In-house creative groups have plenty of challenges working with their customers, who range from marketing managers to technical experts to the CEO’s executive admin. These customers often look at the creative group as a free support resource and picture them just sitting by the phone or computer waiting for their favorite customer to call with a pet project that just happens to be needed yesterday.[private_registeredl]
So why does this happen? There are many things that can lead to this mindset including:
- Creative groups often start out as small support functions and grow organically
- Lack of internal marketing of capabilities, strengths and policies to potential customers
- Misunderstanding of timelines needed for different types of projects
- Informal and inappropriate lines of communication
Let’s talk a little about that last item. When I work with creative groups, especially ones that have experienced recent growth, I often hear stories about customers going around the system. One example is where Mary, the customer, has always worked with Joe, the designer, and Mary feels she can just drop off work or ask for “little” jobs from Joe since they’ve known each other so long. Mary doesn’t think the rules for initiating projects apply to her. (Of course this assumes that there are some established procedures in place for project intake and that Mary knows what they are.) This also puts Joe in a bad spot where it’s easier for him to just do the “little” job than it is to tell Mary she needs to go talk to someone else.
So, it’s not a big deal, right? Well, Mary just interrupted Joe, so the project he is working on is affected and potentially delivery of that project is pushed out, especially if Mary just happens to be bringing a “little” job for the CEO. Joe may also do the job without recording it properly, so now the group’s metrics are affected. And, the job that Mary is bringing to Joe may not even fit within the group’s mission – it may be something that is usually outsourced. Maybe Joe used to do this kind of work, but the growth of the group has changed responsibilities.
Now, what are the options? First, there need to be publicized policies for the group that define how projects are initiated and how long projects may be expected to take. Second, there needs to be a gatekeeper to the group. Often this is the account manager role for larger projects, and could be an admin person or a traffic manager for lower level work. Then the customer is talking to someone who understands what work the group can and cannot do and can help the customer with expectations and ideas.
And Joe? Joe can keep working on the projects that he has been assigned, with a good understanding of due dates and deliverables. He won’t be interrupted by unexpected “drive bys”. And when it’s appropriate, say in a kickoff meeting, Mary can still share her ideas with Joe- just in a more appropriate way and at an appropriate time.
And the group? Well, it’s one more step to the internal creative group acting “like an agency” in the way they deal with customers and providing recognized value for their work.
Les Johnson is a strategic partner and creative process and technology expert for Cella, where he assists the Cella team in optimizing operations at in-house creative organizations. They partner with Creative and Marketing Executives and their teams to evaluate, develop, and execute successful:
- strategic plans and vision statements,
- organizational designs,
career pathing strategies,
- process improvement models,
- metrics-based performance models,
- systems and technology strategies