Today’s Changing Organization: Operational Models for Inhouse Creative Teams

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New York, Dallas, Seatle, Minneapolos
May 19, 2010

Thanks to the many participants from across the United States who provided some great feedback and input at the very first InSource Regional Roundtable. Here you’ll find some of the insights we learned from all of the participants, contact information for everyone who registered and a PowerPoint deck of the presentations led by our moderators. Again a big thank you to The Creative Group for hosting us, to Twill Printing for helping us out with meeting materials and to all of you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us.

Participants included a wide range of individuals from independent designers and creative directors to department heads.

Tiering of jobs

  • Many organizations tier their jobs, some by urgency, some by the need to be first to market, others by the “requestor” be it a department/line of business.
  • Who sets up the tiering system was discussed; is it the sole responsibility of the agency; or should business partners be involved as well?
  • Tiering can sometimes help to eliminate needless editing by getting teams to focus more of their time/energy on the high-level, high-value projects.

Organizational structure

  • The hybrid model is used most often; although one participant had a 100% outsourced model.
  • Managing the freelance pool varied; sometimes it was a centralized function; other participants noted by individuals within the company could hire on their own freelancers (concern expressed about brand standards)
  • Rather than waiting for someone to come to you suggesting a freelancer, share with management your list of freelancers, when you use them, in what instances.  Be proactive versus reactive.
  • Having a good bank of freelancers helps to even out workflow; while continuing to meet project deadlines.

Outsourcing and Off Shoring

  • Of the companies using either the hybrid or eternal workforce models, some also use off shore resources for design or production support.
  • Outsourcing and off shoring are not the same. Outsourcing includes having on-site designers who are not company employees, while off shoring is sending work to third-party contractors in India, Ireland, the Philippines, etc.
  • Outsourced services can be either freelance designers hired directly by department management, or on-site workers managed by a third party agency.
  • One model used with on-site outsourced design resources has staff creative directors (who are client facing) writing the creative briefs and developing the creative ideas. They then hand the project details over to an onsite coordinator employed by an outsourced company to manage the onsite-outsourced staff of designers who execute the creative idea.

Project Management

  • The project management role was used in two of the organizations represented.  Project Managers play a critical role; manage the kickoff meeting, set all the schedules, keep all the integrated tasks on schedule
  • These are skilled project management professionals; roles are in additional to account executive team
  • One team holds a RAM (Resource Allocation Meeting) to discuss each job and priorities

Use of technology to assist with capacity/scheduling

  • Time/job tracking is a useful management tool providing visibility on number of projects, capacity
  • Several systems were mentioned, InfoWit, Silent Partner, Clients and Profits.
  • Ultimate goal is to establish actual job/time averages to help better schedule/manage projects
  • A digital asset management tool can also save time by managing images and copy; although server space may be an issue

How to move from a service provider model to advisors/strategists

  • Strong creative leadership is needed to position the department as being advisors versus simply design
  • Showing that there’s a business value to creative is critical
  • Testing of creative can add legitimacy to the creative and avoid ungrounded opinions
  • Position the team as “creative professionals”
  • Be sure to confirm key messaging upfront through well-written, targeted creative brief.  The brief also shows that it’s more than just about ‘design’

Impact of Social Media

  • Creative Group made available an informative document called “Social Media Job Descriptions”
  • Teams are just now testing how to drive interest in campaigns through Facebook and Twitter.
  • Having someone to manage/review content; “interactive writer” is a new position.
  • Does this function belong in the creative/agency or with the online/interactive team?
  • Use of product testimonials on You Tube has been powerful

How to keep creative fresh and continue to motivate creative teams

  • Creative Group distributed a white paper “In-Spired: Bringing out the best in your In-House Design Team”
  • One team follows the ROWE (Results only work environment) model where individuals are responsible for setting their own time and production isn’t measured by physical presence in the office.  Best Buy model.
  • Doing white board brainstorming sessions not only sparks creativity; but is more efficient than concepting tight comps

Topics for additional discussion/input on the InSource web site

  • Tiering of jobs.  What are the criteria?  Who is successfully using a job tiering model?  Everything can’t be a priority.
  • What agency tracking software are teams using?  How have they helped improve efficiency?
  • Do companies have a social media policy?  Can we post some examples?
  • Can we post examples of good creative briefs?

What is your ideal work structure?

Three topics in regard to structure:


  • Leadership alignment: make sure that all leaders are in communication so independent groups can effectively execute strategies and draw upon a combined energy
  • Corporate Communications and Creative departments report up to the same leadership
  • Form a communications group made up of relevant parties: Planning, PR, Brand Managers, Creative, Service, Web, Sales, Product
  • Project ownership – make sure there is a clear owner who can shepherd a job through and maximize it’s value/impact


  • Get the best talent from the beginning
  • Build in incentives/penalties (praise, fire, probation, bonuses, etc.)
  • Bring creative team to the table in the beginning
  • Conferences and training are an important part of a team’s growth, can be used for incentives

Work Environment

  • Open, exciting spaces
  • Discussion about the Harvard study showing that workplace environment was viewed as more important in job satisfaction over pay increases
  • People tend to adopt workplace environment as their own, showing pride and honor which in turn shows in the quality of their work

What the ideal in-house creative organization looks like (on paper)

  • Known as strategists/problem solvers
  • Would manage execution and implementation externally
  • Business of design is a thought process
  • Graphic(s) design is execution
  • Focus of art directors time spent on developing big ideas
  • The model relationship of architect and engineer is similar in nature to where inhouse creative leaders ought to position themselves (as the architect)
  • Creative Services should manage relationships with agencies
  • Clear control – more inhouse?
  • Inhouse is brand champion
  • Inhouse is relationship manager
  • Centralized procurement
  • Annual performance evaluations for agencies too
  • Open internal communications
  • Core teams
  • Personal ownership
  • Talent taught to think different
  • Professional development
  • Cool environment
  • Writers

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