Best Practices

Dara Denney’s guide to building high-performing creative teams

Most people think that creative teams love freedom—and hate structure. 

But creativity without structure can lead to low output, stretched timelines, and unclear goals. 

In a recent live series with Motion, Dara Denney revealed how to turn creative teams into performance powerhouses. With a track record of managing over $100M in ad spend, Dara is a true expert in the performance creative field. 

According to Dara, the key lies in one simple truth: creative freedom is a myth. 

“You need to attack the sources of ambiguity within the creative process. This is the secret to building high-performing creative teams,” says Dara. 

Keep reading for Dara’s strategy on how to remove these sources of ambiguity and the processes you need to increase your team's output.

Watch Dara’s full session on how to build high-performing creative teams here.

Remove ambiguity with SOPs

"The most ambiguous parts of the creating process have the biggest impact on performance," Dara says. 

Think of all the ambiguity that exists in your creative production workflow:

Research: Who is conducting competitor research? Where is the team documenting customer reviews, and how are you using the performance data you’ve collected? 

Roadmap: Is everyone clear about the goals and tasks in your creative production pipeline? Or does every new request feel chaotic?

Performance: Does your designer know why the last ad bombed? Is data on performance understood or locked in some spreadsheet?

To remove ambiguity, Dara suggests formalizing the creative project lifecycle stages—research, execution, review, client submission, and launch—for streamlined creation. She calls these stages Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Start by building roles around your SOPs. Define responsibilities for each stage and assign team members to remove ambiguity by focusing on accountability, ownership, expectations, and timelines.

Here’s one small example to help illustrate this process. 

At an agency where I worked, we had a specific set of procedures we’d execute for every client presentation.

Everything was documented including how many hours of research the copywriter needed to complete, what designs were needed for pitching the first round of creative concepts, which tools to use for gathering customer insights and industry data, and how the designer and copywriter would work together to build the slides for the client pitch meeting. 

We also had an automatic meeting scheduled one hour before the pitch for a dry run. These are small details. But they helped to reduce the creative team’s mental load and removed ambiguity around ownership.

Without defining the exact steps at each stage of the creative process, we’d waste energy and time worrying about things like, “How much time should we spend building out the visuals for our concepts? When should we rehearse for the pitch? How many competitors should we research? Are we building slides or should we just show wireframes in Figma?” With everything defined, creatives avoid overthinking and can dedicate their energy to deep creative work. 

Communicating this process to your team is key. They should know who on the team owns what and understand the framework for producing creatives. When everyone has transparency into these details, navigating through projects and meeting deadlines becomes easier. 

Once you’ve created your SOP documents, put them in a shared folder and make sure everyone knows where they are located.

Remove ambiguity with a creative strategist

Creative strategists remove ambiguity from the creative process by doing the hard work of understanding customer psychology, the competitor landscape, deep analysis of performance data, and uncovering the strategic problems that ads need to solve.

They can then define the best strategy for creative teams to attack first. This gives the creative team a clear business problem to solve. 

Without a creative strategist, your growth and creative teams become disconnected. For in-house teams, this leads to internal politics, mistrust between teams, and low output. Those are horrible conditions for creativity to thrive!

“You need someone who has the twin skills of a growth manager and a creative leader. They need to speak both of those languages. They're also need to advocate and push back on both teams,” says Dara.

Remove ambiguity around metrics 

Giving your creative teams clear metrics and access to performance data further reduces ambiguity in the creative production process. 

Meta’s Ads Manager or metric-filled spreadsheets overwhelm creatives. Creatives need visual reports and a few guiding metrics. 

The challenge is not only making data accessible but also getting creatives motivated to use metrics in their daily work. 

Creative analytics platforms like Motion give you visual performance reports that both media buyers and creative teams can understand. Analyzing your TikTok, Meta, and YouTube data in one place instead of isolated channels will increase your team's chances of using performance data. 

Not sure which metrics to narrow down on?

Focus on your primary KPIs, such as spend, purchases, and cost per lead. These metrics will give you a good understanding of your campaign's performance. Additionally, look at storytelling KPIs, like drop-off rates, average video watch time, hook and hold rates, and CTRs. 

“Remember, only a handful of metrics truly matter. Focus on those directly affecting your goals and don't get overwhelmed by the rest,” Dara says.

Once you have the data flowing, the next step is to get creatives excited about using metrics. Here are the techniques Dara uses to train creative teams to build data-backed ads.

Adopt a sprint structure by designing a monthly creative roadmap. Keep the process on track with daily stand-ups and review Motion reports together as a team. 

Set up checkpoints with metrics. Dara uses Slack channels where members can drop high and low-performing ads and discuss ideas for future campaigns based on performance. 

Host bi-weekly retros where your team studies ad formats and discusses metrics. Ask members to pull up their favorite Motion report, teaching the group how they analyze creative performance.  

Start every brainstorming session with a data download. Get everyone aligned around the business problem you’re trying to solve with creative by starting brainstorms with a ten-minute data download. The meeting host can take people through competitor research, customer reviews, insights about your brand’s current reputation, and past creative performance.  

Conduct monthly retros. Create a winner Slack channel to record wins and learnings and get your team to participate so they can speak of the performance analytics and hear more from the data side of the business by interacting with growth leaders and media buyers.

Watch Dara’s full session on how to build high-performing creative teams here. Or watch the full series Make Ads That Convert feat. Dara Denney here.

Get a tour of Motion’s creative analytics platform. We’ll even build free sample reports for you using live data from your TikTok, Meta, and YouTube ad accounts.

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It originally appeared in Thumbstop—a free weekly newsletter filled with tips to help you ship winning Meta, TikTok, and YouTube ads.

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Garima Goswami
Content Marketing Manager, Motion

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