CBS transforms its marketing processes with Atlassian tools to help measure creative output

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez December 13, 2022
Creating advertising assets at CBS is a complicated, multi-team process. With the help of Atlassian’s Jira and Confluence tools, the television network has streamlined its marketing activities.

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(Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay )

CBS is one of the largest television networks in the USA, responsible for popular shows that include Young Sheldon, The Amazing Race and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Its range of programming is promoted by marketing teams, which have 200 people based across the US, and are responsible for creating a variety of advertising assets that are shared on TV, radio and social media. 

The changing nature of advertising and marketing, thanks to social and digital media, has meant that CBS is faced with increased complexity when it comes to the creation of these advertising assets, which are required in a variety of different form factors (depending on the outlet). 

The teams at CBS were getting overwhelmed with the manual processes and interventions that were required to keep up with the pace of change and have adopted Atlassian’s Jira, Jira Service Management and Confluence tools to streamline processes and provide everyone with a transparent view of what work is being done and where. 

Speaking at a recent Atlassian event, Mitch Cardwell, VP of Brand Identity and Systems at CBS, explained the creative process behind how CBS advertises its shows. He said: 

We work in groups, we call them pods, and each pod is tasked with a specific genre or a specific set of shows that they work on. That group produces all the marketing for that for their particular assignments, and that includes on air promos, and social media, key art, static imagery, audio for radio spots, anything involved in the marketing of the show.

We produce tens of thousands of ad units per year. And each one of those ad units has multiple issues or tickets that go with it. So when you produce a promo, that promo can have production orders, it can have graphics orders, it can have audio orders, it can have audio announced orders, it can have creative orders, it can have immediate planning orders. 

And that's what actually led us to Jira and Jira Service Management - the realization that for every single unit of creative we were doing, there was an immense amount of paperwork going on. And all of that paperwork was disparate, in different systems and using different taxonomies. 

We needed to figure out a way to optimize that into a single place, hopefully on a single platform, using a single taxonomy. 

The need for change started approximately five years ago, when CBS started to see a dramatic uptick in the variations of the type of advertising it was carrying out. A lot of which was being driven by social media. 

As Cardwell explained, social media introduces a lot of complexity to the way that traditional ad units are created. In the golden era of television, CBS would have created a piece of key art, made a trailer and promoted it - that would have been the process. All of which would have been done on a single format. That is no longer the case. 

Cardwell said: 

What began to happen with social media, suddenly we were making squares and rectangles and verticals. The delivery formats for each one of those ad units changed. 

As Facebook and Instagram and Twitter evolved, they were constantly changing the delivery specs, because they would invent a new ad unit. We would respond by using that new ad unit which would require a new set of technical processes to take our traditional 16x9 promo and turn it into a 9x16 promo with inserted closed captions, or something like that. 

We were becoming overwhelmed. 

A change was needed

As this was beginning to happen, the CBS marketing team got into a room one day and pulled all the documents in for just one show. It put them out on a table and saw there were dozens of spreadsheets and emails and tech spec documents - and it realized that there had to be a better way. Cardwell said: 

We started on a journey of trying to figure out how to simplify this, just to have one group and another group speak the same language and look at something on the same screen. 

And for that we began to realize that there were through lines for what we were doing, for how we could optimize those processes internally using Jira and externally using Jira Service Management, so that the data flowed in a very unified way through the entire system.

One of CBS’s key requirements was for a tooling set that would enable it to alter its processes dynamically. It needed to be able to create highly customized processes for the way that it worked, but then also be able to change them when it needed to, given the dynamic nature of its market. Cardwell added: 

That was one of the things that we found that we really liked about Jira. One of the most important things was the ability to define workflows, create parameters around those workflows, create guardrails around who could change the workflows, and then get everybody on the same workflow, so that we had a unified process.

We work as an ad agency with lots and lots of teams doing things, but they are accessing groups that work in different ways, that have a specific input and a specific output, they need to follow processes. But those processes don't need to necessarily be visible to everybody. 

That was one of the key insights that we really loved about Jira, the ability to define a process, define if one group wants to work Kanban, or another group wants to work agile, and be able to do all that seamlessly without having to go back to IT and put in a change order and wait two months.

A new way

The way the advertising creation process works at CBS is that it starts with the network’s strategy and media planning departments, which create a media plan around a show, or a special, or something that needs marketing. That information then goes into Jira, where at the same time one of the creative teams is assigned to the show. 

