We’ve all been there: scrolling through our social feeds, mesmerized by Food Network videos of how to perfectly decorate a cookie with royal icing or whip up a quick weeknight dinner. The beautiful presentation of ingredients, simple visual instructions, and end results can leave us salivating and frantically adding items to our grocery list. But each of these videos—whether a minute-long look at a simple recipe or a longer exploration of Julia Childs-esque culinary creations—takes a lot of behind-the-scenes effort to produce and publish.
The key ingredient to the success of these videos—from ideation to production and distribution on all the channels we consume them on—is the team at Discovery Digital Studios. They work on the Food Network and Cooking Channel’s digital properties, using Asana to track every step of their recipe for success. Michael Singer leads their Production Management team as Director of Digital Programming. He’s responsible for streamlining video development for various platforms and brands, ensuring the best production and distribution for all their clients and audiences. They reached an audience of about 493 million each month with a total of 19 billion video views in 2017.
A rapidly evolving landscape
“Since digital is such a rapidly evolving landscape, priorities can shift on a dime,” says Michael. New platforms are constantly emerging: Ten years ago, Snapchat, Instagram, and Amazon Echo didn’t exist. Today, Michael has to meet the technical requirements and cater to audience desires across a growing number of platforms.
With so many platforms comes competition for audience attention, not to mention the need to produce a variety of content types to attract audiences. Discovery Digital Studios has taken their key offering of a food channel and spun out video content for an entire website and social presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat to meet these changing needs and keep up with the competition. They create original shorts as well as rely on existing content that’s been chopped up for their videos.
Delivering the goods
“We create food, home, and travel short-form and long-form videos and series. Every month, we make about 150 different videos—counting all the different formats we deliver, that number is around 600 videos per month,” says Michael.
Each step of the process—conceiving, producing, and distributing video—presents a different set of challenges. “We want to create content that is either inspirational, aspirational, or has a high degree of utility,” says Michael. “And we want to make the best use of time, staff, and ingredients, too.” Multiply that by 600, and that’s a complicated recipe for success.
Beyond simply delivering the content, Michael’s team makes sure all videos are used across their channels and providing maximum value. “We try to promote every video on every outlet we have, which presents technical challenges, since every platform has different technical specifications,” says Michael. Previously, videos didn’t always make it from one platform to another, which is a missed opportunity for content amplification and engagement.
In addition to creating and distributing content, Michael’s team is often involved in multiple projects at once. Having so much going on means “a person can be juggling dozens of projects at once,” says Michael.
Discovery Digital’s recipe for success: Asana
With a rapidly evolving landscape, high content volume, and complex delivery and distribution needs, Michael’s team needs to track tons of information like the format and channel for a video. When he first began his role, his team relied on “spreadsheet chaos.” The result? “Projects were falling through the cracks.”
“We needed a better system of accountability,” recalls Michael. ForDiscovery Digital, that system is Asana, which Michael and his team use to manage their entire video concepting, production, and distribution process.
Key ingredient 1: Templates
The main ingredient inDiscovery Digital Studios’ success is Asana templates. Templates allow Michael and his team to follow the full lifecycle of a video from ideation to distribution in a standardized, trackable way. When the creative team gets the greenlight on their ideas, the project lead creates an Asana project from their template, adding due dates and assignees for all tasks leading up to the launch. These include developing a recipe, writing a shot list, filming, editing, reviewing, delivering, and processing.
“Since there are so many touchpoints to get a project through from conception to publishing, a project could fall off at any point. Asana helps keep everything on track so it can be executed without fail,” says Michael. “Templates have every touchpoint built in so our teams can execute everything without things falling through the cracks.”
An added bonus of using templates is that “Everyone is now a mini project manager,” says Michael. People have been able to take on new responsibilities they didn’t have before, and there’s been a team-wide cultural shift in how people manage their workflows. Instead of relying on one person to oversee every task and deliverable, every team member is empowered to own their responsibilities and drive the process forward.
Key ingredient 2: Accountability and visibility
By assigning every task in their production project to a person and adding due dates, Michael’s team members can hold themselves accountable to delivering on time and on budget. “My team holds themselves and each other accountable for making sure Asana is up to date,” says Michael. “In order to pull accurate reports and information, we need information to be up to date and tasks to be checked off when they’re completed.” By having clarity on who’s doing what by when, his team is not just accountable, but has a higher success rate of hitting their production and distribution goals.
Michael is also able to get visibility into projects as they move along. For that, Asana is like a mid-recipe taste test or turning on the oven light to see how things are progressing: “We can easily look at any project and see at a glance where it stands and what still needs to be done,” says Michael.
Key ingredient 3: Keeping it all in one place
Asana allows Michael and his team to track all their needs in one place, which streamlines every person’s process. “We no longer have to look in multiple places or ask multiple people about what’s going on with a video,” says Michael. “This reduction in reconnaissance saves a lot of time.” They’re even able to track video timelines across different distribution channels by adding tasks to more than one project. Housing tasks in different projects gives Michael a granular view of any particular project’s assignments but also connects them to other key timelines.
Key ingredient 4: Taste often and iterate accordingly
Just like any experienced chef, Michael knows that it’s important to iterate often. To do so, he and his team conduct reviews every three months to gather feedback and adjust their processes accordingly. This way, they can change their template to reflect improved approaches and never miss a beat. Iterating often helps them keep up with the rapidly evolving landscape, fierce competition, and growing needs for awesome content. For example, Michael’s team switched from keeping each series in its own project—with promotion and deliverables for each episode listed out as tasks—to splitting out each episode into its own project. By doing so, they made it easier to find information and projects are easier to parse.
A recipe that leads to success, every time
Using Asana to create and distribute content has not only taken Michael and his team out of “spreadsheet chaos,” but has also helped them reduce costs, saving them money and time at various points in their process. For example, before using Asana, Michael’s team might discover videos hadn’t been produced for every channel or added to their video library. To handle this, they would have to onboard contractors to dig everything out of the cracks. “That requires time, money, and training,” says Michael. “Having the tasks listed out ensures that won’t happen anymore.”