed to just order it, they could just order it in some kind of interesting way. What's interesting to me about this with your department in particular, is that, is it your department, Ashley, that is driving the request to get these things? Because you have visibility to what is technically live on the site, but without imagery to support it yet.
Daniel Jester:
And so are you able to then drive that sort of, a lot of companies call this metric something different, but you'll understand what I'm saying when I say live, but no images or that metric? Everybody calls it something different. I can't remember what we've called it in the past, the places I've worked. But basically, it's technically live, could be bought, but there's no images so you're probably not selling anything. Are you able to drive a lot of those requests and get those priority items through because of your visibility on this e-comm side and your relationship with the production teams?
Ashley Snarski:
Yep. That's exactly it. We of course get requests in a number of different ways. We still work with our product divisions and they still have a very specific set of items that they want to improve or what have you. But we're able to tackle what we call our missing images. So they're online, missing images. There are times where it's missing other content, like copywriting or even attributes, but we can actually tackle that as a team too, because of my counterpart being the manager of copy. So we can tackle projects together even, where they're enhancing copy and we're enhancing images. And we have a database where our first priority is always that bucket missing images so we can fulfill and have less gaps on our website.
Daniel Jester:
I want ask a question about your vendor provided imagery, specifically this is a thing that's pretty common in the industry, especially for a company like yours that sells a lot of hard goods or different, like you mentioned, medical supplies. The studio that I ran for Amazon, we covered a lot of what we called BIS, business industrial and scientific supply. So I definitely know exactly what you're talking about when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of items, all of them slightly different, nitro gloves that have to be shot because they're just slightly different than these other gloves that have something else about them, and they all end up looking the same online. What sort of standards do those go through? Do those come through your retouch teams to ensure ... Obviously you get tech specs that need to be met, but that's one of the things that's really common is getting just absolute trash images from a vendor and then having to decide, do we use these? Do we not use them? Is it important to our customer? Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys handle that?
Ashley Snarski:
So all of those decisions do lie on our post production team. They are the ultimate team members that are making those merchandising decisions, and ultimately making sure that we're adhering to our brand and standards as well. Of course, those decisions are a lot easier in the studio, but when it comes to vendor, exactly how you said, it's sometimes we don't get a choice it's whatever the vendor has. And especially in the medical world, sometimes we can't get those items into our studio. There are cases where there's test kits. A big one that was coming through was of course, COVID testing kits. We can't get those in our studio just because they're such a high need right now in the world.
Daniel Jester:
Yeah. They just couldn't be spared. They couldn't even spare one test kit just to shoot it.
Ashley Snarski:
Exactly. Couldn't spare anything. And there's a lot of those types of cases. Sometimes it's a case where we don't have legal rights to have it in our studio, whether it's some sort of medication or something like that. So there's a lot of vendor items that we just can't ever get and we kind of have to use whatever they send us. But we still have a lot of standards and we've come up with different types of solutions to kind of get around that. We do everything that comes from a vendor is also clipped. So at least everything is on a white background, and we know we can control that. We also try to do what we can, we have what's called a family image. So a lot of times these images come in a group. You have a different types of lotion bottles. They're all the same lotion, but they're all different types of sizes or slightly different quantities. And that's all the images that the vendor has to give us.
Ashley Snarski:
So what we can do is, actually we'll take the extra retouching measures to specifically pull out each skew to make sure that we can get what we need so the customer knows that on this skew level, this is what we're referring to. But ultimately when it comes to the rules around it, there's a lot of guidelines and resources that our team has developed over this time period. We have about 20 or so different divisions with probably close to about 600 to 700,000 active products in our catalog. Yeah. So our standards are constantly changing, evolving. Try to be as agile as we can be in a lot of what we're doing. So again, what we're doing today isn't always what we're doing tomorrow. But we try to create those guides and standards to drive towards that, to make sure that we are maintaining some sort of consistency throughout, whether it's shot in-house or it came to us from a vendor.
Daniel Jester:
Very good. Very interesting. And a lot of work, Ashley. But thank you so much for coming on and sharing some insight about that. It was really, really interesting conversation, and I think an interesting way to think about the relationship between post production and the web teams. And certainly, I think our listeners might find it pretty insightful in different ways of thinking about structuring their own teams to help improve some of these common metrics. So thank you so much for your time and your insight in coming on the show today.
Ashley Snarski:
Yeah. Thank you.
Daniel Jester:
That's it for this one. And we'll be back next week with a fresh episode of the eCommerce Content Creation podcast. Many thanks to our guest, Ashley Snarski. And thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean O’Meara. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends.

About the host

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.