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By Andrea Ruskin
With a mix of offshore and decentralised marketing services, as well as production services, Carlos Ricardo, Head of Marketing Services and Creative Production at HP, talks about shaping an internal creative resource department.
The Importance of Creative
“I know the things that marketers need, want, love, and appreciate. I also know what upsets a marketer: when creative is just being done for the sake of creative, and not meeting business needs, for example”
With a mix of offshore and decentralised marketing services, and production services, Carlos Ricardo, Head of Marketing Services and Creative Production at HP, is shaping an internal creative resource department that creates optimised marketing assets across territories and channels for global marketers.
Here’s the challenge: you oversee marketing services and creative production at one of the world’s most recognisable brands – a brand that operates in 160 countries, employs more than 50,000 people globally, and markets its many products in about 60 different languages. A staggering volume of marketing content is created in support of this activity on a constant basis: so, how best to manage the creation of these assets, with due regard to issues of quality, cost, delivery timescales and effectiveness across multiple channels?
Carlos Ricardo is three years into the process of tackling this challenge at computing giant HP through a process of aggregating and synthesising several different internal production and marketing services teams within the organisation while drawing upon the Tier 1 creative work of external agencies. The solution to the challenge – still being perfected – is a concept called the Content Factory.
“Right now, we are repositioning ourselves within the organisation,” says Ricardo. “This concept of the Content Factory is all about the creation and production of what we call mid and lower funnel assets to support and amplify our big initiatives and campaigns at HP. The Content Factory will produce digital experiences for HP.com, produce digital social posts and assets, e-tail assets for sites like Amazon, a lot of transcreation and translation of assets for campaigns, and even the content that we produce in partnership with our alliance partners.”
As is partly hinted at here, the teams that Ricardo is harnessing into this unified factory concept are the HP.com digital experience team, the in-house HP Studio agency, a marketing services team based in hubs around the world, and lastly a team supporting alliance partner marketing initiatives and campaigns with companies such as Intel, Microsoft and AMD.
There are several interesting factors to what HP is doing here. First, the intended activity of the Content Factory is quite specifically around “performance content” – content that will be more and more based on insights and data that will help Ricardo’s team to make tweaks to the content and optimise it going forward. Second, the structure of the marketing services and creative production service places heavy reliance on offshore production capabilities at a new site near New Delhi in India, with additional regional hubs and multi-disciplinary “pods” that work with specific territorial areas. And lastly, the wider HP organisation is under no obligation whatsoever to use the service that Ricardo and his team offer – they must continually prove themselves worthy of the work put their way.
Partnering with the internal media team
All of this makes for an exciting challenge for Ricardo, whose background is in marketing, with past roles at consumer brand holders such as Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Motorola, Mondelez International and PepsiCo on his CV. Before joining HP in 2017, Ricardo was Head of Global Marketing for the Spanish financial services company BBVA.
The scale of the challenge might be gleaned from Ricardo’s very clear and strident assertion that though he is happy with progress, the project and the process are still not finished. “It’s been three years and we’re still building this,” he says. “I don’t feel like we’re in a place where we can say we’ve nailed this. We’re still in the process.”
A case in point might be that desire to create performance content based on data and insights. To achieve this, Ricardo is working with HP’s own in-house media team to get access to information about what does and doesn’t work quickly. This is facilitated by the autonomous marketing services and production pods dealing directly with regional HP media teams to get this local data and make changes to optimise the campaign.
Already, there have been benefits in terms of cost efficiencies, productivity and the ability to better control information and data around what is working. Ricardo describes the progress as “super-exciting” and adds that HP is in a “fascinating place” in this regard. But, he explains, the business has not reached the end point.
“The future is to be able to use much more dynamic content platforms and automation, but we’re not there yet – we are evaluating several different options. Right now, the changes to content are being done more through a manual process, but we have a vision, and we know where we want to get to and we’re seeing some good examples of those platforms which will help us get there.”
