A little help for your in-house creative groups.

As those of us in advertising and marketing busy ourselves with definitions of new norms, and point to trends we’ve observed during the current value-pack of crises, I’d like to focus on one of the fastest growing entities in the marketing world: in-house creative teams. Over the past few years, in-house creative—collectively the staff and output of a small ad agency located within a company’s headquarters and tied to its marketing department—has grown in popularity as brands search for bottom-line efficiency in their ever-expanding need for content.

Throughout my career on the agency side of the fence, I’ve seen the pendulum of perception swing dramatically regarding in-house creative efforts. In the not-so-distance past, in-house creative folks got no respect. They were considered B-team players at best, relegated to knocking out thankless necessities like PowerPoint decks, employee handbooks and recruiting ads. That’s not the case anymore.

In-house groups are now respected members of the creative community, often raking in high-profile industry awards for highly visible campaigns. They’re strategically aligned within their organizations in ways that are difficult for “outside” agencies to achieve. No longer just a budgeting shortcut, they are now facing competitive challenges that dramatically impact the success of the brands they serve.

A 2019 survey published by the AMA showed that in-house teams face two major hurdles: the speed at which they’re required to work, and the sheer volume of work on their plate. In the COVID-19 era, you can also pile on the complexities of working remotely while trying to meet the demand for more content quickly.

If you’re responsible for an in-house group, I’d encourage you to reframe the way you perceive your team. You’re running––staffing, managing, budgeting, nurturing––a true ad agency, and you have just one client. You need to consider the ROI both in terms of the creative elements you need to crank out , and the value of those elements to your brand. Since running an agency is pretty much what I do, I’ll share a few ideas that could help.

Learn to say no.
This is good advice for all of us, but it requires courage since doing so often feels counterintuitive. In the agency world, saying no to a client can be dangerous since it’s the equivalent of turning down income. But some requests simply don’t fit the brand, the schedule, or the resources at hand. It’s a tricky situation, so use your diplomatic skills to navigate the nuance of declining a request for all the right reasons. If you’re tempted to say yes, be absolutely sure you have the capacity––somehow––to deliver. In my experience, clients will eventually forget that you turned them down. But if you let them down—they’ll remember forever.

Focus on results, not speed and volume.
As in all things, there’s a balance to be struck here. When the stack of work is staggering, we tend to celebrate simply making it through the pile as an accomplishment. But that doesn’t mean it was a success. And while delivering a CEO’s pet project is important, it’s also quickly forgotten. My advice is to ask up-front questions about why a project is important and be sure to document the results.

Know when to call in reinforcements.
It’s easy to treat your in-house agency like an all-you-can-eat-buffet. That’s a great way to encourage burn-out. I understand your aversion to bringing in outside resources when the workload is heavy. After all, isn’t this why you have an in-house team? There are three reasons to call in freelancers or farm a project out:

  • Bandwidth
    Sometimes there’s just too much work for your internal resources to handle.
  • Expertise
    Even your most talented and experienced creative staffers will run into projects that fall outside their wheelhouse.
  • Need for New Thinking
    Every now and then it helps to have a fresh perspective on a problem. New ideas from contractors outside your immediate family will spark creativity for the entire team.

So, what’s an agency doing talking about in-house creative groups?
We have an evolved perspective on in-house teams because we work with them all the time. In our view, they are partners. And we know how to collaborate in ways that strengthen your brand and maximize your budget.