The show will be assigned to a creative director and their team. From there, they begin to deliver pieces of creative that they’re going to make - whether it be a trailer, a 30 second promo, a 10 second teaser, etc. Those projects are then assigned to writers, producers and art directors, and then those begin to go through specific workflows. At the same time the media planning department will send down production orders to the production team, which produces tens of thousands of promos every year. 

A realization within CBS that its creative teams were actually working using a fairly agile approach changed the mindset within the marketing department about what tooling it needed. Cardwell said: 

The team actually sprints, they do a daily sprint which represents their production day. The promos are planned out when they're going to be produced. And as the creative becomes ready from the creative team, those two issues are linked together using issue linking. 

And then graphics work orders are generated, post production work orders are generated, and all that material flows back together into the production department, which then moves through our post production process, which is actually visualized on a Kanban board with about a dozen steps.

And then the promo gets to the end of that process and it's put into our digital asset management system and it’s shipped out. 

It was one of those really fascinating moments when we were working with our partners that were helping us deploy this - we started to go ‘Oh, a production day, that's a sprint’. Our JIRA people would go no, that's insane, a sprint's two weeks. 

But a sprint is a sandboxed amount of time, whether it's eight hours or a month, it's still a sandboxed bit of time. And when we started to think about it that way, it was actually a real breakthrough, because it allowed us to then harness the power of Jira, Confluence and Jira Service Management to do measurements around performance during that sprint. It's all the constructs that you use around agile, just adapted for media. There are many, many parallels. 

CBS is working with Isos Technology as its implementation partner, who has also helped with the training internally at the network, to get the teams up to speed on how they can effectively take advantage of the Atlassian tools. Cardwell said: 

We spread our rollout over two plus years. We're actually still doing it in some areas. Isos helped us create the roadmap of how we brought everybody on board. And as we planned each phase and did each onboarding, they wrote and created a custom training, which we store in Confluence. 

And then they would handle the training of the staff. All of this went on remotely. To this day I've never actually met my Isos people in person, we do everything by Zoom. We would do large training sessions on Zoom. They would take the teams through their process, then they would help us get them onboarded and then offer 24/7 support during the onboarding process until the team was secure and comfortable in what they were doing. Then we would move on to the next group.

We were struggling to keep pace with the constant change in technical specs around our ad units. That was one of the great things about Confluence, we were able to put all that material inside Confluence. We have people that maintain that knowledge set. 

Then when we order an ad unit, we just reference through Confluence link, inside JIRA, out to the tech specs which we maintain in Confluence, so that when the team that's making the ad itself needs to know what the various creative and technological specifications are around something, they can just access it in Confluence in real time.

Service management is key

Cardwell explained that initially he wasn’t that keen on introducing Jira Service Management, which he now admits was a huge mistake on his part. It was actually CBS’s implementation partner, Isos, that convinced him otherwise - and now Cardwell wishes he had done it earlier. He said: 

Once we actually turned that on and integrated that into our process, that was probably one of the biggest breakthroughs, if not the biggest breakthroughs that we actually had. 

We were already, in a lot of ways, within CBS marketing working on a lot of codified processes with some technological support around project management. But adding service management on top of that, was a game changer. And the reason that was the case was that the external requests that come at us are unbelievable, and they're constant, and they're growing. 

Our PR department will reach out and say, ‘Hey, I need this’. Our interactive department will reach out and ask for something else. And that was all done by email and by Slack and my phone call. 

The moment we added Service Management on top of that, it was a huge game changer. Because now they either know to go to the service desk, or when they come to us to ask for something we just send them to this service management portal. 

They put in their request, and it immediately funnels that directly into the production workflow in a seamless way. And it's transparent to them. It actually also gives them insight into the status of their request. And so once they start using it, they love it, because they just look at their list of requests with us and they know the exact status of everything and who is doing what.

It really is the cherry on the top of an amazing suite of products that allows us to close that final link to our clients and to the teams that work with us externally, to help us get them what they need.

This introduction of Jira, Jira Service Management and Confluence has meant that for the first time CBS is able to effectively measure its creative inputs and outputs. Cardwell said: 

I've been with the company for over 15 years, working for CBS Marketing, and for the first time ever, because of the Atlassian suite, we have a very accurate way to measure our inputs and our outputs. We never had that before. 

There was a whole team that spent a lot of time digging through a lot of systems to figure out what was asked of us and what we generated from it. And now we have access to all of that information in a very granular way that we didn't have before. We have realized sizable increases in our throughput and our bandwidth through the use of these tools. 

And we now measure that and quantify it and then work with that data to figure out how to increase throughput and increase velocity constantly. We're now able to apply that to creative organizations as well. We iterate our processes and our workflows constantly so that we have find better ways of working

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