Central question – Cost vs Quality
The structure of marketing services and production that is required to deal with the scale of HP’s marketing challenge puts Ricardo firmly in the centre of a conversation about the benefits or otherwise of in-house or external, offshore or near-shore, centralised or decentralised. What works best for the whole organisation, might not be what is best for individual countries or regions. There are pods offering the full scope of creative and production services embedded within some of the local marketing teams.
This kind of idea is being extended to territories like China, where HP has a potentially massive market, and there is a need for very specific local content. Nine people are now embedded in the Beijing office. Then there is the HP Studio India hub, which is where the bulk of production work is carried out, including work for China which is then translated/transcreated in Beijing. The US also has an HP Studio hub which does a lot of photography, packaging, and CG work.
“I think that decentralised is lovely for a global company like ours, which operates in 160 countries and about 60 languages,” says Ricardo. “The advantage is that you can service more markets in an agile way. The disadvantage is that you need more structure. It’s massive to try and do this at a global scale.”
Interestingly, the driver behind the offshore production hub has not been cost, as is the case with many such initiatives. It has been quality. Ricardo continues: “I’ve not spoken about being cost effective, because we almost see that as being the icing on the cake. We want to focus much more on the quality of the work that comes out, the fact that we are very embedded in HP, and we know HP more than an external agency would. Sitting in the pods, we see ourselves as very agile, and for us the cost effectiveness of operating offshore should be an addition.”
A choice, not a mandate
This leads nicely onto the fact that for all its resources, expertise and global structure, the teams that Ricardo leads as Head of Marketing Services and Creative Production, and the Content Factory concept that is emerging from it, are not guaranteed to get the work from the HP marketing community (numbering about 900 people) that they were created to support. HP’s business units pay for services according to a rate card of deliverables, which allows them to compare the value for money against potential external suppliers.
Ricardo seems unconcerned. In fact, he professes to welcome it. “I like to measure the success of HP Studio by how many more internal teams are coming to us versus external. As I’ve said, they’re not obliged to use HP Studio and we like to keep it that way, because the moment it becomes an obligation, we’re not going to be hungry to do our best work. Marketers aren’t going to be happy because they’re being forced to use this internal option. For us that’s very important.”
He does seem to get satisfaction from tracking how well HP Studio is growing with stakeholders, how the work with the media team is enabling asset optimisation and engagement rates to be measured, and how much traffic is being created for the HP digital store. “The more that I can convince teams to choose us rather than to go elsewhere, the bigger testament it is that we are providing value to them,” he says.
Striving for Automation
The situation means that the size and composition of Ricardo’s workforce is by necessity a flexible one. Freelancers are brought in as the situation demands, and this has required a process to be followed over time – to identify a pool of talented and reliable freelancers and contract workers to draw upon when necessary.
Ricardo’s own talent comes into play in bringing cohesiveness to the offering and applying his own experience as a marketer to ensure it meets needs.
“At the end of the day, we are servicing marketers, and I have been one my whole life,” he exclaims. “I know the things that marketers need, want, love, and appreciate. I also know what upsets a marketer: when creative is just being done for the sake of creative, and not meeting business needs, for example.”
“I systematically ask the same questions: what are the objectives, goals, or strategies of this initiative? What do you really want to get from a business deal and how can we help you get there? I think that rigour in that discipline comes from my marketing background. It’s about business outcomes. Yes, there is a beautiful creative side to what we do, and it’s fun and interesting, but it must serve a purpose, which is generating business outcomes.”
Ricardo is focused on delivering success for HP and creating an in-house production and marketing services resource that is valued across the HP world for its quality, agility, and integrity. As a leader, he is wary of being satisfied; of feeling that success has been achieved. “That’s the beginning of the end, right?” he considers. In any case, there is no danger of that feeling creeping over him while the project remains as imperfect as he wants it to be.
“I truly want to get to a place of dynamic content,” he states. “I want to get to a place where there’s a seamless flow of data streaming in, and where we have the software and platforms in place to dynamically create hundreds of variations of things. I want to see more automation and AI in content optimisation going forward.
“There’s been a lot of promise, but we’re trying to get to that place. I’ve seen some good examples from suppliers showing what other brands are doing and it’s encouraging. But that’s one place I want to get to.”
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