1. Tell us a bit about your background and credentials.
I’m a graphic designer who is very active on the business side of professional practice. I’ve managed the operations of leading design firms and consulted with a wide range of creative services organizations in both traditional and new media. I also teach professional practices in an MFA program.
2. As a frequent lecturer, what topic are audiences most interested in?
Right now, everyone is worried about the recession. Apart from that, I’m often asked to do presentations and workshops related to intellectual property, designer/client contracts, project planning and tracking, new business development, pricing and proposals, teams, financial management, and ownership transition.
What is the biggest challenge facing today’s in-house teams? How has this changed from even 5-7 years ago?
Corporations are more aware than ever of the importance of effective and comprehensive branding. There’s also increasing pressure on U.S. companies to innovate in order to remain viable. Successful in-house teams have positioned themselves at the center of these issues.
Do you see more companies investigating an in-house agency business model given today’s economy?
Yes. To function at the highest possible level, I think it’s important to recruit, manage, and market in-house creative resources very much like an independent consultancy.
Would you recommend that everyone experience working at an internal and an external agency at some point in their career? What do both perspectives provide?
Young designers tend to be restless, changing jobs every couple of years. It makes perfect sense to seek out experience in both environments. Working in a design firm or advertising agency will involve a wide variety of creative assignments from clients in different industries. Projects tend to involve creating things that are entirely new. In contrast, in-house designers are often responsible for maintaining an existing identity system and making sure that there is creative consistency in all materials produced. As you know, in-house teams tend to work on recurring projects. Key assignments often come back on an annual cycle that reflects seasonal promotions and major industry events. One of the biggest advantages of working inside a large organization is the opportunity for ongoing collaboration with product managers and marketing executives. For a young designer, this is an incredible chance to participate in long-term strategic development and to see creative challenges from the client’s side of the table.
What specifically can in-house agencies do to quantify their value to an organization?
After creative projects are completed, the final challenge is to describe the client benefits that you delivered and to quantify those benefits in some way. The metrics must be objective rather than subjective. They must be based on reliable data and you must make a persuasive case that there is a direct, logical relationship between your work and the measurable business results. Some possible ROI indicators might include:
Reduced time to market for new products and services
Creation of new and valuable intellectual property
Competitive advantages from strategic alignment and consistent branding
Increased market share and awareness within target segments
Improvements to the bottom line through increased revenue and/or reduced costs
At the conclusion of each major project, write and distribute a case study that utilizes some or all of the above indicators in order to show the real impact of your work on the enterprise.
Your book, “Talent is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers” discusses how designers need to market their services successfully. Explain how this can best be accomplished at an in-house agency where the creative process isn’t always universally understood.
Internal marketing is an area where almost every in-house creative group can make dramatic improvements. Ask yourself some hard questions: How do you communicate the capabilities of your department to the rest of the company? Do people know what should come to your and what should not? How is your work generally perceived in terms of quality, cost, and turnaround? Some of your in-house clients may have other options for creative services. Be aware of your competition — both internal and external. Use this information to guide your internal marketing activities. Promote your services and their value by conducting orientations for new managers from other departments and by sending newsletters and promotional information on a regular basis. Fine-tune your efforts by conducting an annual satisfaction survey of your clients.
It’s been said that in-house designers could lose their creative “edge” as they work on the same projects with the same “client” day-in and day-out. What say you?
At independent agencies, it’s fun to start from scratch almost every time. In-house designers face a different kind of creative challenge: keeping the system fresh within appropriate parameters. This tends to be less of an issue at the junior staff level. Natural turnover means that junior designers sometimes don’t stay around long enough to see very many iterations. It’s more of a challenge at the senior level. It’s smart to maintain a group membership in AIGA. Encourage everyone to remain active in the larger design community in order to be aware of the latest trends and innovations. Ultimately, the real advantage of working in-house is that team members have an ongoing opportunity to expand their business skills, which can make the work more strategic and give it greater impact.
Mike Dorval is Senior Manager of Creative for the in-house group at Isagenix International. A good part of his career has been focused on building in-house creative teams and advancing the cause of design professionalism in the corporate setting. Mike has worked in...